Thursday, May 29, 2008

Let there be . . . Light!

In response to an inquiry a day or two ago, asking about what I do about the light areas in a work, whether I pull away, erase or just how I handle such areas in a work, I will discuss that very issue today.

Erasers are good for a lot of things, but I hardly ever use one. Occasionally, I will need the kneaded eraser (all puns are strictly intended here!) to clean up a smudge or on even rarer occasions, will use it to soften an edge, but quite honestly, I can not think of more than a handful of instances over the last six months when I have done that. I guess I prefer to do things the 'hard way' in my technical style of using the graphite medium. If I need a soft edge or want to fade out an area, as in the example of the flamingo detail here, I will do it with the graphite by layering into the light area, increasing the dark tones as they move further away from the light area. Sometimes, I will work the reverse, starting with the very dark area and move across diminishing the intensity of the dark as I go. It all depends on what I want the finished image to show and my mood on any given day.

When it comes to establishing a very sharp, distinct separation between a very dark area and a very light area or one in which there will be no graphite on the bristol board, I establish a guide line first. This is usually done with a 2H or 3H very sharp lead. Then I will work away from the light, as in the flamingo work above, working away from the highlighted area on the necks of the birds. In the case of the work above, the leftmost birds were going to be in the area of the darkest shadow, so those guide lines were established using an HB and then I worked away from that line using a blunt point HB at first, slowly moving out from the white. As I got more graphite on the ground, I went back with a sharp pointed HB and very gently and with as soft a touch as possible, so as to not emphasize the line quality of the sharp point, I made a series of cross hatch lines to fill in any gaps and to even out the tonal quality of the dark.

In the work below of the marabou storks, the same 'routine' occurred with me working away from the tops of the bird's heads and beaks. In this instance I also had to show the little fuzzy feathers on their heads so all that was set by really outlining the tiny little fluffs with HB and establishing those areas right off the bat. I do believe that was the very first thing I did on that drawing so as to set that very important light area right off. Those little fuzzies are what make the upper part of the drawing interesting and help to define some differing textural contrasts in the piece.

The same sort of fuzzy quality can be seen in the detail image of the lamb drawing below where I also had to set the distinct separation between white on the head and the little wisps of fuzz on the tail . . .

This little rose shows another instance of working away from light to dark. First course of events was to establish the borders and edges of the rose petals and then I began to work out and away from all the highlights. Once all that was established, I began in the upper left corner, setting in my darkest dark just around the edge of the petals in that portion of the image and then working out from there and soften up the tone as it moved up and into the corner. Once that was done I worked up the rest of the flower and then went back to darken up that upper left corner as needed to make the flower pop away from the background and give it some real depth.

In the image above, a detail from a larger work, I slowly worked all across the piece, establishing all the separation points between light and dark and between medium tones and dark or light. Once all that was delineated, I took my sharp HB and outlined all the lengths of line that needed to be light and highlights, like those lines moving across the center of this detail image showing the crisp edge of the metal as well as setting the curve in the upper left corner. Then it was simply a matter of working away, once again, from the light to the dark. A lot of graphite covering the board on this one!

In the next image, another detail from a larger work, setting the egrets against the dark background really is what made this piece. So, I naturally began with that area of the work, outlining the birds and then just 'coloring' in the spaces in between, layer upon layer of ever softer lead with a final overlayer of 2H to blend it all together. In this particular work, to strengthen the white of the birds even more, the white areas or white appearing areas on the cows all have ever so slight soft layers of graphite to tone them done and to make the strongest lights in the piece on the highlighted wings of the birds.

These last two examples of light and dark just emphasize further how by simply establishing the strongest areas of 'white' first and then moving away from them, I was able to bring these areas into strong light, highlight or emphasize linear quality and movement through the work, such as the minimal use of light areas in the gull piece . . .

. . . these areas of light being the only spots on the piece that do not have even a slight covering of graphite and thus making a very strong statement and helping to really set up the linear movement through the work; the two most intense areas of white being on the gull and in the reflection ripples in the water that move almost right up the center line of the work. That little bit of light on the tops of the ropes also makes for some interesting intersecting movement across the work as well.

And once again, the boat deck and swan's neck in this piece are the real focal points of this small work, helping to lead the viewer's eye into and through the piece.


Rich Adams said...

Wow, what a phenomenal tutorial. This is really wonderful stuff accompanies by even more wonderful details from your drawings. Do I sense a drawing book somewhere down the road? :-) I would certainly be in line for one.

I am really a fan of your work and have a tremendous respect for your command of chiaroscuro. It gives your drawing such drama.

You described the use of grades from about 3H to HB, do you use anything much softer or harder? I know pencil grades depend to a large degree on the type of paper used so I'm intrigued by your techniques as they apply to the regular/vellum finish illustration board you have mentioned in the past.

Thanks again for the instructions and I always look forward to your new pieces. I can't wait for your bridges book to come out in June!

Kevin said...

I will raise a glass to everything Adam wonderfully put and agree to it whole heartedly. Thank you for sharing your years of experiences with us all. I to am looking forward to the book release. :)