Category Archives: Project 2 Basic shapes and fundamental form: Excersise 2: Observing shadow using blocks of tone

Part 1: Project 2: Excersise 2: Observing shadow using blocks of tone


Okay… so I’ve been away for a bit – major life stuff…  and have come back with a different attitude.

Can do.

Part of the change is that I crack on and do the work instead of over intellectualising it. And set myself time limits… I gave myself two hours to do this.

I really enjoyed this exercise which I split into two: in the first part I blocked in main areas of primary tonal gradations of light and dark (about an hour), had a fifteen minute break…cup of tea and a good look at the work so far and then a second hour working in the tonal gradations of the reflected light.

To start I cut an A1 piece of paper in half making an A2 sheet and stuck it to my board using brown gum tape. This held it in place but the paper wasn’t stretched – maybe next time I’ll wet it and that stretch it?

Wonder if that will effect the bite of the paper?

The objects:

It took a about 20 minutes prior to starting trying to find simple objects and then fitting them together – in the end I opted for an old cider jug and a red cereal bowl. And another 20 minutes trying to get an interesting arrangement of the two objects, which I had on a large table in front of a big window lit by a bright table lamp.


As the sun moved round I tried to just use the light and dark from the table lamp and ignore the reflections of the window and the movement of the shadows – in effect trying to use the window as a ‘flood’ and the lamp as directional light.

Tools and paper:

The paper had a good bite which meant that the conte made a speckled mark when applied to the paper.

I used a snapped off black conte crayon as my marker… both the side and end.

And two rubbers… one traditional and bendy like a school rubber and the other harder with a sharper edge. (When my hard rubber lost its edge I cut it down with a Stanly knife to make an edge.)

Way of working:

I started laying down lines to get the positions but stopped myself within minutes and forced myself to work with blocks of tone.

Firstly I lay down sweeping blocs of tone, working the area occupied by the objects and using negative shapes to find my way round – pressing hard and soft to differentiate. Then I used the soft rubber to smooth the conte out to make solid blocks of tone.

Then I ‘drew’ with the rubbers taking off and adding tone and using great sweeping motions to find the shapes – it felt more like sculpting and was great fun. It connected me to the object so it was like I was touching it.

Next I pulled out lighter areas and the shadows and the reflections started to make sense. If I got it wrong I just added some more conte or moved it around. Very exciting. Finally I put in the highlights. Then pushed the black back into the highlight if it was too thick.

What I learned:

Basically – objects don’t have lines around them!

I found that what I thought was a black line wasn’t a line at all. It might well be a highlight that made an edge, or there might be no difference in tone and we just ‘put in’ the line of the bowl with our head.

It made me look much more carefully.

And I can’t explain it but it made me ‘feel’ the objects rather than ‘draw’ them and actually see the gradations in tone for the first time. The primary and reflected light was a great way of working as it allowed me to put down the primary shadows and highlights first and then work in the reflected light so I had a framework of tones to work with.


I’m very pleased with the way the objects have a solidity and shape – 3D.

And I think it works aesthetically too. It has something other than the two objects… it is pleasing to the eye and even has a hint of feeling.

Technically there are three things that I could improve:

(1) The bottom of the bowl is in a different plane to the sides of the bowl. They don’t match up.

(2) The handle on the jug is almost but not quite right.

(3) The tone on the reflected light at the bottom of the jug is much too bright – the contrast in the tones is wrong. (However I really love the patterns it makes like flames licking up the jug). If I’d toned them down a bit I could have had a more realist effect and also introduced an abstract element.

This is my favourite exercise so far and I’m pleased with the result.

I’m also very happy I stuck to the two hours as it made me focus harder and though I could have easily spent another hour trying to correct the handle or the bowl the bulk of the learning had been done…

And there’s always next time!