Shadow Tracing

shadow tracing

Shadow tracing is a great way to get outside on a bright sunny day, explore positive and negative space, and have some fun with color at the same time.  Shadow tracing is low stress for students (2nd grade and up) and has minimal prep for teachers. Students can usually finish one of these paintings in a single class period, or you may want to let them do a few tracings the first day and paint them the next. Enjoy!


  • White construction paper (whatever size you want – I usually use 12×18)
  • Pencil & eraser
  • Tempera paint
  • A bright, sunny day
  1. Look outside for areas with strong shadow patterns, on the ground or even against buildings.  (All kinds of things make interesting shadows….fences, railings, chairs, trees and all kinds of plants, just to name a few. Once you start looking for shadows, you’ll be amazed at how you’ll be noticing them everywhere! This is a great exercise for learning to “see like an artist”!)
  2. Lay your paper over the shadow and turn it until you have a composition you’re satisfied with.A shadow on a paper on the grass
  3. Then, trace the shadow with a pencil. (You’ll need to work quickly, as shadows change with the movement of the sun! Your tracing will show positive and negativeshapes… the shadow is the positive shape and the space around it is the negative shape.)Pencil tracing of a shadow on paper on the grass
  4. Go back inside to paint your shadow tracing.  Some possible ideas for color schemes are warm and cool colors, complimentary colors, analogous colors (like the example above), tints and shades of a color, or your favorite color plus black or white.

Enjoy a classroom full of very unique abstract paintings…. no two will be alike!

2 Responses to Shadow Tracing

  1. Hani September 8, 2012 at 8:37 am #

    Great idea. I might try this with my pre-schoolers using a less abstract shadow (hand shadows). Thank you for sharing! :D

    • Cheryl Trowbridge September 8, 2012 at 10:40 am #

      Hand shadows would be fun to try with little ones! Good idea!!