Chiaroscuro – The use of strong contrasts between light and dark
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, remember the following:
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.
Chiaroscuro is easiest to achieve in black and white to start out with.
There are three basic ways to achieve this.
1. Find a high-contrast black and white image that you want to draw.
Use charcoal to black out the canvas.
Then using an eraser (a kneaded eraser for big areas and an 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.
2. 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.
Try also adding some grey in varying tones to really add shape to your painting.
3. 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.
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.
Another way of creating chiaroscuro in an artwork is to use photography as a precursor to painting an image. You'll need a camera, an 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.
Using the grid method, sketch your photo onto your canvas.
Use whichever medium you feel most comfortable with, starting with the lightest colours.
Work in the darker colours, taking note of how the orange reflects back onto the hand.
Finally add the dark background.