Exercise 12: Shadows and reflected light and shade
Use two objects with reflective surfaces. Use charcoal and a putty rubber. Use A1 or A2 paper so you can use bold strokes. Try to fill the paper with your objects showing the reflected light and shade of one object falling on another, and try to leave very little background/negative space.
This exercise taught me that there is a dearth of shiny objects in my house. I liked the contrast between the dark teapot and the metallic colander, though, so opted for those. I had intended to work on A1 paper, but discovered that my little easel was too rickety for the large drawing board, so had to scale down to A2. (I’ve since taken possession of a cracking H-frame easel, so am prepared for all eventualities from here on.) It made a change to work on a larger scale, as everything I’ve done for the course thus far has been in an A3 sketchbook. Initially, I planned to fulfill the requirement for as little negative space as possible by taking the items off the edge of the paper, as seen in the first sketch below. However, whilst doing this preparatory drawing, I decided it would make for a more interesting composition to include all of the teapot, so I switched to the arrangement in the photo above. This meant there was a little more negative space, but I think it resulted in a better picture.
I sat directly in front of the revised arrangement, which gave me a viewpoint slightly above the horizon line. It was lit by lamp from the right hand side, casting a strong shadow to the left. Interestingly, there was very little cast shadow from the colander… just a small area beneath the handle. To try and clarify the light source I closed the curtains, but there was still a diffuse light from the window, which resulted in a slight alteration in cast shadow in the finished drawing.
Once I’d studied the arrangement closely, I began by outlining the objects lightly. Previously, I would have left the highlighted areas as bare paper, and worked around them (as I did in my preparatory sketch, above). However, I was curious to see how it would work using a purely reductive technique, covering the objects with broad sweeps of charcoal mid-tones, then lifting out the lightest areas by putty rubber. In general, I preferred this approach, as it allowed me to work more quickly, and was less fiddly. The only problem was that certain highlights didn’t lift out quite as cleanly as I might have wished. I’m hoping that more practise with the putty rubber might improve this, though. I continued lifting out and adding dark tones, and relished the way this approach gave the picture form. I’ve written elsewhere on this blog that I’ve tended to start with dark tones, until now. This exercise helped me to see the advantages of starting with mid-tones, though. I noted, once I’d finished, that I’d created a wider range of mid-tones than I’d realised. Oddly, when I’ve tried to do that deliberately, in separate exercises, I’ve struggled to do so. Perhaps it’s easier to do when responding to the observation of a subject, or maybe it’s best (for me) not to over-think it.
As I worked on the drawing, I recalled reading in the course book that smudging charcoal can be frowned upon, and seen as an indicator of a lack of confidence. I can see that adopting one approach to any medium could be interpreted that way, but in this case I think smudging was a valid choice, as both the objects were smooth and shiny (that being the reason for choosing them), and smudging softened the inherently gritty texture of the charcoal. The small details that I added, such as the dark space around the rim of the teapot lid, and the edges of the colander and its handle were left much as they were applied – unsmudged. The reflections were much sharper in the dark ceramic surface of the teapot than they were in the brushed metal of the colander, hence the greater degree of detail in the drawing of it. Unfortunately, much of this detail was lost in the photograph of the objects themselves, no matter how I tried to adjust the exposure. In fact, the light contrast is stronger all round in the first photo than it was in reality, and the drawing is a more accurate portrayal of the actual contrasts. Overall, I felt pleased with this drawing – not least because I improved the ellipses between preparatory sketch and finished article!