Challenge accepted

As mentioned in connection with Part 2 and the last tutor report I tried to go bigger. Initially I thought the specific exercises in part 2 did not lend themselves to large scale and expressive mark making but I think that has more to do with me limiting myself than with the actual exercises. In the end I did make a large piece from one of my spin offs to exercise 2.1.

I´m not sure if the mark making can be called expressive. In the background maybe – it is made with a 20 cm trowel for surfacing and I could work with my whole arm. The pattern, on the other hand, was more restricted although I treated it less timidly the longer I worked.

Working big certainly feels very differently from drawing with pencil on an A4 sheet.

Acrylic paint and acrylic marker on drawing paper, 100 x 102 cm


2.1. Tonal variation

Exercise: Gradation of tone using repeated marks

  • fix three A4 sheets on a wall
  • fill the sheets with marks of approx. 2 inches in hight
  • keep the pressure consistent, light on the first, stronger on the second, strongest on the last.
  • Compare the three tones
Conté-stick on drawing paper, A4

Are the marks in all three consistent in length and thickness? – Yes, quite, I think. The first ones in each show that I was tuning my hand. Also the texture of the wall beneath shows and makes the marks mottled.

Are there more strokes than spaces in between? – Yes. In the lightest tone the stick did not always draw with its whole width which gives the impression of wider spaces.

Are there clear differences between each sheet in terms of tone? – Yes. The midtone is somewhat closer to the light one I would say.

This way of achieving tone is very straight forward – more pressure gives darker marks. I was interested in how the relation of marks to spaces works as a means to achieve tone when the darkness of the marks is consistent. For this I made some examples where the tone changes gradually from left to right using ink pens and graphite pencils. I tried hatching in different directions, crosshatching and stippling.

I found that the direction and character of the marks is important. I wanted to work more on this and find out when to use which marks. These first attempts were timid, scientific and rather stiff. I was worried about the lines not being parallel and the distance between them changing too abruptly. In the course of the following exercises I lost that a bit and grew bolder. I got some very nice effects in some of the less ordered marks.

(I made this exercise first but left the logging of it until last).

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

On a bolder note

The first mortar and pestle image was well within my comfort zone and I felt I wanted to try something bolder. I made two new versions, one with colour and one with less precise marks.

With colour

The idea of the red tomato and its reflections in the mortar intrigued me so I did a version in graphite pencil and coloured pens. I also tried to make the contrasts stronger.

HB-5B graphite pencils, coloured pens and putty eraser on drawing paper, A3

For the mortar I left out some more lines on the lit side. The omission works like a highlight and creates an effect of very intense light (amplified by the dark shadow). I found that I did not need to darken the surroundings now. I also tried to rectify the elongated shape of the mortar. It is better now but still too long.

I haven’t used coloured pens for a very long time and felt awkward to begin with. I started very softly and gradually increased colour strength, mixing colours as I went. For the red I used three warm midtones, dark magenta, two oranges and dark purple. The white spots due to the paper’s tooth bothered me much more than when using graphite. Probably because I now thought in colour and wanted to restrict the white to the highlights. I think I managed to give the tomato a nice volume (although it got an indentation near the bottom which it does not have). It does have much more character than the graphite tomato, a tomatoness that the graphite one lacks.

I like the idea of a graphite drawing with just one colour in it. However in this picture, as the mortar is white, the green sepals of the tomato are the only thing where the b/w idea is obvious. I think the picture would profit from other vegetables kept in b/w to reinforce the idea. That would also make the composition more interesting.

Bolder marks


I chose a medium that is hard to control in order to not fall back into detail – stones.
They are a kind of ocher from Sicily, the dark one sepia-like with a hint of purple, the others shades of yellow ochre. I have never before drawn with these and found it hard to predict the kind of mark they would make and where exactly. Suddenly the mark making ability of the stone would vanish and I had to find a new edge to use. Sometimes it would be strong and rich in colour, sometimes thin and weak but grating the paper.

