Category Archives: Part 2: Tone

Exercise: A spoon

This is the hardest exercise I have completed on the course to date and I am very disappointed with the results. Having learnt the importance of preparatory sketches from assignment one, I did two preparatory sketches of spoons. I was happy with neither, so perhaps should done more.

Before starting, I looked up advice on the internet about drawing reflective surfaces. The consensus seems to be that sharp lines with contrasts between light and dark are effective in conveying reflection. However the large spoon I used was very scratched and I could not see such stark differences in very light and very dark tones hence the variations in mid tones I used. I don’t know whether this was a wrong choice. Perhaps I should have exaggerated the tones, but the instructions for the exercise were very clear that you should draw what you see.

I honestly don’t know how to improve my skills here. When I look at my first preparatory sketch on A4 paper I can’t really see any progression between that and my final drawing on A3. I feel that all I learnt from this exercise is that I can’t draw reflective surfaces and that a 6B pure graphite pencil / stick is useful for shading larger work as you can use the flat side of the nib area to cover larger areas. I would really appreciate some guidance here.


Exercise: Observing light and shadow

I drew a glossy plastic pencil sharpener and matte finish fabric pencil case for this exercise. The objects were lit from the left hand side and placed on a slightly shiny table which created an unusual shadow effect where the cast shadows of the objects were repeated.

It is clear to me that I have a long journey ahead with picking what shades of grey to use for tonal variation. I really struggled to know which shades to use for the pencil sharpener which was grey itself, as there were three distinct colours of shadow on the top of it. I am quite pleased with the hard lines I used to convey the shadows on the side of the sharpener. I am pleased with how careful I was when observing the curved edges of the sharpener too.

I am less pleased with the pencil case. It seems to lack weight towards the brighter end on the left. The case was pink canvas style fabric which reflected little light and there were not really any folds on the long side of it which might have resulted in shadows for me to convey. I ended up exaggerating some of the undulations in the fabric to try to add interest and convey weight but I’m not convinced this really worked.

If I did the drawing again I think I’d be braver with picking up darks where there were shadows to the left of the pencil case because the right hand side at the end seems much more convincing. This again shows me I have much to learn  with regard to picking out contours of shades to use. Should I have used the full range of H and B pencils? I sat for quite some time just looking before starting the drawing, thinking about the tonal values but this wasn’t enough to translate what I was seeing into a convincing drawing. I need to do more still life drawings to practice my observations skills.

Trying out watercolour pencils and line and wash

I’ve really taken my tutor’s advice to be playful to heart and I’m enjoying and overcoming my fear of experimenting. I’ve had some watercolour pencils for a while so thought I’d build on my ink work to try adding some colour. 

In my sketchbook I tried dry then wet, wet on wet and wetting the page and using dry pencils on it to explore the effects. I then did two drawings of some tulips a friend bought me, the first one heavy on the ink for darks.

Next on proper watercolour paper I tried using darker pencils for the darks and painting in more of a background with some sploshes for effect. It bloomed in places so I have to practice controlling the right amount of water. Next time I’ll try the same but even looser to see what happens with even less line. 

Practising with ink II

After spending so long on my Venice drawing for my first go with ink I decided to give myself ten minutes to sketch the same piece to see what happened. 

The result is a much looser drawing with more expressive lines that have quite a different character. As I had studied the building in such detail for my earlier drawing I found it easy so will have to spend a reasonable time just looking when I finally try this en plein air.

Practising with ink

The last week I have focused on conquering my fear of working with ink. I have worked on three pieces in the recent week or so.

The first was a fun Valentines card for my husband, who is a big Iron Maiden and Batman fan. I decided to combine the two interests and do this at the last minute and had only about 90 minutes to complete it. The time pressure forced me to worked more loosely than I ever have and I enjoyed the outcome, particularly on the trousers and grass.

