Drawing Basics: Grateful for Shades of Grey

Figure drawing by Judith St. Ledger-Roty, charcoal drawing, 2011.
Figure drawing by Judith St. Ledger-Roty,
charcoal drawing, 2011.

I have been taking a figure drawing class that focuses on doing a comparatively long figure pose, working in charcoal. (We do one minute, five minute, and ten minute drawings, too, so 'long' is relative here!)

Until I started taking classes at Studio Incamminati, I never really focused on creating or monitoring values in any medium. I know that probably reveals my lack of formal experience, but so be it. To complicate matters, people use the same terms to mean different things. But I am getting it, little by little. Starting drawing with charcoal has really helped.

With charcoal drawing there is a comparatively narrow range of values. For example, perhaps you can achieve 7 or 8 or so gradations or shades of light and dark within charcoal. That limited number allows me to think about the relationship between light and shadow, or light and dark, in a way that would be much more difficult for me if I was starting from color.

With color, there is an infinite number of values or shades of a plethora of colors to think about. Is that shoulder pink or green, and what shade of pink or green is it? How warm or how cool? What is the value of the dark light, where the light moves towards shadow? I never thought I would be so grateful for shades of grey.

But even with shades of grey, it is easy to get the values wrong. The values of course are directly related to the light source (or lack of light) on your subject. I was working on a standing figure, who was facing me. The light was placed at the front top left, lighting the front of the model. I was consciously applying darker value as the figure moved away from the light, or where there were form or cast shadows. I had just applied a darker value to the lower legs when the instructor approached me to explain why the value I had just drawn in with my charcoal stick was wrong. I had neglected to look at the figure closely enough to see that the light placed at the top left was hitting the fabric on the model stand and reflecting back into the lower legs of the model, making it lighter than I had surmised.  Try again!

This drawing intended to demonstrate the path of light as it moves across the model. There is much more that can be done with this, and in a more organized fashion. But it is a start.




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