2.2 Tone and Form: Spoons

Exercise 3

  • Map out an outline of the bowl of a spoon on A3 – ambitious scale
  • Describe visually the patterns you see using tone
  • Try to use the eraser only for lift off in carefully chosen areas

I have been looking forward to this exercise, namely the reflections, shadows and strange shapes that I expected to appear in the spoon. However, before I could dive into that I wanted to learn the shape of the spoon – they tend to be curved in all directions which is a challenge with regard to perspective. Also I wanted to find an interesting composition. What kind of light should I use? And from where? What angle do I want to draw the spoon from and should I go for the concave or the convex side?

Graphite pencils on cartridge paper, A4

While sketching I found that with the concave side the illusion of 3-dimensionality was harder to achieve. And the reflections were best in natural light from the window although it was a very dull day in January. The weak light didn’t cast any interesting shadows so I put the serving spoon on a smooth surface (a white china tray) and found a very nice reflection in that when I looked against the light.

Graphite pencils on cartridge paper, A4

I also tried a soup spoon with a matt finish where the reflections are less clear and have almost no sharp edges. These were more fun in a spotlight as the differences in tone got stronger and there was a very nice soft shine to the highlights.

Graphite on cartridge paper, A4

In my last sketch I lighted the spoon from the side and from above so that most of what I could see should have been bathed in light. It was , but it looked dark. Maybe this is due to the matt finish? The shiny serving spoon in the same spot was lighter. Looking at the picture I read the dark spoon as lying in very bright light, like on a summer’s day, rather than being in shadow. Why? Is it the cast shadow that lets me do that?

In the end I got seduced by the reflection on the tray where I could see the serving spoon from both sides. I also decided to include the handle. It is made from black plastic which means that the light behaves very differently on that.

4H-7B graphite on paper, A3, natural light, contre-jour

Alas, this does not answer to the description of the exercise – the bowl of the spoon is too small. New take: A ladle on the same china tray. The reflection is much weaker, but it is there.

4H-9B graphite pencil on paper, A3, natural light from the right


I am flabbergasted about the way I was able to make the shiny metal actually shine and about how the form suddenly popped while I was working. I had always wondered how one can make paper sparkle like metal. It seems the secret is tone. I thoroughly enjoyed finding the different tones and see how the shapes curve.

I learned a lot doing the exercises on tone. Especially I focused on the observation of edges – both of the object and of shadows/reflections. They are important for the clues we read and tell us about the light source and about the object’s surface. I found that an object’s contour very rarely is a line. In the spoons for example, the metal has a thickness so the line between inner and outer surface actually is a surface too, albeit a very narrow one. But it reflects the light in different ways along its length. Sometimes the contourline is barely there at all because the tones on each side of it are very similar. Contours of shadows give hints about the object’s shape, but also its material, the light source and even the space the object is in. A shadow line is often sharp nearest the object, but gets fuzzy further away. This allows us to read the flat image as space. A spotlight makes sharper edges than does winter daylight through a window. I think careful choice of information like that makes it possible to draw a much simpler image, where we still read form, surface, light etc.

Reflections on 3-dimensionality

The hardest stage in drawing an object like the spoons, I find, is the beginning, when the object is still flat. Once I could see it arching it was easier to see how the light behaves on my drawing and where I have to put my marks. In the beginning there is no depth, but suddenly it is there only to disappear again when I look at the drawing in an other way.

This getting in and out of 3-dimensionality reminded me of a passage in the foreword of The End of the Line which I’ve read recently. The author cites John Berger from an essay written in 1960 where he describes just that. Berger says:

From being a clean flat surface [the page] became an area of limitless, opaque light, possible to move through but not to see though. I knew that when I drew a line on it – or through it – I should have to control the line, not like the driver of a car, on one plane, but like a pilot in the air, movement in all three dimensions being possible.

“As soon as one makes a mark on (or in) this space”, Dillon goes on, “the page itself is suddenly present again as a surface. The task of the artist is to forget the support (…) Each new mark, Berger writes, changes the nature of the page: the artist hovers between seeing the page as a flat surface and seeing it, as the marks multiply, as an emerging fullness or presence.” (Dillon 2009)

I think by “emerging fullness or presence” he means 3-dimensional space popping up and disappearing again. Sometimes, when I draw, I need to take a step back to make the illusion do its magic, but sometimes drawing feels almost like sculpting.


Dillon, Brian (2009) The End of the Line: Attitudes in Drawing. London: Hayward Gallery Publishing


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