Exercise Getting tone and depth in detail

Aim of the exercise: To select a single object and on A3 smooth paper practise building up dark, medium and light tones using pencils and hatching and cross hatching techniques, starting with the darkest areas first. To aim for sufficient contrast, variation in marks and whether filling the paper in an interesting and effective way.

What I experienced and what I learnt from that:

I completed this on 19/08/12 having worked on it over the space of a couple of days. I was nervous prior to starting this exercise as I struggle with both hatching and depiction of tone but found that once I started the exercise I really enjoyed it. I used 2H, H, F, B, 2B, 4B and 7B graphite pencils for the exercise and found that these gave me a good range of hardness and softness for the drawing. The softer pencils blunted very quickly and needed regular sharpening.

The instructions were to identify the darkest areas first and start with them. When hatching the darkest areas I found I was quite nervous of going too dark too soon but once in they did then give me something to refer all other tones to. By using hatching to achieve the dark tones I found that these areas were then more lively than if I had just shaded them.

I really enjoyed building up the detailed areas with the hatching and as they took shape I felt pleased that they appeared to be working better than I had thought I was capable of and I hadn’t realised just how much detail could be shown with hatching. The area that I feel has probably worked best is the forward facing broken off branch. By varying the marks and areas of tone I feel that this depicts the area well. The area that is probably the least successful is the turned away area behind this as I do not feel that I have managed to get a successful sense of depth. I managed to improve the sense of depth to a certain extent by darkening the area behind the broken off branch but I feel it could still be improved. I am just not sure at present how to.

I found it quite difficult once I got to the areas with less detail and more highlight as I found it difficult to show the curve of the log. I was trying to do directional hatching but it was not giving the impression that I wanted. Unsure where I was going wrong I had another look at the book that I had found helpful when trying hatching previously, Drawing A Complete Guide by Giovanni Civardi. I found the figure drawings on pages 401-439 the most helpful illustrations as they helped to show the kind of hatching marks that successfully showed the curve of legs and arms which essentially the main part of the log had a similar form to these. Following looking at these I went back to my drawing and tried a range of marks which on the whole I feel have been more successful in showing the curve of the log. Looking at the book also reminded me how important variation in tone in the curved area is to showing a curved form. I think that, though I still need to work on showing curved surfaces and that the drawing would have benefited from a better sense of curve to the form, the drawing is a step in the right direction overall and I feel that I have achieved a step forward with this drawing. A3 sketch book p.26 (please see figure 1).

Figure 1
Driftwood log, Exercise Getting tone and depth in detail

I did find at times that I still tended to hatch too many lines, almost a slightly panicky case of “if I put enough lines down some of them have got to be in the right place and direction and show the effect I want”. (This tended to be most when I was unsure of the best type of mark to make and the fact that I find it quite off putting that the first marks that I put down tend to look really quite wrong and it is only as more marks go in that the initial ones start to make sense). As this approach then tended to make the area quite muddled I had to on a couple of occasions use a rubber to take that area back to bare paper and start again. As the drawing progressed I got better at assessing whether the hatching I used was successful and more assured at sorting the area out if it wasn’t.

When it came time to put the shadow area in I was very  unsure how to treat this. In a previous exercise, tonal studies, I had just done parallel lines for the shadows but didn’t feel that it had worked very well. I decided that I wanted the shadow area to look lively and chose to cross hatch, aiming to show the variations in tone that I could see in the shadow area. I was pleased with the finished effect for variation in tone but I am not sure if perhaps it is a little too ‘lively’ and whether the shadow area should have been more subdued, perhaps by making the hatching closer together, so that it didn’t fight for attention with the log.

I found that I did not need to use a putty rubber very much to highlight areas as these were already shown by either unmarked paper or lightly hatched areas.

For composition I aimed for a diagonal flow and for interesting negative shapes with uneven spacing. I probably have too much negative space and cropping closer may have been a better option. I felt that the shape of the log and shadow area was important to show in its entirety rather than cut any of it off at the edges of the paper. In retrospect this does perhaps make for a rather boring composition.

I tried to remember throughout the drawing, as advised in the instructions, to work all around the drawing so that I could compare the tones of the different area of the drawing. I feel that I was more successful at doing that in this drawing than I normally am as I can get  carried away with working on a particular area.

Again, as advised in the instructions, I repeatedly reviewed the drawing as I was going along by stepping back from it and assessing tone, effectiveness of showing texture and form, variation and liveliness of marks. I found doing this very helpful. I did however increasingly feel when stepping back that I had not filled the paper in an interesting and effective way but I also did not know what to do about this or how to alter it to improve it. Even now the drawing is finished I don’t know, at present, how to improve the composition. and if I was doing the drawing again I don’t know how would be the best way to change it. It is something that I need to think about. In the check and log, which is coming up at the end of the project, it asks me to make sketches and notes on how I could improve the composition and it will be interesting to see by then if I can see a little better how I could do this differently.


I feel that I have achieved a lot with this exercise. For the first time I feel more confident in using hatching and am amazed at its versatility. I thoroughly enjoyed using it and enjoyed the challenge of the exercise. I need lots more work on the use of hatching but feel that I have made a really good start. I also revisited the research point that I did on Odilon Redon and studied again the hatching marks that he made and could understand how he had achieved the variations in tone in drawings better following doing this exercise. I also feel that I have managed to achieve better tonal control overall in this drawing, although I do feel, looking at the drawing now, that I could still have been braver and gone darker with some of the tones, particularly on the curve of the log. Again, lots more work needed but it feels to me that I have made a step forward. Composition wise I have not done well for this drawing and I will need to look at composition as a subject and then see if I can use what I learn to help me work out how I could have made the composition more interesting and effective. I have found a book that may help me with this, The Simple Secret to Better Painting by Greg Albert. Though it is on painting much of it appears to be just as relevant to drawing and I am hoping that it will give me a better understanding of composition which I can then use in the future.

This entry was posted in Part 2 Observation in nature, Project 2 Detailed observation. Bookmark the permalink.

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