Can you give me some advice on how to imply menace through shadows?
Des Waterman, Canada
One common misconception with shadows is that they’re all about lighting. They aren’t. In art of every kind – and particularly in comics and fantasy art – shadows are a tool of storytelling, and the lighting in your image should be arranged to suit the narrative.
Making a person look menacing is about dehumanising that person so what’s left is an idea, a hint of humanity (or even a suggestion of inhumanity). I start by drawing the head and then, following the planes of the face, I try to block in large shapes for shadow. Sometimes I’ll try different configurations of shadows – if you’re using Manga Studio this is easily achieved by creating new layers on top of the pencils to draw shadows over the image. Don’t worry about details – it’s all about trying to convey a mood rather than be faithfully accurate. However, it does help if you have a good basic understanding of the anatomy of the head.
When I’m trying to convey menace in an environment, I’ll work on a composition that enables the shadows to surround the character under threat. I usually block in large shadowed shapes, then on the edges I’ll add specific details that suggest the kind of environment – brickwork for an alleyway, criss-crossed metal support structures for an industrial landscape, or the blinking lights of a computer room.
Once I’m happy with the pencils, I’ll start inking. Using a brush I’ll feather where the edges of the shadow are softer and require a subtle transition. In other areas I’ll use a Hunt 107 dip pen to cross-hatch, depending on the material being rendered. Once I’ve outlined the shadow I’ll use a brush to fill the remaining blacks. If they’re not fully filled in, a viewer’s eye may often see menacing shapes lurking in them, too!
Lighting from the side introduces drama to a face, while keeping the background in silhouette will ensure that the setting remains threatening.
Framing a protagonist by shadows helps to give the panel a sense of menace. Opening the panel at the bottom leads the eye into the scene.