Pro tip: Working with a permanent marker pen is the best method I’ve found for practicing this technique. It forces you to make a clean decision in your mind before committing pen to paper.
NOTE: The biggest problem at this stage is maintaining a balance of tones across the whole still life so that no object appears too dark or too light. You are searching for a unity of tone and form.
White paper, either regular computer paper or cartridge paper 2B & 6B pencil – I use Staedler Mars Lumograph Eraser – I use a putty eraser A round object to draw around (approx 7cm wide) A tortillion – I use a paper stump which is very similar compressed paper.
Lightly work across the whole of the light side to indicate the half tone.
In photography, lighting can often be called hard light or soft light. Hard light is harsh light so creates strong shadows and harder edges.
I then make a mark indicating the furthest point of the cast shadow.
1. A Beginners Guide to Light & Shadow: Part 1 2. The 3 reasons why you can’t draw (and what to do about it)
This one piece of information that can drastically alter your drawings and paintings.
Find a circular object to draw lightly around, this helps to give you a starting point so we can easily put into practice the theory of the sphere from last week. I’m using to 2B pencil (Staedler Mars Lumograph)
So, it could be a crisp line to indicate changes in shape or angularity.
Using a putty eraser I take back any of the shape that has gone slightly out.
I continue to work between softening and sharpening and blending.
TECHNIQUE: The tone of our still life is built up in four stages outlined in Steps 5 – 8.
TECHNIQUE: Finally, you focus again on the spaces between the objects, deepening their tones and increasing their contrast.
In this light and shadow series we look at the theory, drawing and painting of a simple form focusing on shadow, light and edges.
The image above is the final reference image I’ll use for this demonstration.
I sketch out the outline of the object and then put in both the cast shadow and the shadow line.
NOTE: You need to be careful in balancing the tonal values of the objects and the spaces between them to ensure that you create a unified image.
Below are two photographs to illustrate the subtle differences in the shadow strengths when I altered the lighting slightly.
Our step by step still life lesson will teach you the drawing techniques used to create the still life above which was done with a 2B pencil on cartridge paper.
TECHNIQUE: Once you are happy with the shape, proportion and composition of the still life, you can erase its lines of construction. This will leave you with an accurate outline of each form and the confidence that all the objects are positioned correctly. You are now ready to work on the details of each object.
NOTE: This see-through drawing technique uses vertical and horizontal lines of construction to help you to draw convincing ellipses and to balance the symmetry of cylindrical forms.
Using our secret weapon, our paper stump I start to blend the tones together to achieve the soft transition between the light side and the shadow side.
Whether you download and use the reference image or set up your own study, just take it a step at a time, look out for the soft transitions and I hope you get some fantastic results!
Using the softer 6B pencil, I reinforce the cast shadow depth of tone.
It’s often the first sketch that is the most effective at conveying the sense of form rather than an overworked, detailed drawing.
I now use a hard line and add slight angles to the circle, to represent more accurately the shape of the apple.
Soft light is very diffused, creating softer shadows and softer edges. So if you wanted to photograph somebody in the most flattering light, you would have soft light. If you want to increase the dramatic quality of the scene you would use a hard light.
The different characteristics of the light hitting an object can completely change its appearance.
Now I feel confident to go heavier on the form shadow core as I have both the dark cast shadow and the dark stalk to judge against.
Reinforce the cast shadow shape noticing – the darkest part that sits directly under the apple, the mid tone that makes up the majority of the cast shadow shape whilst keeping a lighter line as you get towards the lightest, softest tail of the cast shadow.
The term a ‘hard edge’ can describe two very hard surfaces, such as a tabletop with a metal cube on top of it or most commonly in drawing, we talk about the hard edge being an area that has a sharpness to it or a focal point of the drawing.
Lightly draw an ellipse shape to indicate the cast shadow. Notice how the ellipse cuts through the shape of the circle.
Also, see how you can judge the angle of the sun via the length of the cast shadow and the bright highlight.
Don’t underestimate its importance because of its simplicity.
I then draw in any darker accents on the bottom of the objects.
NOTE: A transparent wire frame approach to sketching the still life helps you to organize the composition of the group. It makes it easier to see the shape, position and proportions of each object in relation to its neighbours.
TECHNIQUE: In any still life, you should start to draw the objects as if they are transparent wire frame forms with visible lines of construction. This technique helps you to be fully aware of the shape of each individual form and its position in relation to the other forms. It is important to sketch the objects lightly as this makes it easier to change any mistakes and erase any lines of construction.
So now I have three tones, the lights, the form shadows and the cast shadows.
One of the key lessons from this demonstration I want you to come away with is to understand the importance of soft edges in your drawings.
An opaque bulb will give you a light source in between the two examples above. O.k – you won’t have a diffuser to mimic a Softbox – but it won’t be as hard as direct sunlight either.
This set up demonstrates each distinct area to be aware of, exaggerating the widest tonal range and when you’re a beginner it’s the simplest way to see the difference between the tones.
However, working with pencil, subtleties can get added into the scene (that are there) too early on and the simple distinction between light and dark gets lost.
