Exercise 9: Observing shadow and light formations on a surface

Place two simple objects together and position a lamp so that they are lit from one side.  Observe the main areas of light and dark tone on them.  Make some quick pencil sketches in your sketchbook of the objects showing the broad areas of light and shade.

cup and apple

I set a cup and an apple on a piece of white paper, to simplify the shadows cast, and lit the objects from the upper right.

quick pencil sketches (allegedly)

My two ‘quick’ pencil sketches actually took about an hour to draw.  Much of that time was spent peering closely at the shadows and reflections.  Despite my intention to do a couple of rapid drawings, I got caught up in the first one and didn’t really stick to just light and dark shades.  Even so, I wasn’t happy with it.  The apple in the top sketch was too small in relation to the cup, and the cup itself seemed too narrow.  So I decided to adopt an approach that would force me to work more quickly, and just mapped the lights and darks in a very approximate way (see bottom half of drawing above).  I think this is a technique that could prove useful with practise, as it focuses the eye on the extremes of the subject.  I found it hard to read the tones of the apple very clearly – I think the colour differences confused me.  It was tempting to assume the red would be darker in tone to the green, but that wasn’t always the case.  Another difficulty was the glaze on the cup – the blue fades into a light brown nearer the rim and on the edges of the handle, and I struggled to pick out the highlights from this lighter colour.  The highlights in question were very thin but, however finely I tried to employ the eraser, I couldn’t get a crisp line.

Next, draw all the gradations of light you can see on the objects.  Begin with the middle tonal values, then you can indicate the tones that are lighter and darker.  Start by observing the general pattern of shadows over the whole surface of the objects.  Then observe the interlocking shadows on the surface that describe the individual smaller shapes.  

There may be light that is reflected from one surface to another – this can interfere with the light and shadow cast from the primary light source.  Try to include the tonal gradations that the reflected light causes.  If the surface is interrupted by other shapes, take the shadows that they cast into consideration.  Try to get all areas of tone to merge with each other in a series of tonal shifts.

cup and apple with gradations of light

No matter how much I tried to follow the instructions from the course book, I found that I kept wanting to put the dark tones in first.  Not the deepest darks, but dark nevertheless.  Also, while I did manage to make the cup a bit wider in this drawing, with hindsight I would say that the top half needs to be a little wider still.  In addition, the top of the long shadow cast by the cup should be more rounded and not stick up so far.  Hindsight also shows that the mid-tone to the viewer’s left of the cup (between the two dark shadows) is a little too light.  I could see that it was darker than the other half of the cup, but somehow that didn’t translate in the finished drawing. The apple’s tones continued to be problematic, although I did pick up the reflected light on the left hand side of it (nearest the mug).  Also, I do quite like the cast shadow of the apple, as slight as it is, and feel it lends a sense of depth.  Overall, I think the long shadows could be a bit darker.

This was a useful exercise, but it served to illustrate that I really need to practise observing tones.  Much squinting lies ahead…