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Activity 1: Seeing light and color


  • Practice looking at light and shadow.
  • Analyze how lighting influences the shape (soft/hard), color (hue) and value (darkness/brightness) of light and shadow in a scene.
  • Sketch/Paint what you see
  • If you'd like to review the terms hue, value & saturation see this video in our Color science lesson.


  • Create a Set Up Box – foam core taped together at the side or cardboard box cut to create 2 sides and a bottom
  • Create a spot screen – grey cardboard card with hole punched out of center (see photo below)
  • 1-2 clip on table lamps to position
  • White Styrofoam ball
  • Colored construction paper (red, blue and yellow)
  • Pencil & paper
  • Orange
  • Phone to take pictures
  • Paint – black, white, red, yellow, blue
  • cardboard surface for painting on

Part 1: Seeing Light and Shadow in a grey scale

Place the Styrofoam ball a few inches from one side of the set up box.
Position the lamp on your set up so that it creates distinct shadows on and around the ball.
Take a photo with your phone and print that photo.
Trace the outline (using pencil, pen or marker) of at least 8 distinct shadow shapes.
Identify which is the lightest shadow, the darkest shadow and all of the gradations between.
Sketch out the areas of shadow to match the level of darkness (known as value) that you see.
Optional painting step: Trace a second copy of your image. Place the paper on piece of cardboard and paint the shapes; from darkest area to lightest area using white and black paint.

Part 2: Color

Do the same exercise as above but this time add colored paper to the sides of the set up box and see how color influences the white ball and its shadows.
Take a photo, print and trace the outlines as before. You must observe the regions of light and shadow very carefully.
Use colored pencils to fill in the shapes in order to match the color in your image as best you can.
Optional painting step: Trace another copy of your image on a new piece of paper. Try painting in the shapes that you outlined with the appropriate color. To make this easier you should use a spot screen to identify the color you are seeing within the shadows.
For an even bigger challenge paint a second version where you replace the ball with an orange - so you can see how the colored background and light interact with the color of the orange
Tips on how to identify and mix colors:
  • Look through the spot screen at each region in your image.
  • Identify the color you see; hue, value, saturation.
  • Choose the tube of paint that comes closest to the color you see.
  • Mix some onto your flat palette knife
  • Hold the palette knife up in one hand and the spot screen in the other and compare.
  • Mix to get closer to the color you see through the screen
  • Mix in small amounts of color so you don’t over do it.
  • Clean your palette knife thoroughly between mixings
  • Work slowly and accurately
  • If you surpass your color don’t work backwards, start again.

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