There’s one thing and one thing alone that makes for a successful tonal drawing: seeing masses rather than outlines. Lines are for flow charts, architectural blueprints, and driving on the right side of the road. To a certain extent I am kidding—there are some incredible draftsmen who work solely or predominately with line.
|Tonal drawing is all about unifying a composition
with gradation–not line. All works by Ira Korman.
But when it comes to learning to draw tonal drawings, I’m not joking—it is an emotive, immediate way to create inspiring art. It is the painter’s way of drawing because it is all about the illusion of mass by putting contrasting values side by side.
With a tonal drawing, objects jump off the page with much more life than with a realistic drawing made with line because there is the suggestion of volume. That aspect of tonality—as opposed to line and contour—more closely reflects the way the human eye sees.
In practical terms, tonal drawing techniques also enable an artist to capture an array of interesting lighting conditions: night scenes lit by fire, moonlight, or candles. By their very nature of not having lines to demarcate forms, they allow everything within a composition to unify and become part of a whole, which is a lot more difficult to do in line drawings.
But you have to choose the right materials for the job if you want to learn how to draw a successful tonal drawing. Put down the pencil and pick up the powdered graphite, and apply it with a stump or chamois. Graphite is slightly oily and will stay where it is put, so you can work with more precision and detail.
Charcoal is an obvious choice too, though it tends to swirl around more. You can also take a piece of Bristol or hot-pressed watercolor paper and cover it with a medium tone of graphite powder, then start working into it with a kneaded eraser, removing areas of light. The harder you push, the lighter the tone will get.
|Night Shift, 1999, charcoal, 17 x 24,
by Ira Korman.
|Overpass, 1999, charcoal, 13 x 21,
by Ira Korman.
Has this sent you spiraling with new ideas of how to work? I know it has for me. I’m thinking of creating moody drawings of figures coming out of darkness into the light, or learning to draw atmospheric landscape drawings that create a distinctive mood or feeling that trees, hills, and sky alone can’t do.
And whether you are a dedicated painter, a draftsman, or if you dabble across media, this is the kind of artistic pursuit that rewards on all fronts, and is really an essential for any artist’s evolution. It is also the kind of drawing know-how you’ll find in Journey Through Time: Strokes of Genius Collection: insights on artistic practice mixed with instruction from inspiring artists on how to make the most of those practices in your own work. Could anything be better for the artist who never wants to stop learning? Enjoy!