Understanding Highlights

Mackenzie Swenson
Duration:   11  mins

When a drawing or painting catches our eye, an element that often grabs our attention is the highlight. Nothing adds visual sparkle quite like a well-placed gleam in the eye or reflection on a vase! However, for many artists, depicting this visual phenomenon can be a serious struggle. If you want to advance your understanding of highlights and improve the way you use them in your work, join artist and instructor Mackenzie Swenson as she explains how a highlight is created, how to identify highlights on your subject, and then how to place highlights in a drawing or painting. Mackenzie demonstrates this concept by using the drawing of a sphere that she created in the lesson Understanding Form: Drawing a Sphere from Imagination.

Mackenzie begins this video by reviewing the concept of “form light” and the way this principal guided the creation of the gradations on the original sphere drawing. In that lesson, the sphere was drawn as if it were a matte object, meaning there was no highlight. The highlight is a moment on the subject being drawn where the light source is completely reflected back to the artist, and this does not happen with a matte object. Mackenzie describes how the “highlight” begins to come into play if one imagines the sphere has a smoother—and thus more reflective—surface. She shows how surface texture, the light source and its relation to the subject, and the vantage point of the artist all impact the placement of the highlight. Mackenzie also shares her favorite tricks for distinguishing the highlight from the brighter areas of the form light. Finally, Mackenzie demonstrates the actual placement of the highlight using a 2H Staedtler graphite pencil, her Tombow Mono eraser and a kneaded eraser.