Don’t Use That Tone With Me

13 Mar 2012

The appeal of tonal drawing is that it truly embodies visual subtlety. Instead of being the domain of line, the techniques that lead to a successful tonal drawing reside in value and shape. But learning how to draw tonality has been, for me, a hard road.

Poor Lazarus by Ira Korman, charcoal drawing on paper, 14.75 x 14.25.

Poor Lazarus by Ira Korman, charcoal drawing on paper,
14.75 x 14.25.



Tone, of course, is the level of lightness or darkness in a given area of drawing. And that's where the trouble starts. Even though I have a lifetime of familiarity with using a pencil, I still sometimes feel like I am back in my elementary school drawing program, picking a pencil up for the first time.

I forget how important pressure is, and how with the slightest change you can go from a light, almost imperceptible tone to one that is quite dark. I also tend to tense up and forget how holding my pencil loosely but firmly is crucial to getting consistent marks.

The other challenge I have with tonality is how to soften and blend light and dark areas together where they meet while also keeping them distinct. Fading shapes and images into each other using merely pressure on your pencil means having a real understanding of light and dark on a form, and that's something I'm still learning.

Academie de femme debout by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon (detail, reversed), charcoal drawing with chalk.
Academie de femme debout
by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon
(detail, reversed),
charcoal drawing with chalk.
Of all the drawing techniques out there, tonal drawing is one I'd really like to master. The end results are so beautiful and understated. And I have made strides. Now, I can pride myself on looking at an object and being able to put on my "tonal drawing goggles," evaluating lights and darks almost as if I was looking at a black and white photo. And don't think I haven't done that, too. Sometimes it helps to go from apples to apples, looking at an image that is black and white to get my eyes adjusted to what I'm doing in shades of grey on a piece of paper.

And fortunately, I'm not alone in trying to figure this out. Drawing magazine has been an invaluable resource to me on this, printing dozens of instructional articles on how to turn forms using gradation, and how shape can inform how tone appears on the surface of an object. In fact, Drawing is one of the drawing tools I rely on most because their explanations are so spot-on. I can't wait to see what the latest issue brings. If you feel the same way, sign up for your subscription to Drawing magazine now. We'll have a lot to discuss in the very near future! Enjoy!

P.S. Here's a sneak peek of our new topic page devoted to all things How to Draw.


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Comments

R.Cook wrote
on 16 Mar 2012 10:37 AM

These people that draw like that! Wow, they should even be BETTER PAINTERS!