Lights and Darks in 3’s

Lights and Darks in 3’s by Michael Newberry
One big problem that artists face when developing light and shadow in a work is that they tend to have the exact same darks and lights scattered around the surface. The result is that it kills the life out of the drawing!

A great way to solve that problem is to celebrate a hierarchy of lights and darks. The simplest way to do that is to focus on three different tones of lights and darks.

Here I will take you through what I mean.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks
Dreams of Round Things, 2006, charcoal on Rives BFK, 26 x 19 inches.

After I had lined up the proportions of Kelly, I was ready to organize my tones.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks

The real-life background was a dark, cobalt blue felt air mattress. Since the darkest object was going to be her hair, I chose the mattress as my 2nd darkest object.
Female Nude, Lights and Darks
Here I have two things blocked out–her dark hair and the background.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks
Here I added my third dark–her cast shadow on the floor. Next, I started on the lights. The highlight on the wood floor was going to be my least brightest of the lights.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks

My choice for tones was not arbitrary. I compared and contrasted all the tones in my field of vision. Kelly has a lovely light skin, so I knew she was going to be the lightest thing in the drawing, even though she was predominately in shadow.

After I mildly block out the light of the floor I was ready to start on her. The light on her leg looks almost shockingly bright, but, technically, I knew that brighter whites were to me.

For you artists, I was using soft charcoal pencils and a kneaded eraser. The kneaded erasers are wonderful for lightening the paper, yet it takes some hard erasers to bring out the brightest whites.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks
Here everything is blocked out. I clearly have dark, darker, and darkest : the cast shadow, the background, and her hair.

For the lights, the highlights on her shoulder, breast, and forearm are the brightest. The rest of her body is the second brightest while the surface of the floor is the least bright.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks
For the rest of the drawing, I am molding, tweaking, and detailing her and the background–being careful to be well aware of my hierarchy of lights and darks.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks

Female Nude, Lights and Darks

Towards the end of the drawing is the easiest place to lose sight of your hierarchy of the lights and darks. For example, I began to add the details of the shadows and highlights of the mattress’ circular cushions. There were many really dark shadows, and, of course, the mistake would have been to make them as dark as her hair. So it took some discipline to make them as dark as possible without stepping over the boundary to my darkest black.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks

The consequence is that her hair has a kind of brilliant, rich freshness to it that would have been lost otherwise.

It should be a lot of fun for you to try this technique out–or to look for a hierarchy of lights and darks in other artists’ works. Enjoy.

Michael Newberry
New York, September 17th, 2006

Charcoal Drawing Part 2

Charcoal Drawing Part 2 by Michael Newberry

In Charcoal Drawing Part 1 you will find what are quality materials you need to get the best results.

With this tutorial, I will take you through the drawing stages.

charcoal drawing demo

The preparation takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Now that you have prepared the paper you are ready to roll.

charcoal drawing demo

The charcoal rub on the paper is neither black nor light, but solidly in the middle of the tonal range. Here I am drawing with General’s charcoal pencil 6b. You will notice that I hold the pencil at the back end. It may not seem important, but you might be amazed at how the mark making becomes more fluid.

charcoal drawing demo

After the drawing the composition, I begin to “block” out the darker areas using the soft compressed charcoal stick. Notice that with this too I hold it lightly at the back end. My preference is to drag the charcoal barely touching down on the paper.

Shadows are s difficult business, it is crucial that they feel mysterious and transparent. If you are too firm they will “sit” on the surface, destroying the spatial depth, and any hope of the drawing creating a feeling of light.

charcoal drawing demo
Here I have blocked out the major areas of dark.

Charcoal Drawing Part 2

Using a kneaded eraser I block out the lighter areas, but only a small degree. As with the charcoal, lightly drag the kneaded eraser over the paper. I tend at this stage to draw and erase with uniform rows of lines, a la da Vinci. This keeps the whole image calm, and uniform.

Below, I roll the kneaded eraser into a nub, which I use to erase the charcoal. These erasers need to be kneaded. If not, the charcoal cakes it. Think of a dishwasher sponge covered in bacon fat. That analogy is a little extreme, but just keep kneading the eraser, and it will stay fresh and clean for a long time.

