Exercise 10: Lighting Direction

How Exercises Work and how can I participate?

  • Most Mondays we will create a new weekly exercise with a new topic and goal.
  • The community will submit their own work along with myself and provide feedback or tips on the submissions during the week.
  • That following Friday, THIS post will be updated with the new images and any learning tips and techniques learned along the way.
  • Citizen members can download the .PSD along with any resources used in the exercise and will receive direct feedback!

How can I participate? – Take the exercise challenge below and submit your image via the “Submit Image” button below.

Drawing Exercise 10 (E10) – Lighting Direction

EXERCISE: To draw 6 different head studies each with their own lighting set up.

For this exercise you can choose a head sculpt of your own to work with or use the one provided in the sheet that you can download HERE. The focus has very little to do with the subject matter and everything to do with lighting and how different direction and angles affect your subject matter. Want to learn how to value shade different objects before tackling the head? Check out our tutorial on value shading the four basic shapes with downloadable practice sheets HERE. Or if you want to learn more on Lighting and how it works, check out our Getting Started in Lighting Tutorial.

This exercise is split into two practices. As seen in the example below, the picture is split into two rows, the top focusing on lighting values and the bottom row focusing on color and moods.


  • The top row is specifically for building values through greyscale and experimenting with how light affects the curvature of such a complex shape such as the human head.
  • The bottom row brings in color and starts you thinking about the mood of the lighting (time of day, what light source, the surrounding environment, etc.) This forces you to narrow how you treat lighting with color and how to start producing a mood to the concept. This bottom row enforces creating a feeling for the atmosphere that the character is placed in and as a concept artist you need to show the correlation between the two. So a deep scarlet sunset is going to produce different color choices for your character than a shadowy moonlit scene. This forces you to choose colors that aren’t skin tones necessarily but colors that represent the surrounding environment.

More tips will come out as the week goes on so stay tuned and keep practicing!

The Results Update – September 20 2013


Greyscale Lighting Values

The top row focuses on lighting and placing values using grayscale. The best tip to shading values to to think of the different shapes that each section of the face best represent. A lot of the facial features consist of being round, from the nose end, cheeks, eyeballs, and the head as a whole to some degree. For each feature, isolate how you are imagining the light hitting that object from the direction you have set in place and then shade it accordingly. No point in making it hard on yourself, take each part slow and concentrate on making each section look accurate before moving on to the next.

For me, the side lit one seemed to be the hardest of the three when creating them. Not only are you isolating one side of the face to be lit, but then you have to think about the shadows those facial features that stick out would be casting on to the other side of the face. For all three, just keep imaginging where that light is hitting each section and don’t be afraid of adjacent contrast. For example, in the bottom lit one, the tip and underside of the nose would be catching a lot of light but as soon as you make your way up to the curve of the nose, it will be a harsh contrast into shadow. The back lit one is the easiest to execute because you are just working on a glorified rim light and having some soft light make its way around the head but most of the facial features would remain in shadow!

Color and Lighting Values

Adding color just adds to the techniques used in the greyscale practice. This time rather than just focusing on value contrast, we can start bringing in hue and saturation contrast as well. This can also make it more difficult seeing as you have a lot more to think about rather than just lighting direction! Even when I went through, the sunset one was trouble for me without using reference, and I still am not satisfied with the outcome and I will go out and take photo references to give a direct link and source to understand how that lighting scenario would look.

To start each color head off, I masked it out and layed a color multiply layer for each, orange for the sunset, purple for the campfire, and a light skin tone for the last one. When doing this exercise, try using just the color picker and only use layer effects like multiply and overlay if necessary but this is meant to be an exercise on lighting and color so it helps when you can’t rely on layer modes to add values and intensity for you.


  • Sunset from the side: When doing a sunset, the colors that reflect on the face are often very warm, saturated, and may even have an intense shine to it. This can cause a face to look too red, or often like copper. Remember the skin tones underneath and let them show on the shadow side more to represent a truer example of the tone of the skin.
  • Campfire at Night: This one is fun to create because you can play with different complimentary colors. At night mostly cool shadows should be used (blue, purple) but add in the element of fire from a campfire, and then you have a nice temperature contrast when adding those warm colors (yellow, orange) Just remember not to have the light be overbearing and add in a little moonlight if you want to edge out a silhouette or rim light to separate the subject matter from the background.
  • Desert at High Noon: For the last color practice, this one is an example of using intense lighting to create finer edging where the light would fall off on the different facial features. So in the example you can see how the light is very solid when placed and comes right up to the shadows without losing it’s intensity. Keep that in mind to create a dry, high noon atmosphere. 


 Each color swatch that is next to each head represents the only color that I added to the step and most of the shading I do goes through picking a color and adding it to the entire piece and then choosing the next color based on the lighting and go through the process again, but usually not covering as large of a range as the color before. Also, this is just one example, not all campfires are going to be using the same color scheme/highlights/shadows. This is meant as a reference guide and also for inspiration to create your own!

Remember: You can always submit even after the week is over! These are meant to act as exercises to strengthen your work!

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6 Responses to “Exercise 10: Lighting Direction”
  1. Posts: 45
    Erick Garcia says:

    What layer is everyone using to add color to this exercise? Overlay layer?

    • Posts: 11
      yasasu says:

      can’t be overlayer… you need to put the shadows above color in multiply.

      • Posts: 5
        olooriel says:

        Yes, I used overlay, so that works. I guess a colour layer could work too.

    • Posts: 388

      Ha you were first on the site to guess the reference! I saw a head cast of Louis from Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, and I really enjoyed it when it was just in clay because it really showed off the lighting, and pretty much inspired this entire exercise!

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