When drawing I used what I’d learned in my earlier pictures, the directional hatching, the leaving out of lines. I think it worked well for the mortar and the tomato, but not at all for the shadow.


The shadow has a contour which feels very wrong here. When working with pencil I made the contour line too, but could hide it in the darkness of the shadow later. Not with the stones. In this picture I feel the shadow is way too big and it seems to leave the table and curve up (at the top?). I think the smudging would have worked if the shadow was smaller, but I don’t like the lines at all. At the base of the two objects it works well, though.

Both the tomato and the mortar have nice volume, I think, and the forms are distinct even if not all the lines are correct. I am surprised how well the highlights work here. In the tomato I like how lines, smudging and blank areas work together. The dark lines to the left are very nice and bold.

Mark making for shading

By now I have a clear mental picture of a ball and its shades and shadows and for these sketches I concentrated on the mark making side of things. While working I found that the principles of shading are really quite simple: find a way to make an area appear darker than an other. I can do this by either using more graphite/pigment with a softer pen or more pressure or – if the medium always draws in the same tone – by varying the space between my marks (as in stippling). Or indeed a combination of both. This made the ideas pop up in my head and gradually opened doors away from graphite pens.

Parallel straight lines give an impression of fast movement. A strong effect, I find, but I do not particularly like the picture. It looks stiff. I like the wriggly lines better.


This is done with letter rubber stamps – my initials. I like this very much. As with the stippled ball I like how it retains its shape without an actual outer line. I love letters and find the pattern they make when stamped over each other really pleasing.

While stamping I came to think about letters as carrying meaning in themselves. Maybe not a single letter, but other signs – like question marks. Does the meaning they carry by themselves change the statement of my picture? I think it must. Or give it a statement. These are sketches of balls, I do not mean anything by them, but the following picture carries a whole load of meaning – or could at any rate once one starts thinking on these lines.


I chose lighting from below to enforce the dramatic effect. Now suddenly there are questions, confusion, and in the shadow urgency and quite some force, too, through the directional orientation of the exclamation marks.

Thinking back to my other marks – they, too, add meaning in a way. They certainly lead a viewer’s thoughts in different directions. Marks are essential.

Back to shading and the amount of black. If that thought holds I should be able to use a pattern to indicate the form. As I made this the form already appeared before the “shading” as the pattern changes around the curved form. But the use of lines in different thickness added light. I omitted the shadow here. To be honest I don’t know how I would make it for it to do justice to the delicate pattern. And I don’t want to spoil it.

Inkpens 0,05 – 0,5 on cartridge paper,  ca. 7cm across


On the other hand, due to perspective the lines around the edges are closer together and thus add more black. So prior to adjusting line thickness the edges are darkest. Maybe this should be done the other way round?

White calligraphy ink and quill on blue-grey drawing paper, ca. 13cm across

I like the luminosity of this. Although the contrast between light and dark parts of the ball could be stronger. The effect is strongest in weak light I found and becomes hard to spot when a light is shone on the drawing. Interesting. How it reacts to daylight remains to be seen.

Mortar and pestle

With this sketch my intention was to try different marks to tease out form and glossiness of the  mortar and pestle. Also I wanted to make the highlights more prominent. I skipped the tomato as it did not contribute very much apart from a faint red tinge in some reflections which would be fun to do with colour but not without.

As I struggle with hatching I chose that, trying to let the marks convey shade and highlights as well as give information about the objects’ shape. The paper takes care of the midtones, the dark pen adds shading and the white pen the highlights.

Dark grey ink brush pen and white acrylic marker on blue-grey paper.

I am very satisfied with the highlights, they really pop. In the first version on a lighter beige paper the contrast was too weak. With the darker paper it works. I chose a grey pen rather than black to soften the contrasts on that end a bit. The mortar is white so it isn’t actually dark anywhere.

I also like the missing lines where it is up to the viewer to interpret the form. The hatching helps to explain the form, especially where both hatching and cross-hatching were used. I like the shifting between the two.

