Mammoth Memory

Chiaroscuro – The use of strong contrasts between light and dark

(Pronounced kee-ahr-uh-skoo-roh)

Note: chiaroscuro is an Italian term which refers to the use of dramatic contrast of light and dark in a painting.

To remember what chiaroscuro means, use the following mnemonic:

The quayside artist sketched a schooner and a rowing (chiaroscuro) boat in a race. The schooner was very light coloured but the rowing boat was dark by contrast.

The quayside artist sketched a schooner and a rowing (chiaroscuro) boat in a race. The schooner was very light coloured but the rowing boat was dark by contrast.

There are some amazing paintings created using strong chiaroscuro effects. See below Leonardo's unfinished oil painting of Virgin and Child with Saint Anne.

"Da Vinci, Burlington House Cartoon" by f_snarfel is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

 

"Da Vinci, Burlington House Cartoon" by f_snarfel is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Chiaroscuro is easiest to achieve in black and white to start out with. 

There are three basic ways to achieve this. You can either:

Find a high contrast black and white image that you want to draw.

Find a high contract black and white image that you want to draw.

Use charcoal to black out the canvas. 

Use charcoal to black out the canvas. 

Then using an eraser (a kneaded eraser for big areas or eraser pen for details are best for this), remove the charcoal where the light areas are. If you go wrong, it is easy to draw over it again in charcoal to fix any mistakes.

Then using an eraser (a kneaded eraser for big areas or eraser pen for details are best for this), remove the charcoal where the light areas are. If you go wrong, it is easy to draw over it again in charcoal to fix any mistakes.

 

The next technique is to start with a black sheet of paper and add the light areas, rather than removing black to reveal them. This technique is harder to correct if mistakes are made, so it's a good idea to lightly sketch out your drawing in a white pencil first.

The next technique is to start with a black sheet of paper and add the light areas, rather than removing black to reveal them. This technique is harder to correct if mistakes are made, so it's a good idea to lightly sketch out your drawing in a white penc

Try also adding some grey in varying tones to really add shape to your painting.

Try adding some grey in varying tones to really add shape to your painting.

 

Finally, the last technique is to start with a white sheet of paper and use pencils, pens, charcoal or paint to add the dark areas. The above techniques work best when the background is dark, whereas this one works best with a light background. Again, sketch out your picture first.

Finally, the last technique is to start with a white sheet of paper and use pencils, pens, charcoal or paint to add the dark areas. The above techniques work best when the background is dark, whereas this one works best with a light background. 

Use varying tones from light grey to black and start with the lightest tone first and gradually get darker as you progress. 

Use varying tones from light grey to black and start with the lightest tone first and gradually get darker as you progress. 

Gradually build up the darker tones in layers.

 

Use varying tones from light grey to black and start with the lightest tone first and gradually get darker as you progress. 

For this example, you'll need a camera, a angle-poise lamp (or strong light source), a dark background and something to hold. 

Set up and take a photo of your hand holding the object you've chosen with your light source to one side, so it creates interesting light and shadows.

Set up and take a photo of your hand holding the object you've chosen with your light source to one side, so it creates interesting light and shadows.

Using the grid method, sketch your photo onto your canvas.

Using the grid method, sketch your photo onto your canvas.

Use which ever medium you feel most comfortable with, start with the lightest colours first. 

Use which ever medium you feel most comfortable with, start with the lightest colours first. 

Work in the darker colours, take note of how the orange reflects back onto the hand.

Work in the darker colours, take note of how the orange reflects back onto the hand.

Finally add the dark background.

Finally add the dark background.

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