Saturday, 25 April 2015

Day 12 Unfinished Camellia Drawing, Plus some Graphite Tips

Last night I did a bit of late night tonal drawing for day 12 of the Challenge. I used a flower from the same Camellia cutting previously sketched on day 10.  It was a late start at 11pm, so I spent about 60 minutes drawing and I didn't finish it....but I quite like unfinished drawings, so that's fine.
I love tonal drawing, it's so easy to do, costs very little and requires little space....perfect!

'Red Camellia, Unfinished' graphite on Stillman & Birn Zeta Series Sketch paper, 7 x 7 inches. Completed using Faber Castell 9000 2H to 4B
And this is the flower, sorry terrible photo! It was dark and I worked in the dark with a lamp which is good  because it enhances the light and shade, 'Chiaroscuro' style. There's only tone to deal with so colour matching required light conditions are not necessary ....yes bad light is ok sometimes!

It was around 2008 when I first started tonal drawing and it's one of my favourite mediums now. It's an almost meditative process as the pencil floats over the paper surface with virtually no pressure, it's relatively easy to control really and can be learned easily. Funny really because I absolutely loathe coloured pencil!  I don't mean as a medium used by others, there are some amazing works using CP, I'm talking about using it, I find it the most tedious process ever!
When I teach graphite in my online courses and think it's extremely important to establish this as a foundation skill. I find that it's not so different from purist watercolour methods, especially for quite a dry painter like me....using the white of the paper for only the brightest highlights and layering different tones to build up a 3 dimensional form. It's also the best way of understanding tonal values before moving on to colour and is great for controlling detail. But you have to experiment to get the textures and desired effect too, just like watercolour dry brush work.
Building layers and texture. Working around the tonally light anthers and filaments being careful not to make any indentation or lines. small circular movements usually do the job but work with whatever the shape of the subject is...just go with the flow!

I don't invest in fancy tools, there is no need, they won't make your drawing any better. A set of Faber Castell 9000, are without doubt the best pencils and Staedtler are not bad too but a bit too soft for me. Some students find Faber Castell's a bit 'scratchy' at first but this is generally poor technique and too much pressure being applied. The weight should never be at the point of the tip of the pencil and pressing into the surface of the paper, but instead should be kept in the arm, so that the pencil glides over the surface without pressure or resistance. I have reverted to a hard rubber but also use a putty rubber but sometimes these can become sticky. A rubber should be used as little ar possible though. My best friends in the drawing tool kit are a good old Stanley knife and nail file for sharpening. Sharpening is really important and there are a number of variations in the way a pencil can be sharpened and used for different effects. Dark flecks generally only occur if you have rubber or other graphite debis on the surface of the paper, so dust off regularly with a big, clean dry brush and use tracing paper to protect your work from dirty marks. A magnifyer is a must for getting close in at the edges.
Some basic tools, the nail file/ emery board is a must have, and hand sharpened long leads are better than any sharpener on the market. I couldn't draw at all without a magnifyer.
 I sharpen long points and then fine tune with a fine nail file, this way the point tapers well and just requires fine tuning. Also important for a lazy person like me is the fact that the lead lasts a long time before further sharpening is needed. I don't really like continual sharpening!  I use HP watercolour paper Arches or Fabriano Artistico or Schoellershammer 4G for finished pieces but the Stillman and Birn sketch paper is good too. It all costs very little.  Sometimes I use a mechanical pencil, but you can buy cheap ones and put good lead in them!
Here's another unfinished - from a Skype tutorial with one of my students this week. I estimate to complete a life size tonal drawing of a tulip would take in the region of 5-6 hours. This one is in the early stages.

Here's a Camellia leaf, see how it's a good bit darker than the flower. This is achieved by layering with the softer grades. The underside of the leaf is much lighter though and these are the differences to look for. 
One of the most common errors in tonal work is the failure to add enough graphite. In the same way that every watercolour has a maximum saturation, every pencil grade has a maximum tonal value, so you can keep adding to smooth that tone ( using the continuous tone technique  ) it won't get any darker but it will get smoother as long as you are applying the correct amount of pressure. Thereafter, to go darker you need to move to a softer grade and so on with increasingly softer grades to get those darks. I do the majority of the work with 2H to 2B grades. The 2H is like the equivalent to a Tea wash, covering much of the surface apart from the main highlights. Quite often though students do not apply nearly enough tone and far too much white of the paper is left showing through. Neither is there enough variation in tone between light and dark parts, for example a Camellia leaf is significantly darker in tone than say a pink Camellia flower, yet often in drawings the difference isn't apparent. So to check tones, hold the subject against a white card and see how little white there actually is and also see which are the lighter parts and which are the darker parts. The other common error is reliance on outlines. In a tonal drawing the outline should not be visible. I make a very light outline drawing first and remove as much as possible with a putty rubber before starting to add tone. The tonal work should cover the line by working up to it. I often go back a grade to smooth out with a harder pencil too.....Like all artwork it's about trial and error and working out problems. You can tell people how to do it but you have to discover it yourself in order to fully understand.    

Hmm....30 day challenge = much faster Blogging skills too! albeit with the odd typo


  1. I have no idea where you get all your energy from!! Great post and lovely drawings. I'm tempted to do some graphite work myself

  2. I love your graphite work Dianne. That camellia is beautiful even unfinished. xx

  3. I love your graphite tonal drawing. I would like to know how you preserve the finished pieces. How do you prevent the finished pieces from getting smudged?Thanks,

    1. Ithank you, I don't generally fix work in a sketchbook but if o am fixing it, I use W&N fixative spray to prevent smudging.

  4. I love graphite too but haven't done much with it lately--I am inspired to get back into it after reading this. You camellia blossom is exquisite and the unfinished section just emphasizes the detail of the finished part.