Charcoal Drawing Part 2

Charcoal Drawing Part 2

Here are the results of blocking out both the lights and darks.

Below, I start refining the details I see, both erasing and drawing.

Charcoal Drawing Part 2

Now I am at a difficult stage. The drawing is set up well, but I have to drive it home. Most important now is to clearly visualize the where the objects are in space. I compare the front corner of the glass vase, with other corners, and with the back and front of the table. Below you can see I am accenting the front corner with darker marks, which helps the corner pop forward.

Charcoal Drawing Part 2

While I am drawing and looking at details, I am squinting most of the time. Squinting enables us to see the nuance of tones and the essential details of light and shadow.

Charcoal Drawing Part 2

The kneading eraser will only wipe out so much of the charcoal. To make the brightest lights, the Pink Pearl eraser does an outstanding job. It is too powerful for the subtle earlier stages but perfect for slashing the shimmering brights.

Newberry, Glass Vase

Newberry, Glass Vase, 2012, charcoal on Rives BFK, 22 x 14 inches.

I hope you enjoyed seeing erasers in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry
Los Angeles, May 2012

Charcoal Drawing Part 1

Charcoal Drawing Part 1 by Michael Newberry

Charcoal drawing is 30,000 years old and marks the dawn of humankind. When drawn on great paper is one of the easiest and most rewarding techniques in all visual art. It is perfect for the beginner because it quickly conveys the image; mistakes are easily corrected, and it naturally enhances light effects. It holds challenges to expert artists as well: it lends itself to the extremes of the freedom of action drawing or insanely subtle realism.

charcoal drawing demo
Materials

Rives BFK paper.
Kneaded eraser, Pink Pearl eraser. Optional, a drawing eraser.
Straight edge.
6 B charcoal pencils. Generals.
Flat compressed charcoal stick, soft. Alpha Color is a good brand.
Portfolio Cachet, 20 x 26 inches. It is lightweight and doubles as an excellent drawing board.
Metal Clips.
Shop Mechanics Paper Towels (hardware stores).
Sennelier charcoal or pastel fixative.
Glassine paper, to protect your finished drawing.
Exacto knife, for sharpening the charcoal pencil.

You need a great paper. Inferior papers simply cannot withstand repeated erasing; they lose the paper’s integrity and become resistant to edits after a couple of minutes. My favorite paper is Rives BFK, found in good art stores. It is 100% cotton rag, acid-free. It comes in white, off white, and in heavy to light sheets. I prefer medium. A heavy sheet is excellent if you want to work on your project for weeks or months. I tend to work about 10 to 20 hours on a finished charcoal.

charcoal drawing demo

Starting with an oversized sheet, about 40 x 29 inches, and I will trim it down to 19 x 26 inches. Here marking where it will be divided.

charcoal drawing demo

charcoal drawing demo

With a great paper like Rives, it is fine art practice to tear the sheet instead of cutting it with a blade or scissors. After I have marked the dimensions, I use a straight edge to make the tear—careful to keep pressure along the straight edge with my left hand as a tear with my right. Very easy, if done carefully.

watermark

Most quality papers have a watermark, which you can see when you hold them up to the light. The side where the watermark reads normally is the front, the side you want to draw on. Though, it is not the end of the world if you end up drawing on the back.

charcoal drawing demo

Place the paper on your portfolio/drawing board using metal clips. Then using the flat side of the compressed charcoal stick, I gently, very gently, spread an even layer of charcoal over the paper. The more gently you can do this now, works to your advantage later – because it will be easier to erase the highlights.

Note: You will notice that you will get impressions from the flat surface under the paper. You might want to place another piece of same size paper underneath your drawing paper for more even tone.

charcoal drawing demo

charcoal drawing demo

Using Shop Mechanics’ paper towels gently blend the charcoal to moderately smooth finish. A smooth finish now gives more kick and power to your shadows and highlights later.

charcoal drawing demo

The preparation takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Now you are ready to start drawing.

In Charcoal Drawing Part 2, I will show you the stages of blocking out the shadows to the finishing touches of wonderful highlights.

charcoal drawing demo

I hope you enjoyed seeing charcoal in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry
Santa Monica, April 2010