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.
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
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
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.