The lines in the shadow do not really work like this. Partly, surely, because the lines are wonky, but I wonder if straight lines of that length wouldn’t be too stiff and strict. Maybe it would have been better to hatch at an oblique angle. Or to let the lines follow the direction of the light, fanning out from the base of the mortar.

Overall I am happy with the outcome but feel the technique is too stiff and inhibited. I like more expressive marks. Maybe in combination with something more irregular this very strict shading makes a nice contrast – e.g. with vegetables next to the mortar where the greens would be drawn in a different, more expressive way.

The directional hatching can be used to good effect with less precise marks to make a less strict drawing. I did that in the second drawing in this post.



2.2 Tone and Form

Exercise 1: Circle to ball

  • Draw three circles and shade them so they become balls
  • Change direction of the light and shading techniques
  • Draw from your imagination

A simple enough exercise I thought but realised quite quickly that there are a number of decisions to make, e.g. what is the ball made of? What kind of surface is it lying on? What is the light source like (diffuse or sharp)? To begin with I decided on non reflective surfaces and a diffuse light source. The first two I drew from imagination, the second two with a tennisball as a model placed under a spotlight.

Graphite pencils in sketchbook, cartridge paper, A4

I really enjoyed doing these, to observe the shadows and what the angle of the light does to the composition. With the light from below the picture gets quite dramatic (as far as a ball can be dramatic…), with the light from exactly above it gets heavy and squat. A light from the side and above brings out the best form.

Shading – or rather the representation of what happens to the light – says a lot about an object. Not only about its form, but also what material it is made from, where it is placed and what its surroundings are. I got very curious about other materials and made a raid into the boys’ treasure tins. Here are two marbles, both in glass, the first one opaque, the other transparent:


B-9B graphite pencils and putty eraser on cartridge paper, A4

A smooth surface complicates things as the reflective light is stronger and reflections of reflections start to appear. Transparancey seems to change everything!

In order to make the highlight as light as I saw it I had to darken everything else, so that in comparison the white of the paper shines out. In the first image the contrasts are too weak, the second one is better.

I also tried my hand at alternative shading methods. I have to do more of these. (Playing around some more yielded these).

HB-5B graphite pencils / ink pen 0.3 on cartridge paper, A4

I like the stippled one as it does not have any line and yet the shape is unmistakable. With hatching I feel I have a very hazy idea of what I am after and how to get the effect I think I have in my head. This needs further study!

Exercise 2: Observing light and shadow

  • place two simple objects together
  • light from one side
  • Make shadowmaps in my sketchbook
  • Then draw the gradations of light, beginning with the middle tones

These are my objects:img_5221

I wanted one in a shiny smooth material to see what the light would do with it. It turned out that the pestle and mortar are a bit translucent as well as smooth so there was not that much shadow. Again I darkened everything to make room for the highlights. Not enough as it turned out.

HB-9B graphite pencils and putty eraser on sketching paper, A3

IRL the midtones and highlights are a bit more prominent than in this photo but still the contrasts should be stronger. Otherwise I am quite satisfied with the outcome. The mortar is somewhat elongated (not quite as much as it seems as the photo got stretched somewhere in the process so that there it is too squat). I think this happened because I worked on a flat tabletop rather than on an easel so that I saw my own drawing foreshortened. I have heard of this but never experienced it so markedly.

While drawing I noticed how lines appear where different tones meet. Sometimes, the line is not really visible and the drawing gains from such a line being omitted. An example of that is the top edge at the front where the side merges into the top without there being a line. A bit to the right the edge appears as a line where it has a highlight and to the left where the side is darker than the top. This allows the brain to read the line even if it is not drawn all the way.

Again I chose a drawing technique where individual marks are blurred and all but disappear. I think it is difficult to show detailed shifts in tone with other techniques. Also I find it a very good way to get to know the subject. However, now I am acquainted with it I intend at least one different technique (the outcome of which you find here, and two other ones here).

These are my shadow maps: