Drawing – Can You Match the Tones?

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Can you match the tones in the photograph?  This is an easy exercise, all you will need  is a soft pencil.  Allow yourself about 30 minutes and stop there even if the drawing is not finished.

Try not to be hard on yourself, after all, you are not doing a drawing for the royal family. See how lazy and casual I was with mine.  Drawing is about meditating through the process and is supposed to be a form of relaxation!  I love half finishing drawings too because it gives the viewer a chance to participate in the work.  He has the chance to make up his mind about what is not shown.  Many famous artists deliberately decide a work is finished when there is space left for contemplation.

To make it easy this time, you may want to lightly trace the main shapes first then lay the page alongside the photograph and copy the tones. The exercise is made simpler by using only 4 tones, light (the white of the paper), medium, dark and darkest.

It may help if you refer to the tonal bar from the previous post called “Drawing – Living in the Light.” https://zenschoolforcreatives.wordpress.com/category/learn-how-to-draw/

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Build up the tones gradually paying particular attention to the hard and soft edges. Squinting helps to compare your drawing to the photograph.

Have fun with this and remember…your drawing is good enough despite what you may think!



Drawing – Living in the Light

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The first thing you need to establish when drawing is what direction the light is coming from.

I show some examples from an old sketchbook below with different directions of light happening.  You will see:

  • Early dawn and sunset lighting which is usually from the side and low.
  • Back lighting where the light is behind the subject putting it into silhouette.
  • Top lighting as you would see at midday.
  • Front lighting, which produces a stark contrast between light and dark.
  • Diffuse lighting, overcast days when the sun is filtered behind the clouds and shadows are softened.

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Do you recognize these lighting situations outdoors?


Using this simple tonal bar (as you can see I don’t stay within the lines), you will do an easy drawing of this orange.  This will take about 10 minutes or less.

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You will practice hard and soft edges.  A hard edge is one which is clearly defined.  A soft edge is one which gradually disappears.

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  • Lightly draw the simple shape of the orange in the photograph.
  • Establish where the light is coming from.
  • The orange should be shaded dark on one side and gradually blended to a soft edge towards white on the other.
  • The outer edge should be clearly defined (hard edge) and the area where the shading fades out should be soft without clear definition of a line (soft edge.)

Your drawing might look like this.  I like to put an arrow in the direction of the light to help me with these practice sketches.

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Here are a couple of sketches I did years ago after I saw the beautiful work of Dutch artist, Jan Vermeer.  He is known as the “master of light” and for good reason.  If you look closely you will see that most of his magical and wondrous works were completed with the light streaming from a window on one side.  For more information about Jan Vermeer you can check him out at:


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The Milkmaid Vermeer vermeer

My next post will extend on this process.  We will use the three tones tonal bar again to accurately match the tones and edges in a black and white photograph of a face.  A portrait, how exciting!

Drawing – Getting Down to Business

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Now it is time to concentrate on our controlled free handwriting and actually get some drawings done!  I urge you to seriously consider spending time concentrating on these projects.


  • A chance to exercise your editing and fine motor skills.
  • The opportunity to bring out the precise, subtle, careful, patient and deliberate side of yourself, even if you are ultra casual and messy like me!
  • A successful experiment in making shorter, more accurate strokes by sliding your hand down near the point of the drawing tool.
  • Happily improve your dexterity and create a standard to move forward and create drawings you will love to show everybody!


  • If using a pencil, keep it sharpened! This is most important to get the shorter, more accurate, fine hatching strokes to make an awesome drawing.
  • Evaluate your progress as you go. Having a break every 20 minutes or so and standing back from your drawing helps a lot.
  • Critique how you have graded the tone, softened edges true to the way the light falls, and recorded the details accurately.

To this end, and if you are serious about this, I strongly suggest you go through the somewhat painful process of creating a tonal bar. You will be glad you did as you will see later on!


  • Rule up a 1” x 6” panel and create within it an evenly graded tone. Make sure your pencil is super sharp.
  • The middle tone should be 50% black and should be in the centre of the bar. Occasionally squinting helps a lot.
  • You may use a biro or pen and ink for this if you like. The effect will be slightly coarser than your pencil version but when you step back it will look the same.
  • To make the lighter part of the bar it is best to make the pencil marks further apart.

Here are some tonal bars I have done over time.  Yours may look like the first one.

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I have tried to be neat but it just doesn’t happen for me.  I justify my messiness by a quote from Vincent Van Gogh

“People will frequently say that I have no technique, I don’t care a damn whether my language is in conformity with the grammarians.  I am convinced of the value of the awkwardness I see in my pictures.”  And here is one of his lovely pen and ink drawings with lots of superb hatching.

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If you are like me, I justify the clumsiness in my work, it is not accidental but reasoned out and willed.  I see the value of awkwardness in my own pictures.  I guess it is a matter of whatever works for you!  Here are some works to show how Matisse also has used tonal hatching.

This one a Matisse pen and ink drawing..

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And this is my take on it…


I also recommend you have a look at my previous post, “Drawing – Great Masters Giorgio Morandi”

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Drawing – The 5 Minute Handwriting Burnout

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Okay, here are the rules:

  • Set your stopwatch for 5 minutes.
  • Look in any direction, inside or outside the house.
  • Draw what is in front of you without stopping.
  • Draw as fast as you can without thinking whether your drawing is good or bad.
  • Give no thought to composition, accuracy, style or subject matter.
  • Capture as much as you can as quickly as you can within your field of vision.
  • Don’t worry if the subject matter is boring, the more complicated the better.
  • Corners of rooms and cluttered tables are especially good!
  • Lift your pencil if you want but rubbing out is banned!

What is the reason for doing this?  Answer: many fold, i.e.

  • Gets you out of your fussy, cramped and jumbled head.
  • Displays your free handwriting by using short, sharp bursts of energy.
  • Puts aside your conscious controlling self.
  • Teaches you to capture images quickly.
  • Helps you capture subjects that move, like children people on buses, dogs etc.


  • A long term exercise in growth.
  • Production of the occasional “gem”, seen as happenstance.
  • No evaluation, no criticism, no comment.
  • Reveals your true handwriting style.
  • Lots of these will create real changes in your drawing style.

At last!  You have found your own style, stick with it by practicing the 5 minute handwriting burnout as often as you can.

PS  Above I show two of my crusty drawings.  The second is my jumbled, controlled self and the first my true handwriting style.  Like them or not, they are helping me to become my real drawing self by showing me my handwriting.  I know which one I like best.