I don’t know what happened to August, it just disappeared.
Well I do know, I got married, which meant a lotof time running around organising things, some time partying, and then some more time recovering.But that doesn’treally explain why I did almost no work last month. Regardless, now I’m back, and I’ve got a bee in my bonnetabout tone (‘value’, for those of you in the US).
Tone. Light and dark. Since I’ve been so interested in light from the beginning, I’m kind of surprisedthat I’ve only just got around to giving my full attention to tone. After all, it has to be the mostimportant factor in expressing light (yes, I have heard of Impressionism, but lets just keep things simple for now,or I’m going to lose my thread). In the beginning, I was far more interested in colour. When it becamepainfully apparent to me how awful my drawings were, I eschewed tone completely to improve myline andmy drawing of form. It did help matters, but I couldn’t just do line drawings forever, so now I find myselfin the confusing world of light and shadow.
Why confusing? Well, it all comes down to one thing. If you’ve spent any time on this site at all, you’veprobably gathered that I’m primarily interesting in drawing and painting what I see. but I’m beginning torealise beyond all shadow of a doubt that it simply isn’t possible. Most of the time, anyway. The reasonfor this is mainly that it’s not possible to reproduce the breadth of tones I see in nature. No, it isn’t.I’m not moving on this.
Consider the lily. No, actually, consider the apple. Apples have shiny surfaces, and shiny surfaces reflect light,and lots of it. A lot more than, say, a sheet of white paper. The upshot of this is that a highlight on theshiny skin of an apple simply can’t be matched in paint, or in a drawing. I suppose I’ve always suspected thisto be the case, but it’s now become impossible for me to ignore this fact any more. What’s really brought ithome to me is a new series I’ve just started,100 still life drawings
100 Still Life Drawings
This new series is all about tone. The drawings are small, simple, and don’t take very long to do. At themoment, I’m doing one or two every day, so I’m also getting some very good eye training in.
But it’s really brought it home to me that when I’m drawing or painting, the tonal range I have to workwith is restricted. I’ve noticed it mainly in the lights. I’ve accepted that much of the time I can’t geta light tone as light as the highlights I see in my subjects, but this has left me with a problem to solve.If I can’t match the lightness of a highlight, then I have to use the lightest light I can get for thehighlight. But unless I darken the tones around it, it’s simply not going to stand out enough.
I’ve been spending more time than is really healthy thinking about how best to deal with this problem.I’ve been wondering whether it’s better to just accept that the light can’t go light enough, and match allthe other tones as closely as I can (black, thankfully, is doable,) or whether I should tone everything elsedown to make the highlights work properly.
What I hadn’t thought of (and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it,)is an approach that Steven Sweeny, a member of the very excellentPortrait Artist Forums has recommended to me.Say you havea range of tones in steps from 1 to 10 that you can see in nature, but you only have a range of tones from 1to 8 to work with, the best thing to do is to put down your lightest light and your darkest dark, and thenpreserve the ratios between the tones in nature in your work. So, presumably, your mid tone will bethe same, but the steps between all the other tones will be slightly smaller than they really are.
I’ve always found the ‘step’ approach to tone in painting slightly artificial, but this is more a concept,a way of visualising an approach to tone, it doesn’t mean you have to do everything with undifferentiated toneblocks with no transitions from one tone to the other. And I’ve just had to accept that the ‘step’ approachhas some value, something to teach me, which may improve my work. Since I’m probably not expressing this very well,it’s probably a good idea just to point you to Steven’s explanation on the forumshere, the postI’m talking about is at the end of the page.
Now that Steven’s said that, it seems very obvious to me, but I have a habit of thinking myself into astrait-jacket, which I appear to have done with remarkable aplomb on this issue. Now this throws up some interestingquestions for me.If I accept that I can’t paint or draw exactly what I see, in a way I’m accepting that the basis of my workup to this point is flawed. Or at least, a bit shaky. Where I go from here I’m not entirely sure. I certainlydon’t intend to change my approach to what I do.
Second Cast Drawing Finished
I think it’s probably just a sign that I’m progressing, that I’m learning more about what my materialsare capable of, and what I’m capable of doing with them, at least I’d like to think so. So it’s a good thing.What’s behind all this is the fact that I’ve now finished thesecond cast drawing, and after only one more,I’ll be starting to add tone. That scares me. I’ve seen some incredible examples of cast drawings on the web, andwhilst I hope to achieve something like them by the time I get to the tenth one in the series of cast drawings, Ijust can’t see how that’s going to happen unless I get a lot better with charcoal very quickly.
In the mean time, I’m having a lot of fun with my still life drawings, it’s my favourite series so far. That’spartly why I’m doing 100 of them, but also because it gives me something simple to do every day, something thatI don’t have to get all worked up about, something that I can sit down and make a start on without worryingabout whether I’m going to be producing a masterpiece, and that’s kind of liberating.
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