Washington & Northern Idaho Railroad Maps - Available from Sonrisa Publications

Train GIF Railyard

TrainGIF Railyard

TrainGIF Tutorial
Updated March 20, 2006

Basic Shading Techniques

How do you make a box of colored blocks look like a piece of railroad equipment? The first step is to create the basic shape and color it. Then comes the fun part - shading and detailing it to make it come to life. This isn't difficult, but requires some practice, observation, and know-how when it comes to using your graphics program.

I'm going to assume that you already know how to create a new drawing file, and that you can paint it any color or shape you wish. I'm also assuming you are a beginner at painting GIFs. If not, this whole tutorial will be pretty boring. The examples I use will feature the actual size image on the left, with an enlarged version on the right, so you can see the pixels. When painting I like to work with an enlarged image to more accurately place my paint. All right, so I'm getting older and don't see as well anymore...

What a Relief!

Here is a simple box on wheels. With a little imagination, it's a boxcar. With a little more paint, it will take less imagination to see the boxcar.

Let's start by putting the outline of a rectangle in the middle of the box. Choose a color slightly darker than the basic body color.

Try experimenting with different values (lighter or darker colors) and see what effect it has on your perception of the image. The door will appear to be flush with the side of the car, like a plug door.

Now let's try tricking the eye into seeing some relief. Paint the top and left side of the rectangle a lighter value than the basic car color. Then paint the right and bottom sides a darker value. Leave the inside of the rectangle the same color as the car side.

All of a sudden it looks like a door is stuck to the outside of the car!

Now try the reverse. Paint the top and left sides with the darker color and the right and bottom with the lighter.

If we were painting bellybuttons we'd have an innie and an outie! This one looks like the door is sunken into the car side, much like a sliding door on a baggage car. Experiment with different values to see how it affects the apparent depth or relief of the door. Here's a tip: keep referring to the drawing at its actual size to see how the whole thing looks and adjust your painting as needed.

This is a basic technique for adding some dimensionality to flat, 2D images. Light values tend to bring the object or edge closer, darker ones push them back. Keep your eyes open when looking at photos to see the many ways you can use this to put some relief into your drawings.

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Copyright 2006 David J. Cooley