I then copied a piece from the Urban Sketchers book to start to understand more about that stylised way of drawing. I enjoyed this and could see how concentrating detail in the area you wish to draw the eye works really well. I found the building relatively easy but need to work on my figures more.

Next I  bit the bullet and also tried to overcome my fear of drawing in public working on a small drawing on my commute to work. Although the man next to me glanced down a few times, everyone else was very absorbed by their smartphones or dozing which has given me more confidence to use this valuable time for sketching – albeit this will largely be time based on drawing from photos which I know is risky if I don’t also draw from life regularly too.

I used pencil to draw a photo I took in Venice of my husband photographing a church, which I then went over in ink. I probably spent 90 minutes on the pencil drawing as I wanted to get the detail right but I realise in the urban sketching tradition this is probably too much. I spent far less on the ink stage, probably 60 minutes in all. There are some perspective errors, and there is inconsistency with where I placed shade. I felt like I was feeling my way in the dark a bit here.

However I was pleased I kept disciplined with the lack of detail in the areas away from the church and tried some expressive lines when inking in the many statues. I actually really enjoyed the process of studying the building to this level of detail. You miss so much when simply photographing it.

This week to continue making progress I’ll work on an A4 drawing, much looser in style, and limit myself to 45 minutes pencil and then 45 minutes ink (my train journey is this much each way) and see what happens.

Sketching process notes

“Loose is how a drawing looks, not how it is made” – Anon

I’ve been reading ‘The Urban Sketcher’ and building a checklist of tips which I plan to use in some experiments with line and wash following the advice of my tutor. It also reflects some useful practices I have discovered intuitively to improve my sketching and some tips from a 1-2-1 lesson I had with fabulous sculptor Billie Bond in 2016 on proportion and perspective.

  1. Consider how you feel and what you want to convey. Design don’t document.
  2. Find your focal point and what you want to put most attention to.
  3. Think about what you want to leave out and suppress detail as you move away from focal point.
  4. Mark top and bottom point with a dash then outline main subject, also marking outer most edges.
  5. Sight size to measure from top of subject to its base (Line A) to use as a reference measure for all other subjects
  6. Continue taking measurements, working larger to smaller and outwards from the centre of the page.
  7. Angle check by sight sizing, moving your pen from the subject back to the paper without moving it.
  8. Once a silhouette is created, draw the inside contours of shadows on top. Outline dark shapes where the object turns away from light. Look for contact shadows where two things touch.
  9. Blend light and shadow shape together with gradations of half tone and some indications or surface texture in pencil.
  10. If composing a scene, the elements that attract the eye (items with greatest detail and greatest contrast) should combine / be placed at the compositional focal point and fade away towards the edges.
  11. Visual weight (areas of high contrast) will attract the eye so think about where darkest darks are and lightest lights. Edges where brightest light and darkest dark meet with a sharp line command most attention.
  12. Use a ‘point of view’ check to see if you are finished by holding the drawing in front of your face superimposed over the subject to check how the drawing lines up.
  13. After the pencil armature, ink over the top with impressionistic marks and begin adding all the details e.g. ornaments, chips and cracks in surfaces. Avoid cross hatching.
  14. Use a brush and ink or brush pen to place solid black marks into the shadow shapes. Lay in darkest darks, feather shadows into the sketch with hatch marks then use rubber to remove showing pencil.

Ideas for sketching near work at lunch:

  • Start small e.g. a window or a statue
  • Squares with a fountain, statute or other object in the centre
  • Ornate entrance ways and interesting doors or arches
  • Towers or domed rooftops

Papers to try

  • Smooth finish Bristol – Strathmore series 300
  • Stillman and Birn Epsilon

Pens / brushes to try

  • Lamy safari fountain pens (ink not waterproof) – fine, extra fine, 0.9 chisel nib
  • Pentel pocket brush pen, Kuretake #13
  • Da Vinci Maestro travel brushes

Useful pastel sites

I am collecting together all the useful pastel resources I find into one place.