The Softbox gives us the fall of light we’re after, yet slightly softer edges on the shadows.
Steps 1 to 4: These steps demonstrate how to draw the shapes and proportions of the still life objects using line.
This sketch is based on the Cézanne painting from last week. I’m using a black, fine line gel pen. This one is 0.5 mm from Muji.
Still Life is the best subject in art for learning and teaching the skills of drawing and painting. It teaches you how to look at objects and see them like an artist – with a perceptive awareness of their outline, shape, proportions, tone, color, texture, form and composition.
One of the biggest mistakes beginners make in drawing, is keeping all of the edges the same – most commonly, all of the edges are kept sharp and crisp.
During this exercise, you have to make a clear distinction between light and dark because you are using a pen – helping to prevent the separation becoming muddled.
The second one used a slightly higher lighting position with a softer light creating a softer cast shadow edge.
I can then indicate the shadow side by hatching lines with the pen.
If you’d like to learn more about sfumato and drawing techniques you should have a look at the How to draw light & shadow online drawing course
I fill in the form shadow, working over the first, form shadow core band.
Steps 5 to 8: These steps illustrate how to render the three dimensional form of the still life using tone.
I then shade a mid tone along this form shadow core. Even though it’s going to be darker than this eventually, it will help you to judge the different tones within the drawing.
A small table lamp without a shade is a good choice for setting up your still life at home, if you want to work from life, rather than the photograph above.
TECHNIQUE: Now lightly sketch in the shapes of any shadows or reflections onto each object.
Or it could be an area of high contrast (light and dark) to draw the viewer’s attention.
And once I’m confident with the general shapes and shadow patterns, I work with a thicker pen (this is a Staedler whiteboard marker) to indicate the very darkest cast shadows within the drawing.
High, softer diffused lighting from a single light source Softbox
The first one used direct sunlight because it’s not diffused it has created a harder, more solid shadow line and cast shadow.
TECHNIQUE: In the third stage of building up the tone, you focus back on the objects. This time you deepen their tone, increasing the contrast between the areas of dark and light. This will enhance the form of the objects and increase their impact.
It can be ‘right clicked’ and ‘Save image as’, so you can use it as a reference for your drawing.
This has just given me a really good idea of the shadow patterns within the scene. It can be a great exercise to do if you’re out in bright sunlight as you can get really distinct shadow shapes.
Next time we’ll be back in the studio where we’ll develop this apple study into a simple contemporary painting.
I’m keeping the lines evenly spaced and changing the direction of them, depending on the direction of the form. Notice how all of the cast shadows on the table are hatched in the same direction.
A ‘soft edge’ is more flowing or fluid and tends to be more low contrast. Soft edges suggest the idea of roundness and a gradual transition.
If you can learn to alter the weight of line and to incorporate more soft edges in your drawings, it will make a massive difference to the realism and style of your work.
Shade the apple stalk as dark as you can get it, it’s practically black on the reference image and it doesn’t need to blend into any other tones – so we can afford to go as dark as possible.
THE FINISHED STILL LIFE: The completed still life should work on two levels: as a realistic representation of the group of objects and as a dynamic composition of visual elements, harmonizing and contrasting the use of line, shape and tone.
Before we get started on the main event, here’s a really quick way of practicing looking for the shadow line.
For this demonstration, I’ve created a lighting set up using one single light source which gives us a predictable fall of light.
TECHNIQUE: When composing a still life, try to introduce the qualities that make an interesting arrangement. You need to be aware of the abstract structure of your arrangement: its balances and contrasts of line, shape, tone, color, pattern, texture and form.
So as we go through the next demo, I’ll indicate the areas to keep soft and the areas to keep sharper.
Now I swap to a softer pencil (a 6B) and begin to shade in the majority of the cast shadow. Notice how the angle of the shading is the same as when I hatched the cast shadow in the shadow mapping drawing using a pen.
NOTE: The drawing of the light and shade between the objects must be treated with as much importance as the drawing of the objects themselves. The shadows cast beneath and around the objects add as much to the definition of their shapes as does the shading of their surfaces. Notice how the counter-change of tones between the objects and their surrounding spaces takes over from the use of line to define their forms.
It’s at this point I swap back to the 2B and draw the hard, sharp line at the base of the cast shadow.
The curved line below the shadow line indicates a band where the form shadow core falls within. This will be the darkest area of the apple.
In this step, some basic tones are lightly applied to each object to help build up its three dimensional form.
Continue the shade over the edge of the apple, this is called combining the shadow shapes.
NOTE: The more care you take over the accuracy of these marks, the easier you will find the next stage of the drawing – the shading of tones.
This week we’re going to put pencil to paper and see how the theory works in a simple pencil drawing of an apple…
TECHNIQUE: The second stage in building up the tone focuses on the spaces between and around the objects.
Holding the pencil lightly, I gently indicate the softer, lighter tail of the cast shadow.
Notice how when you shade with the paper stump, it slightly darkens the tone.
So now your eyes are tuned in, let’s get on with the form drawing using a pencil.