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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    Cheshire UK
    Thanked 9 Times in 7 Posts

    Frustration with moving away from line to tone

    Now I understand that the use of line and tone within a drawing can be incredibly useful but how do I move away from just using line and start using tone as well?
    I am confident in doing just line work and I'm improving but its missing the next step. I want to start incorporating tone into my drawings, I understand the theory of modelling factors, (highlight, half-tone, dark half-tone,turning plane, dark half-tone reflected light, accent and finally cast shadow) or at least I thought I did because unless you can do it physically does that mean you really understand the theory behind something?
    Well I have been doing still life studies and modelling forms of the ball, box, cone and cylinder etc. so learning to match values is coming along and making them look three dimensional, though how do I apply that into the human form?
    I am still learning the anatomy of the figure though without tone its still just line and lacks any form.
    So where do I go from here? When I try to study from photographs (pixel lovely) I'll do a nice line of the drawing but then when come to rendering it it just all goes to hell...
    I was supposed to be joining a life drawing group in the spring when their next intake was but due to funding being cut you can only attend the life drawing classes if are taking art in college or university. (That was the only one I was able to get to without having to travel three hours out of the way due to working hours) So that's not an option any more well when it comes to studying the nude figure anyway's.

    Any advice or guidance would be greatly appreciated.
    Though some mentoring would be awesome and would be very willing to pay for your time.


    Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
    California. Mostly Southern
    Thanked 1 Time in 1 Post
    This is uncanny. I feel like it wasn't long ago I was pondering the same question! Of course, it actually might have been several years... but wutevs.

    Anyway, what I did was dive in to a few books recommended me by a good friend. I think one that seriously helped with tone on the figure was this book by Henry Yan.

    I think that book was really a great transition for me from line to tone and continuing to understand the figure. I still heavily prefer lines for form but I no longer feel lost when trying to define form with value (still working on it, but not lost). Of course, in addition to Henry Yan's book, I spent the past few years trying my darnedest to put his techniques in practice at weekly or bi-weekly or tri-weekly life drawing sessions (as many as I could afford the time for). That's really where your grasp of value will solidify. If you can't do that, drawing from plaster casts or statues at the museum or whatever you can find that's similar will be useful.

    Hope that helps.

  4. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Thanked 232 Times in 185 Posts
    Well, if you can render 3d shapes and make them look good, all you have to do to apply that to the figure is to also break down the figure into basic shapes. Using tubes for arms and legs then adding more complex shapes on top of the tubes for muscles and such. Do this with some references handy and slowly build up your understanding of the human body and how different lighting situations would affect it. It isnt easy, so take your time and do your best to get it as correct as you can no matter how long it takes.

    Also you dont have to stop using line to use tone, in fact its much easier to start with good line work then it would be to try to do a whole body with just value. The more correct the line work the easier it will be to add value and still have the drawing look right.
    "The whole point of practice is to do it until you can do it right." - dpaint


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  6. #4
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Thanked 848 Times in 457 Posts
    You need to take your time. I assume you are rendering with a pencil. Go very softly at first, delineate your shadow areas and build up your tones. Start in the darkest places but don't go and make them very dark right away. Layer thin coats. Use a harder pencil if you can't be delicate enough with a softer pencil. Protect your surface with a piece of paper or a glove and don't rub your hand all over it.

    One thing you can do is work with a dark and a light pencil on a midtone piece of paper. It might make things easier for you to understand. I work on a brown surface when I paint, and even if I don't use pencils, the process is the same.

    This is my reference picture for a recent painting along with the result. What I worry about is: Is this lighter or darker than the background? How much so? Then I add a thin coat of the dark color on the lightest spot. Then another coat, only on a slightly bigger spot. I make sure never to touch the areas that are midtone colored.

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  7. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Thanked 1,484 Times in 719 Posts
    I agree with the posters above, but just to throw it out there...

    Rather than attempting to incorporate tone into your line drawing, jump in the deep end at the opposite end of the spectrum, try and work with a medium that basically makes linework impossible.

    Grab a thick stick of charcoal, a putty rubber and some tissues, throw a spotlamp on some simple still life setups. Smudge a general charcoal tone over the paper with the tissue, use the charcoal to go dark, use the putty rubber to pick out light.

    /2p worth.

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  9. #6
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    Jun 2012
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    Well Ima just suggest Andrew Loomis Successful Drawing, if you haven't read that book at all. That book goes over the idea of planes, and many other fundamentals that will probably help you anyways. Planes are flat..if you take a orange, cut it into two pieces you'll have a perfectly flat plane on each piece. All forms can be simplified into planes. I believe planes are pretty important because without planes you don't really have any way of arranging all the changes of tone.

    Anyways, draw from life, squint, try to see what appears lighter or darker. Arrange the tone in your drawing so they match what you see. That isn't so easy I know, sometimes it's hard to arrange the tones. The changes in tone don't need to be so dramatic as a ball being lit by a single lightsource while having reflected light from a piece of paper hit it. To create real nice sense of form you need to be a master of both the basic forms and light, as you may know light describes form. But tone does not necessarily need to describe the form of an can also describe the color of it, that is the local(natural) darkness or lightness of it. Depending on light sources some objects in a room can have almost no change in tone. There could quite possibly be a lot of half-tone, though.
    My Rival!!

    Draw, Antonio; draw, Antonio; draw and don’t waste time.” -Michelangelo

  10. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Athens, Greece
    Thanked 235 Times in 151 Posts
    Don't let yourself rush into going for a fully modelled figure just because you modelled a sphere
    and learned what I bicep is. It's one thing to read about it and another to comprehend it, it's one
    thing to replicate it and it's another to draw well.

    I'd advise you go for some still life with a couple of complex forms. Say a milk carton, a dustpan
    and maybe an opaque plastic bottle. Light them up to get a good separation between light and
    dark like this

    or this


    Take your drawing slow, make those measurements, separate light from dark by accurately drawing
    along the terminator. Then begin looking and comparing, find your darkest darks, state them, find
    your lightest lights, keep those the white of your paper, then go for halftone and reflected light.
    Understand tone well at least in one still life of basic forms before tackling and arm, an ear or a nose.

    Remember: get a pencil that can produce a good black, squint, use your full rage of values, squint,
    keep comparing the areas of one value with the areas of another, squint, look at their relative tonal
    difference and state it. Did I say squint?
    "Don't judge a book by it's cover" Frank Frazetta 1928-2010
    RIP Frank.

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  12. #8
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Boston, MA
    Thanked 200 Times in 98 Posts
    What Flake said. Big charcoal, or go wet and try using black and white paint (gouache, watercolor, tempera, acrylic, whatever).

  13. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Thanked 11 Times in 11 Posts
    Quote Originally Posted by Marc Anderson View Post
    Now I understand that the use of line and tone within a drawing can be incredibly useful but how do I move away from just using line and start using tone as well?
    On a logical level, start building the form from inside out.
    On a practical level, draw with charcoal's body instead of a tip.

    Hopefully, you'll figure how to build a form from inside out using charcoal's tip, which is also a matter of figuring your ductus, but would be good to go there after becoming familiar with a general stroke.

  14. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    Cheshire UK
    Thanked 9 Times in 7 Posts
    Firstly sorry for the late reply and thank-you to everyone that has posted had to take a step back but getting back into it now.

    So essentially just keep at the still life's until I can accurately see the separation of light and shadow and all the nuances on forms as well as replicate it?


    Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.

  15. #11
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Western Massachusetts
    Thanked 23 Times in 16 Posts
    Nothing helps like practice, but I did find this video by Proko to be helpful, combined with his other techniques:

    That and for me, practicing with 2 markers, a grey midtone and black on white paper. It forced me to make decisions about how to assign tone to things, with only one midtone things are either light or shadow. After a few exercises with those, first drawing basic forms and then faces, I switched back to pencil and found it much easier to be bold which make the shadows read much better.

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