Drawing Basics: Working in Black and White

A photo of the cast I am drawing. My drawing, in progress.
A photo of the cast I am drawing. My drawing, in progress.

You may remember that in the fall of this year, I discussed Darren Kingsley’s class and his comment that we would be working for many weeks on our drawing of a facial feature in his class. Well, he kept to his word. We are still working on the feature we initially started with all those weeks ago. I chose to draw the cast of the eye of David.

It has been a really valuable (excuse the pun) exercise in understanding value. We use both hard and soft graphite. With the shadows, we started with 6B pencils, and HB and H pencils in the lights. Rather than try to obtain the “correct” value in the first pass, Darren taught us to reach our values slowly, working in layers first in the shadow and then in the lights. The shadows in my drawing are about as dark as I will take them. Because my graphite application is not yet consistent—sometimes I am unintentionally applying the graphite with different pressures—they are more scratchy than they should be.

The light areas under the eye will be pushed still darker, perhaps much darker, and then I will start the light areas above the eye brow. I have tried to concentrate in one area at a time, but Darren says my drawing reflects that I need to focus on even smaller areas at a time, again, not reaching the final values, but consistently putting in layers of value in small areas. Of course, value relationships are key.

In addition to value and value relationships, this class focuses on drawing techniques. Each time we come back to the drawing, we are encouraged to look at it anew, as compared to our subject. Sure enough, each time I begin to work on the drawing again, I see errors that have been there from early on in the process. Erasing with a kneaded eraser works in the beginning if I gently apply it, but there comes a point where the paper will begin to get rough so I have had to leave some drawing errors  even though I would prefer to make changes.

Value drawing by Dan Thompson.
Value drawing by Dan Thompson.

I’ve included a value drawing done by instructor Dan Thompson in his full time 2nd level class. I did not see it done, but if you look closely at it, you can see his use of value to suggest planes and turn form in the portrait. He has graciously put it up on the wall so all of us can learn from it.

When we finish our drawings of features, we will begin to do a feature in paint. However, lest I am tempted to get too excited about getting to paint, I must remind myself that the paint will probably be two values—a mix of ivory black and burnt umber for the shadows, and the same mix plus white for the light areas! It can be difficult seeing others working in color. However, I’ve realized that working in black and white is really key for me to understand how to manage color and values of color once I get that on my palette. More later!




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