Understanding of the dimensions of light is critical to knowing how to draw light. Here we will be reviewing how the tonal range (from light to dark) is influenced by a number of factors. Something the artist can take advantage of to emphasize their perceptions of what they wish to portray.
By nature the pencil studies have a great potential for detail and contrast. The deeper the tonal range, the greater is the contrast and potential detail.
On the other hand, studies that have a more subtle tonal range can offer the artist a completely different set of parameters to work with. Where the obvious is subdued, whereby opening doors to suggestion and interpretation.
If we where discussing how to add shadows to a coloured study the methodology would be considerably different. With a mix of contrasting colours the tonal range is comparatively easy to achieve.
However, to achieve a good result the pencil artist has only black or white, and everything between to work with.
Consequently the pencil artist needs to be more selective when choosing the subject matter.
If definition and form is important then the following should be considered:
All of which are dependant on a good knowledge of lighting and how to draw light.
Light is a constant in both coloured and black and white studies. However, because of the lack of colour the pencil artist has to add a little extra to get better definition.
As a rule light travels in a straight line. If the source of light is on the left of an object, the shadow will be on the right. In most cases this is true, and that is the way it should be drawn.
However, not all light emitted from the light source will reach the object.
As it travels through the environment some of the light is 'adsorbed'. As more and more light is absorbed by the environment it eventually fades out completely.
But more on that later!
Let's first look at that main body of light.
That reminds me of what it would take to draw a shop front window. First there is the display in the window, which is probably well lit with spotlights. Then there is the shop front and signage on the glass. Next is the reflection of the pavement and street on the glass. Some of which is in shadow and leave only a ghostly image on the glass. But then there is that part of the reflection that is in daylight and reflects every detail. Thereby totally obliterating the display within the window.
Before we move on, I must draw your attention to, what is Refracted light? Not to be confused with Reflected light.
Refraction of light is the phenomenon of bending of a light wave as it passes from medium to another.
For example, as light passes through air into a more denser material such as water, glass and the like. As it does so in appears to change in direction due to a change in its speed.
To cover the full tonal range all the grades of graphite should be included.
The grades range from a hard (H) to soft (B). Preceding the H or B is a number. The higher the number harder or softer is the graphite with the HB being the midway. For example ranging from hard to soft the grades would read: 4H - 3H - 2H - H - HB - B - 2B - 3B etc. However, it is not necessary to use the full range of grades.
Over time I have whittled then down to 6H - 4H - 2H - H - HB - B - 2B - 4B and 6B.
Above we looked at the phases of light, reflections and the shadow. Now we will be looking at how the different grades of graphite fix into the Tonal Range. Furthermore, we will be looking at how under different conditions the tonal range will change. Affecting the way we draw shadows.
We start with a shaded object that has a full tonal range from light to dark. To be able to evaluate the tonal range a strip is removed and laid out on a flat surface.
Regular Tonal Curve
Regular Tonal Curve
Regular Dark Tonal Range
Low End Tonal Range
High End Tonal Range
Reflected Tonal Range
It goes without saying that every artist will have his or her own methods of drawing. As a result the intensity or 'blackness' of any one grade of graphite will differ from one artist to another. It may not be by much, but literally, in the over all picture it will make a difference.
A suggestion is to make your own graphite tonal range so you can compare. Don't rush through it, take your time. Do it as if it is going to be your next masterpiece. After all, it must reflect the way you would normally draw.
"Strength is found by one's failures not successes."
The pencil artist's understanding the parameters of lighting is crucial to creating a successful pencil drawing. This includes both natural and artificial lighting.
When we talk of natural light, the first that comes to mind is sunlight. And rightly so! It is probably the ideal lighting for the greater majority of studies. Particularly, suitable for those large panoramic studies such as landscape, wildlife and the like.
For more focused studies, sunlight offers the artist the full tonal range to work with. Which intern gives them ample opportunities to create a wide range of contrasting textures. Reflected or defused light is a factor not to be ignored. It can help to add definition to topics that portray form and shape.
Then with the change of day to when the shadows lengthen new prospects come into play. Where the patterns cast by the actual shadows can be use to create some interesting compositions.
Daylight shade is ideal lighting for portrait type studies. With the elimination of the glare of direct sunlight, it allows the artist to include those soft textures at the low end of the tonal range.
These are drawings that use out of the ordinary type of lighting to emphasis the meaning or 'drama' of the study. For example, a drawing of a candle lit portrait, or the reflection of the moon on the water. Or, what about someone with a wide brim hat standing under a streetlight.
Generally, I avoid using subject matter that has been taken with a flashlight. At a short distance the intense light tends be burn up crucial lines of definition and detail. Thereby, leaving the artist with a list of suspicious possibilities and uncertain options.
These studies are usually of a subject or form within a dark environment and lit by one or two focused spotlights. They are typically minimal where the profile line of a form figure or face becomes the focal point.
Here we have an example of a hand under spotlight. The primary light source is above and beyond the hand, with some reflected light on the underside of the hand.
The dark background is shaded with 2B and above. Whereas, the lighter portions of the upper hand had been drawn with 2H grade of graphite.
Choosing the correct grade of graphite is vital when drawing the dividing profile line between the dark background and the form. Because hard grade will give you a crisp line the temptation is to use that.
This will cause problem then it comes to applying the dark background, as it will prevent the softer grade upper layer from binding to the paper. As a result, the bold line from the form to the dark background become fuzzy.
The best solution would be to rather use a sharp soft grade to draw that dividing profile line. There after apply the adjoining dark background. Once that is done you could use an HB grade to enhance the edge.
What can I say about studio lighting? Other than daylight it is probably the next best thing. With the right equipment you can simulate practically any mood needed. But just one thing! Remember the black and white study needs contracts in the tonal range and in textures.