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Winter Reading Fun: Shadow Art!

Shadow Art!
The groundhog may see his shadow – or not – on February 2, but we can explore and have fun with shadows either way.

Shadow Art is a great way to do that! In nice weather, it can be done outside on your sidewalk or driveway, but if it’s too cold or snowy or rainy – grab a flashlight (or your smartphone) and do it indoors.


What you need:

  • paper (our sample used computer paper, but mixed media paper, cardstock, or watercolor paper would be even better)
  • pencil
  • flashlight or sunlight (sunlight works best in early morning or late afternoon when the light is bright and the shadows are long)
  • assorted household objects
  • mixed media of any kind: paint, watercolors, crayons, markers, colored pencils, ink – anything will work. Our example used acrylic paint, colored pencils, some well-used markers, ink, and a black sharpie marker.

What you do:

  1. First, gather some common objects from around your house or your room. Small boxes, bottles, anything with spaces for the light to go through like a bubble wand or a spatula, different shapes. Our example used a star wand, a pair of scissors, a bottle of hand sanitizer, a roll of duct tape, and a binder clip. (See photo below)
  2. Next, prepare your light source: Find a sunny window or set up a strong flashlight or your smartphone so that it shines on your paper. 
  3. Arrange the objects you’ve collected so that their shadows fall on the paper. You can make an abstract arrangement or move them around so that the shadows look like animals or a cityscape or some other object. You may need to adjust the light source or move the paper and objects around so that the shadows are sharp and look the way you want – not too fuzzy and angled the way you want them.
  4. When you’re satisfied, take a pencil and trace around the shadows on the paper. It may help to tape the paper down with removable tape while you do this.
  5. Turn off the flashlight and take a look at your paper. What do you see? Look at both positive and negative shapes. (Negative shape is the space between the shadows). Is your design abstract or did you make people, animals, buildings?
  6. Put the objects you found away, and then gather your art supplies.
  7. Start painting and coloring your art piece. Don’t be afraid to use non-traditional colors! Grass doesn’t always have to be green, and the sky can be an unusual color instead of blue.
  8. Your painting may change as you work on it. In our example, the scissors became a zebra, the hand sanitizer bottle became part woman, part snow person, and the star wand looked like those bright neon signs that light the outside of motels along the road. The zebra’s head and the door were negative spaces before they were painted!

Extend the activity with literature! Make up stories based on your shasow art, and read some books that feature shadows: Check out Shadow by Suzy Lee , a wordless book in which a child does just what we’re doing, using household objects to create shadow objects and stories. Older readers may like Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly, about a girl who has the power to manipulate shadows but finds her magical abilities threatened by a noble family.

For Groundhog Day, consider Groundhog’s Runaway Shadow by David Biedrzycki or Gregory’s Shadow by Don Freeman.

For juvenile nonfiction, take a look at Making Shadow Puppets by Jill Bryant and Catherine Heard or Follow It! Learn About Shadows by Pamela Hall.

For more shadow art fun, watch the following video on You Tube, Shadow Art for Kids:


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