How To Paint Roundness In Even Light

Add believability when you paint roundness into your artwork.
Learn how to keep a dimensional look if the lighting becomes even.

painting of tree for roundness

Roundness An Important Principle

There are times when we’re painting nature scenes and the details may get in our way and we forget a very important principle: to paint roundness, or volume. Perhaps the lighting is of such that there is no strong sense of direction of light coming from any given side with an obvious shadow being cast. That happens on days that it may be cloudy or, for example, when the sun goes down behind a hill and it makes the area fully in shadow, but there’s still a lot of light that makes the subject matter evenly lit. Some forget to paint roundness in these situations.

On these trees, it may be difficult to tell which direction the light is coming from. You can get a sense of shadowing in some spots. But in others, it feels flat. When this happens, there’s a tendency to paint details without volume, fullness, or roundness.

tree photo showing flat lighting

The Simple Solution

So how do you resolve issues like this when you’re painting? Even though an area may be in the shadow and you want the appearance of even lighting, you can still give it roundness by having a lighter side and a darker side.

  • Accentuate The Shadow
    You accentuate the shadow slightly, not a lot, just a little to aid the roundness. I’ll give an example of that here so you can get a visual to what I’m talking about.
    I’m using the computer to demonstrate, therefore I’ll darken this tree with the layer mask. Then I’ll take the right side of the shadow out. Now it has a darker side and the lighter side is its original value, which you can see here. This helps it feels a bit rounder.

Tree photo showing flat lighting fixed

  • Add A Reflective Light
    To give it more interest, I’ll add warmth to the left, which is now the shadow side, as a reflective light. See what it looked like before? Now it has more dimension.
    Think this way when you’re painting. Think to paint roundness, not just textured detail. The sense of light has not gotten stronger as I made the change, but there’s more core shadow and reflective light.

Tree photo showing three lighting adjustments

Painting Demo to Make The Point

Now I want to demonstrate this from a painting standpoint using the computer. So I will cover the left side of this picture with white to paint in my example.

  • Texture, Detail Needs Roundness
    All too often I see paintings with lots of texture and no sense of roundness or volume to the subject that they are painting. So here’s my illustration of a textured or detailed tree trunk. 
This is missing the volume, the roundness, the fullness, that it should have – the shadow and light side to help it feel round. We don’t want just texture to describe the tree for us. We want to paint roundness as well. So how do we do that?

Textured tree painting showing flat lighting

Remembering The Principle: Paint Roundness

The solution is the same concept as you saw with the photograph. As you’re painting, remember to paint roundness. So I paint a dark side that helps it feel rounder. See the before above and the after below. If you want to accentuate some of the texture, you can do that. Just paint in more detail.

Painting of tree showing dimension

Then I’ll give a warm reflective touch for color interest. This tree has come from a just-texture-look with no volume, to having more roundness.
 Now it has a core shadow and a reflective back end. It’s not as flat as it was before.

Tree showing to paint roundness and reflective light

So don’t just think about texture; see the texture but think about roundness, about volume. Then remember to paint roundness while painting texture also.

Hope this was helpful. Do check out my blog/video Creating Dimensions with Core Shadow and Improve Your Artwork With Direction of Light as they share additional concepts connected with this topic.

Let’s keep those paintings coming!