There are a few tricks in graphic recording that provide a lot of bang for your visual buck – they’re easy to do and make a big visual impact. Four of these tricks are bold titles, chalk, adding text or icons that are fully colored in, and shadow. Since I just got a question about using shadow on Twitter, I’ll cover it in this post (I’ve given some tips on titles in a previous post) and cover chalk and the importance of providing some areas of saturated color in future posts.
Shadows are pretty simple if you imagine a source of light (like the sun) and think about where the shadow would naturally fall as a result of the light hitting the object. Let’s take a look at three different shapes and how to think about adding shadows. Here are the three shapes we’ll look at, without shadows:
Starting with the apple, if we imagine the sun on the right, the shadow would naturally fall on the left like this:
Moving the light source to the left, we see the shadow moves to the right:
Note that it’s not important for the shadow to be perfect – loose is fine and even preferable. “What about letters,” you ask? The same principle applies. Here’s a block letter with the light source on the right and on the left:
The error I see people making most often when adding shadow to block letters is just lack of consistency in thinking about where the light source is. People will think about the light source being on the left for the first letter and somehow switch their mental light source for the second letter. The result just makes your brain hurt a little bit like this (so don’t do that):
I often teach “Bikablo” people in my workshops because they are both simple to draw and very expressive. The only real trick for adding shadow to these figures is that the body shadow needs to stay inside the body of the character like this:
Or like this:
The tendency is for people to want to draw the shadow outside of the body (which totally makes sense but just doesn’t work on these guys) as you can see here:
You can ground the characters by adding shadow around their feet, but the body shadow needs to be added inside the lines.
Adding shadow is a great way to increase the visual impact of your icons, whether you’re graphic recording, sketch noting or just doodling. So give it a try keeping your hand loose, and imagining a light source for every object!