Haunted Holidays: Shadows

Haunted Holidays: Shadows

Posted by Robyn Wall on

Week Five
October 31st through November 5th

We all have shadows that haunt us. Pieces of your past that linger, memories you can’t forget, habits you can’t break, things you wish you hadn’t said. They follow close behind, always at your heels.

One shadow that haunts me is the fact that a lot of my work does not come from a place of emotion. It is just something pretty, something I like. As this shadow lingers on my heels, following me into the studio every time I go to work, the urge to create more meaningful pieces is strong. Some good can come out of running from your shadows.

The shadows that haunt can push you to run towards something better.

There are a lot of different avenues I could have pursued for this prompt, but I wanted something very metaphorical. I had a bit of a difficult time capturing it at first, but I am happy to report I got there, eventually.

My original concept was a woman scared of the shadow that haunts her. The metaphor was strong, but something about the imagery felt off to me. Like, the shadow and the woman were two unique pieces I was trying to force together. Unsuccessfully I might add.

So I thought maybe I would focus on just the shadow itself. While this sketch seemed really cool and fit the prompt well, it didn’t quite seem to represent my metaphor.

I felt very frustrated. The first sketch satisfied my urge for art with a deeper meaning, but I didn’t much like it. While the second one was a cool ass shadow monster, it lacked the emotional depth I crave in my work. So I did what I usually do when I don’t like something. I stared at it. I stared at both of my sketches until I thought I might go cross-eyed. More than once, it seemed I would never come up with a solution or even another concept I felt good about. 

Finally, I could put a finger on what I didn’t like about the first sketch. It looked like two separate drawings because there was no interaction between the woman and the shadow. Initially, my instinct was to have the shadow wiping away her tear, but that gave the appearance of compassion, which wasn’t compatible with my metaphor. 

I was flipping back and forth between the two sketches when I noticed that the second shadow had more of an ‘active’ sense to it and that it appeared to be reaching around something. Putting both sketches into Photoshop, I manipulated them until the shadow's hand was pulling back a piece of the woman's hair. This is what I was searching for.

To be honest, though, I still wasn’t in love with the sketch.

But I was out of time and patience to come up with something new, so I took it into the studio and got to work. 


In the past, most of the women I have painted have featured a lot of stark contrast and dark hair, but this would need to be different. The woman in this painting should be light. Light hair, light clothes, light eye makeup. I wanted the shadow to be the darkest part of the piece. 

Taking on these art challenges, I had several goals; to stay creatively motivated, develop a distinct style, and improve my talent. I find great pleasure in noticing that my talent has improved significantly over the last five months. My ability to shade realistic skin, capture dynamic eyelashes, and paint flowing hair is among a few of the things that have seen the most development. 

With the completion of the woman, the shadow was up next. At first, I thought it would take a much darker route overall, filling two-thirds of the paper with varying shades of black. 

I executed the haphazard texture of the shadow demon using the same technique from the Ancient Tree prompt a couple of weeks ago. Applying paint in the areas where its limbs would take form, then drying off my brush before pulling the brush on its side through the wet paint. I did this in multiple, gradually darkening layers to give the shadow lots of depth. 

As mentioned, the initial plan was to add much more of my smokey magic technique to darken the area to the left of the shadow after painting the main shadow monster...

But even in darkness, there is light. While I added more shadows, it did not end up being nearly as dark as I had expected. But I love the little bits of yellow light poking through the writhing shadows. 

It is difficult to tell at a distance, but there are little dots throughout the shadow. At the bottom, the dots are white. They look like glowing orbs or fireflies coming from the woman. And at the top the dots are black, reminding me of the soot sprites from My Neighbor Totoro. 

Despite my initial hesitation toward this sketch, The Shadows That Haunt turned out better than I thought it would.


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