In this light and shadow series, we look at the theory, drawing and painting of a simple form focusing on shadow, light and edges.
This week we’re going to put pencil to paper and see how the theory works in a simple pencil drawing of an apple…
Understanding your light source
The different characteristics of the light hitting an object can completely change its appearance.
For this demonstration, I’ve created a lighting set up using one single light source which gives us a predictable fall of light.
This set up demonstrates each distinct area to be aware of, exaggerating the widest tonal range, and when you’re a beginner, it’s the simplest way to see the difference between the tones.
My lamp has a diffuser on it called a Softbox.
The Softbox gives us the fall of light we’re after, yet slightly softer edges on the shadows.
One of the key lessons from this demonstration I want you to come away with is to understand the importance of soft edges in your drawings.
Softbox single source lighting set up in my studio
The importance of hard & soft edges
An edge is where two objects or two surfaces meet together.
The term a ‘hard edge’ can describe two very hard surfaces, such as a tabletop with a metal cube on top of it or most commonly in drawing, we talk about the hard edge being an area that has a sharpness to it or a focal point of the picture.
So, it could be a crisp line to indicate changes in shape or angularity.
Or it could be an area of high contrast (light and dark) to draw the viewer’s attention.
A ‘soft edge’ is more flowing or fluid and tends to be more low in contrast. Soft edges suggest the idea of roundness and a gradual transition.
In photography, lighting can often be called hard light or soft light. Hard light is harsh light so creates sharp shadows and harder edges.
Soft light is very diffused, creating softer shadows and softer edges. So if you wanted to photograph somebody in the most flattering light, you would have soft light. If you want to increase the dramatic quality of the scene, you would use hard light.
This one piece of information that can drastically alter your drawings and paintings.
So as we go through the next demo, I’ll indicate the areas to keep soft and the areas to keep sharper.
One of the biggest mistakes beginners make in drawing, is keeping all of the edges the same – most commonly, all of the edges are kept sharp and crisp.
If you can learn to alter the weight of line and to incorporate more soft edges in your drawings, it will make a massive difference to the realism and style of your work.
Below are two photographs to illustrate the subtle differences in the shadow strengths when I altered the lighting slightly.
The first one used direct sunlight because it’s not diffused; it has created a harder, more solid shadow line and cast shadow.
Also, see how you can judge the angle of the sun via the length of the cast shadow and the bright highlight.
Low angle, hard lighting from direct sunlight.
The second one used a slightly higher lighting position with a softer light creating a softer cast shadow edge.
High, softer diffused lighting from a single light source Softbox
The image above is the final reference image I’ll use for this demonstration.
It can be ‘right clicked’ and ‘Save image as’, so you can use it as a reference for your drawing.
A small table lamp without a shade is a good choice for setting up your still life at home, if you want to work from life, rather than the photograph above.
An opaque bulb will give you a light source in between the two examples above. O.k – you won’t have a diffuser to mimic a Softbox – but it won’t be as hard as direct sunlight either.
Simplifying your drawings by mapping the shadows
Before we get started on the main event, here’s a really quick way of practising looking for the shadow line.
Don’t underestimate its importance because of its simplicity.
It’s often the first sketch that is the most effective at conveying the sense of form rather than an overworked, detailed drawing.
However, working with pencil, subtleties can get added into the scene (that are there) too early on, and the simple distinction between light and dark gets lost.
During this exercise, you have to make a clear distinction between light and dark because you are using a pen – helping to prevent the separation from becoming muddled.
Pro tip: Working with a permanent marker pen is the best method I’ve found for practising this technique. It forces you to make a clean decision in your mind before committing pen to paper.
I sketch out the outline of the object and then put in both the cast shadow and the shadow line.
I can then indicate the shadow side by hatching lines with the pen.
I’m keeping the lines evenly spaced and changing the direction of them, depending on the direction of the form. Notice how all of the cast shadows on the table are hatched in the same direction.
I then draw in any darker accents on the bottom of the objects.
And once I’m confident with the general shapes and shadow patterns, I work with a thicker pen (this is a Staedler whiteboard marker) to indicate the very darkest cast shadows within the drawing.
So now I have three tones, the lights, the form shadows and the cast shadows.
This has just given me a really good idea of the shadow patterns within the scene. It can be a great exercise to do if you’re out in bright sunlight as you can get distinct shadow shapes.
So now your eyes are tuned in, let’s get on with the form drawing using a pencil.
How to draw a three-dimensional Apple
Materials you will need:
- White paper, either regular computer paper or cartridge paper
- 2B & 6B pencil – I use Staedtler Mars Lumograph
- Eraser – I use a putty eraser
- A round object to draw around (approx 7cm wide)
- A tortillion – I use a paper stump, which is very similar to compressed paper.
Find a circular object to draw lightly around; this helps to give you a starting point so we can quickly put into practice the theory of the sphere from last week. I’m using to 2B pencil (Staedtler Mars Lumograph)
I then make a mark indicating the furthest point of the cast shadow.
Lightly draw an ellipse shape to indicate the cast shadow. Notice how the ellipse cuts through the shape of the circle.
I now use a hard line and add slight angles to the circle, to represent more accurately the shape of the apple.
Lightly draw in the shape of the stalk.
And then the shape of the highlight.
Reinforce the cast shadow shape noticing – the darkest part that sits directly under the apple, the mid-tone that makes up the majority of the cast shadow shape while keeping a lighter line as you get towards the brightest, softest tail of the cast shadow.
Lightly draw the shadow line; it has a slight curve to it.
The curved line below the shadow line indicates a band where the form shadow core falls within. This will be the darkest area of the apple.
I then shade a mid-tone along this form shadow core. Even though it’s going to be darker than this eventually, it will help you to judge the different tones within the drawing.
Shade the apple stalk as dark as you can get it, it’s practically black on the reference image and it doesn’t need to blend into any other tones – so we can afford to go as dark as possible.
Now I swap to a softer pencil (a 6B) and begin to shade in the majority of the cast shadow. Notice how the angle of the shading is the same as when I hatched the cast shadow in the shadow mapping drawing using a pen.
Continue the shade over the edge of the apple, and this is called combining the shadow shapes.
I fill in the form shadow, working over the first, form shadow core band.
It’s at this point I swap back to the 2B and draw the hard, sharp line at the base of the cast shadow.
Using the softer 6B pencil, I reinforce the cast shadow depth of tone.
Holding the pencil lightly, I gently indicate the softer, lighter tail of the cast shadow.
Now I feel confident to go heavier on the form shadow core as I have both the dark cast shadow and the dark stalk to judge against.
Changing hand position, I can follow the shape of the form.
Lightly work across the whole of the light side to indicate the halftone.
Now we have established all the elements.
Using our secret weapon, our paper stump I start to blend the tones to achieve the soft transition between the light side and the shadow side.
Notice how when you shade with the paper stump, it slightly darkens the tone.
I continue to work between softening and sharpening and blending.
Using a putty eraser, I take back any of the shapes that have gone slightly out.
Soften out the tail of the cast shadow.
Pull back the highlight on the light side of the apple.
The finished drawing.
Whether you download and use the reference image or set up your study, take it a step at a time, look out for the soft transitions, and I hope you get some fantastic results!
Next time we’ll be back in the studio where we’ll develop this apple study into a simple contemporary painting.
If you’d like to learn more about sfumato and drawing techniques, you should have a look at the How to draw light & shadow online drawing course
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