Tonal study

Initially when I embarked on drawing the orchid, I was concerned that it would become boring and be difficult to motivate myself.  This was my initial experience and I was worried that I would not be able to draw the orchid umpteen times.  I did not expect that, at a certain point, I would find the subject more interesting with each subsequent drawing. The more closely I look at this orchid, the more I see.  Each time, it becomes more challenging to represent the orchid differently and yet the challenge becomes the motivation.  This is the first time that I have had to draw a single subject so many times and it is a curiously intimate experience.

To make the transition between line and tone, I focused on a single flower and used line to depict tone (A4 sketchbook page, black fineliner; coloured pencils).

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The next drawing was done on a thick grey paper using white conte. Depicting the light in a white flower seemed easier than depicting the tone, and the shadows become more obvious.  The drawing lacked depth (below, left) and so a carbon pencil was used to add some lower tones and colour was introduced into the background (below, right) to lift the orchids off the surface of the paper.  (Paper slightly >A4).

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The next drawing stayed with the whole plant but used A3 paper and graphite powder.  I rubbed a layer of powder into the paper and then erased the flowers, before adding pencil detail.  The drawing on the left below lacks definition but was improved a little by the addition of detail using a 5B and 9B pencil (below, right).  It feels odd to use such dark pencils to denote shadows in a white flower that are really not so dark. The use of the eraser “cutting” into the graphite is moderately successful.  It is impossible to get really clean whites using this technique but there is a sense of light on the uppermost flower, as well as the ones on the right of the stem.  The graphite creates a slightly shiny surface, which reflects light oddly when photographed.  The graphite powder was rubbed in roughly at the start. I will have to work on obtaining a smoother, more velvety drawing surface.

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One problem that I have with this subject is that one must either draw the entire plant, focusing on the overall structure of the flowers and stems, or must zoom in and focus on only a small part (unless the drawing is done on a very large scale).  I wanted to zoom into the plant, in order to bring the subject to the edges of the paper and lose the vast expanses of negative space.  I tried using frottage (the texture below is structure paste and sand) as a means of creating areas of tone with more texture.  I originally had the idea of building up “frottaged tone” more delicately but the paper was too sturdy for this and I ended up having to apply much more pressure and with darker pencils than originally planned. I wanted to lose the edges in this drawing and also to create a sense of form and movement without recourse to line.  However, I found that I had to use a very light line for the overall shape, as a guide.  I overestimated the size and a single bloom on this scale does not entirely fit on the page but I quite like its sculptural quality, particularly the central sepal.

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Having decided to work on a larger scale, I drew a few thumbnails and chose a composition that included one complete bloom and parts of others.  The hazel twigs were included to avoid the problem of too much empty space (the dimensions of the flowers make it tricky to fill the paper without drawing two blooms side by side) and also to introduce contrasting lines and shapes, and thus interesting negative space.  I chose the second one of the three thumbnails below to develop as a drawing but then cut into the bloom on the left, so that there is a single flower as the main focus.

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The drawing below is the final tonal study for this exercise.  I used pencils ranging from 3H to 9B, but not all within this range, in an A3 sketchbook. In order to get strongly defined areas of tone, artificial light was used with one light directly shining on the plant from the front to the right, as well as a second light directly above.  The two together produced small areas of “unexpected” light, as well as a good balance between soft tones and translucence, and areas of strong shadow.  This drawing took about two weeks to complete because it could only be drawn after dark and there was not always time available in the evenings.  It could still benefit from more low tones and contrast but I am quite pleased with the depiction of the twigs, and with the shadows on the flower on the left although the flowers do not altogether look as if they would be found on the same plant…  I have managed to lose some of the edges. The twigs fill the space well on the right.  I thought of adding more in the top left corner but thought that this would be too “busy” and so have left it as “a place for the eye to rest”.   The central flower has a good level of detail – the others need more in order to improve the relationship between the three.

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Overall, I have a bit more courage now in terms of adding strong dark details to drawings of white flowers but need to pay attention to details that provide a more finished look to a drawing.  I am getting a better sense of the composition that I am working towards for the final drawing.  At least, I know what I don’t want now.

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