Art Tutorial Transparency – A Key to Spatial Depth in Painting Part 1, Black/White
This online tutorial is a transcription from a 2002 lecture I gave at the Courage of Your Perceptions Conference (Satellite to the EC’s Vision Scientists’ Conference) in Glasgow, Scotland.
We have examples of artworks from 30,000 years ago to the present in which artists have worked with spatial depth in their drawings and paintings. I have been fascinated by this phenomenon and, for years, I have asked myself how did these artists achieve these startling effects. The result of my query is the formulation of the concept that:
Given a two-dimensional surface, transparency and contrast are the means to place forms in spatial depth.
Transparency will place the forms in depth away from us, and contrast will raise them towards us.
I love working pastel on dark paper for one important reason: the pastel being lighter than the paper directly creates a pure colored light.
The paper is dark brown Canson, 19 x 26″.
You can start with any color you like, but it is important that the tone of the pastel is only one notch lighter than the paper–just enough so that you can see your marks. The blue outlines here are Prussian Blue, one of the darker blues
Warmer or Cooler
In this image, I am beginning to block out the entire paper. The background walls, in reality, are white and the floor is a wood floor. When I work with pastel, one of the things I ask myself is whether the color is warmer or cooler. The white of the wall is cool and the orange of the floor is warm. Then taking a cool dark color, almost any kind of blue or green, which is one step lighter than the paper, I blocked out the background wall. Then, with the same idea, yet with a warm color, a dark burnt orange, I did the floor, her body, and the shadow of the cloth.
One big problem that artists face when developing light and shadow in a work is that they tend to have the exact same darks and lights scattered around the surface. The result is that it kills the life out of the drawing!
A great way to solve that problem is to celebrate a hierarchy of lights and darks. The simplest way to do that is to focus on three different tones of lights and darks.
Here I will take you through what I mean.
Dreams of Round Things, 2006, charcoal on Rives BFK, 26 x 19 inches.
Ellipses make or break any drawn plate, glass, or bottle. When beautifully done they transport the viewer to experience serene harmony. It’s rare not to have a man-made cylindrical object in a still life.
It should not be surprising that da Vinci painted/drew beautiful ellipses. This detail is a from The Last Supper–it is the plate in front of Christ.
If the artist is going to convey reality, getting the forms right are absolutely essential. The realist artist is also at a disadvantage, in that if they present real objects, these objects have to have believable forms. As simple as forms look in art, they are one of the most difficult things to accomplish.
For example, no spectator is going to believe that the woman’s breasts were concaved, or that the sphere was flat.
With this tutorial, I will take you through the drawing stages.
The preparation takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Now that you have prepared the paper you are ready to roll.
The charcoal rub on the paper is neither black nor light, but solidly in the middle of the tonal range. Here I am drawing with General’s charcoal pencil 6b. You will notice that I hold the pencil at the back end. It may not seem important, but you might be amazed at how the mark making becomes more fluid.
Charcoal drawing is 30,000 years old and marks the dawn of humankind. When drawn on great paper is one of the easiest and most rewarding techniques in all visual art. It is perfect for the beginner because it quickly conveys the image; mistakes are easily corrected, and it naturally enhances light effects. It holds challenges to expert artists as well: it lends itself to the extremes of the freedom of action drawing or insanely subtle realism.
Rives BFK paper.
Kneaded eraser, Pink Pearl eraser. Optional, a drawing eraser.
6 B charcoal pencils. Generals.
Flat compressed charcoal stick, soft. Alpha Color is a good brand.
Portfolio Cachet, 20 x 26 inches. It is lightweight and doubles as an excellent drawing board.
Shop Mechanics Paper Towels (hardware stores).
Sennelier charcoal or pastel fixative.
Glassine paper, to protect your finished drawing.
Exacto knife, for sharpening the charcoal pencil.