Are You on the Light Side or Dark Side of Drawing?

Which Drawing “Camp” Do You Belong?

If you use the phrases “dark side” or “light side” in casual conversation, people may think you’re making a Star Wars referenceBut if you’re among artists, the phrase may mean something else entirely.

I sometimes think of drawings as belonging to two camps: light and dark. It’s a question of whether a work is more governed by light or dark tones and whether the drawing tries to bowl you over or to hold your hand and calmly pull you into its world.

Sometimes one side dominates the other; other times the balance is more subtle. Below you can see a few drawings I think fall on one side or the other—it shouldn’t be hard to guess which is which.


Shades of Gray Competition | Tara Merkt | Artist's Network

Eye of the Beholder, by Tara Merkt, 2016, scratchboard, 14 x 11. Honorable mention winner in the 2016 Shades of Gray Competition.


Folks who clearly fall in the “dark” camp might include scratchboard artists who begin with a pitch-black surface, which often remains a commanding force in the finished image. A dark artist might also start with a white page but fill it with broad swathes of intense charcoal strokes, producing dramatic chiaroscuro effects.

Artists on the “light side” might use a gentler touch, for instance using a hard, light graphite pencil on white paper.  And there’s also everything in-between; many artists use a full range of grays, and some drawings truly fall right in the middle.

Shades of Gray

I’ve been thinking about the two camps of drawing because the Shades of Gray Competition is currently open. I’ve helped to judge all five installments of this drawing competition so far, and I’m looking forward to judging this year’s entries after the competition closes on September 8.

One of the things I enjoy the most about the contest is getting to see how different artists approach this light/dark divide. When you’re working in grayscale, your approach to that question becomes a huge part of how you approach your subject.

So—which type of artist are you? Do your drawings lean light or dark? Or are you one of those rare birds who fall exactly in the middle?

Let us know what you think. And, if you’re up to the challenge, please consider entering the 6th Annual Shades of Gray Competition. It’s a great way to show off your skills and get your drawings seen by a wide audience. (Cash prizes, too!) We can’t wait to see what you’ve created.


Shades of Gray Competition | Light Side or Dark Side | Laura Tundel | Artist's Network

Stacy in Profile, by Laura Tundel, 2015, graphite, 10 1/2 x 9. Honorable mention winner in the 2015 Shades of Gray Competition.


Shades of Gray Competition | Loren Miller | Artist's Network

Verge, by Loren Miller, 2015, charcoal and ink, 30 x 22. Honorable mention winner in the 2015 Shades of Gray Competition.


Shades of Gray Competition | Katherine Young | Artist's Network

Ascend, by Katherine Young, 2015, graphite, 48 x 48. 1st-place winner in the 2016 Shades of Gray Competition.


Shades of Gray Competition | John Sanchez | Artist's Network

Hauling West, by John Sanchez, 2015, charcoal pencil and white pastel on gray paper, 7 1/2 x 9 1/2. Honorable mention winner in the 2015 Shades of Gray Competition.

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