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 12x18)
  • 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!

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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!!

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