Line and Shape Are in the Lead Form Follows Close Behind

For many drawings, a clear, sensitive contour line can say as much as you need to say. You may enjoy the line quality as it is, feel the shapes and spaces between shapes to be accurate, and have enough detail to feel your drawing is finished.

In other drawings, it helps to define the form or fullness of things by rendering them with tone. Light and shade come into play here, and the direction from which an object is lighted will determine the play of light upon it, the direction of the shadow it casts, and whether that shadow is on the object next to it and how much.

Artist's Sketchbook

Tone refers to shades between light and dark, or white and black, that can be used in drawing to define areas of light and shadow or render the fullness of an object.

Light and shadow can create strong patterns that are part of your composition and can make an object seem more full of volume and weight. Detail and texture are on the surface of an object, further defining it. Sometimes they can be confusing when they don't follow the form. It is better to concentrate on shape and space first, volume and weight second, and light and shadow next, and then detail and texture can follow along later.

You'll want to make a graded chart for yourself as a guide for your range of tones to establish light, shadow, and volume.

1. Measure and draw a box 6" wide and 1" high.

2. Draw a horizontal center line to make two long boxes, 72" high.

3. Measure and draw vertical lines at 1" intervals to make six boxes on the top row and six on the bottom row.

Making a set of boxes for a tonal chart.

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Back to the Drawing Board

If you get ahead of yourself and get confused between shape and the detail on the surface, or confused about what makes volume and what makes texture, just take a step back. Sit until you can see where you are and what you should do next, including a good erasing.

4. Label the first box on the upper left-hand corner "#1." (Lefties can begin in the upper right-hand corner and work left.)

7. Starting with box #2, lightly and evenly shade the rest of the top line of boxes.

9. Start with #3 and evenly shade over the rest for a shade darker than box #2.

11. Begin with it and make another layer of shading over the remaining three boxes.

13. Begin with it and make another layer of shading.

15. Make the final layer of shading in it.

You can do this for a six-box tonal scale, or you can make it nine boxes or twelve boxes, as many as you want. Start with six boxes for now. You have a range from white to light to medium to dark.

Now, on the lower row, practice matching the various tones you made on the top of the chart. Start by trying to match the darkest tone. Keep shading it in until it matches the upper box. Then, try to match one of the light tones, then try to match one of the mid-tones. Continue until you have matched all the tones of the scale and filled in the bottom part of the chart.

In this tonal chart, we've filled in the bottom row of tones to match the top row.

Your tonal chart gives you an idea of the tonal range that you can use when you are looking at your drawing and deciding how to add tone to it.

The Art of Drawing

You can make tonal charts using a selection of pencils, different hardnesses, particularly if you like very rich tones. It is important to jot down how you got each set of tones and with which pencils so that you will be able to use the same technique for building up tone on a drawing. Try a chart or two with a different range, a light one or a dark one that might not even begin with white.

Tonic Scale Going Backwards

You can make a tonal scale with different textural marks instead of solid tones. Try making a tonal chart that is made up of different textural marks, keeping them all the same for each tonal chart so you can see the range of tone easily. Eventually, you will be able to jump from tone to textural tone and back again while adding whatever tonal value you want because you will "see" them in your mind's eye.

Here are some circles with different textural marks to make the range of tones. Your own tone boxes can be in rows of boxes or looser shapes filled in with a range of tone in one texture.

Try Your Hand

The more you practice seeing and adding tone to an accurate contour line drawing, you will begin to do it sooner, as you move from the planning lines to the drawing of the shapes, because you will be able to see line and tone together.

Here are some additional tonal tips to consider:

Keep looking at your composition and your tonal scale. See the shapes that each tone fits into. You'll have different tones for highlights on things, the light sides of things, the mid-tones, the darker sides of things, shadows, shadows across things, and the darkest cracks and spaces between things.

Get up, walk away, and then come back and look at your work with fresh eyes. You may see things you missed when you were sitting right on top of your drawing. Correct any problems you see.

You may want to darken the shade of your darkest tone to increase the contrast between your lights and darks.

Half-close your eyes, or let them go out of focus. This can help you see tone, and then you can work on detail.

For practice in form, light, and shadow, try drawing eggs, rocks, shells, or even mushrooms.

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