Pencil Drawings For the Still Life: Tonal

Tonal drawing is a realistic art pencil drawing achieved by using dark to light values without lines around the objects. The pencil drawings are essentially a painting in shades of graphite.

Supplies You Will Need:
Selection of graphite pencils
Kneaded eraser
Lamp or flashlight for highlights

Observe shapes of the objects to be drawn. With a relaxed grip on an HB pencil, begin sketching lightly.

Focus carefully on the still life arrangement before you. Tune out color and try seeing everything reduced to greys or tonals. Try squinting. Compare the lightest images you see to the deepest darks.

Begin shading in the objects in your drawing with your selection of B series pencils: 2B and 4B. Sketch lightly, working the entire page, without focusing on one area. Switch back and forth from shading in the light grays and middle grays, but avoid any pencil shading on the areas that will remain light/white.

Work up to the darks, using 6B, 8B pencils, and then go back into the whites (the paper) and add the palest of gray coverage, using light, masterful strokes of a harder lead pencil. (Mark-making is achieved with small, oval or sideways marks on the paper. A light, back and forth movement at the wrist). Continue careful shading right up to the edge of adjoining light areas blurring out the lines in your original line drawing. Randomly vary the stopping/starting point of your marks to avoid amateur-like directional shading.

Pause for self critique.

With a slightly harder H pencil, work over the initial tones done with the softer pencils. This tip helps to even the tone and fills in the tooth of the paper, thus reducing the contrast in texture between the various grades of pencil.

Avoid the temptation to use a finger to smooth out blending. Sure, it is more difficult to get tone solely by pencil pressure on paper, but this is the way to master the medium. Soften highlights with your kneaded eraser by gently lifting out some of the graphite. Obscure any remaining lines defining the object.

Lift the tonal drawing up for self critique. The brightest highlights should be the white of your paper, but you can go in with a soft waxed-based white pencil and add small white areas into the white paper to make the drawing shimmer. A black, wax-based, color pencil is blacker than your darkest graphite pencil. Use it (sparingly) to add depth to the darkest edge of your object.

The astounding realism that you admire in others' work is merely a matter of time spent on the drawing and practice. The more time spent in close observation and careful drawing, the more convincing the result.

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