Looking Closer

This exercise takes an expanded section of the tonal drawing as its starting point.  I am not sure how this is going to work as my tonal drawing was a close-up to begin with but here goes…

I began by identifying the section that I intended to explore and then enlarged it.  I decided to begin by abstracting the image using a wider range of mark-making than I have been using recently.  I drew the image on to an A4 sketchbook page using the A3 drawing as well as the plant as references.  I am not sure that the angle of drawing was precisely the same as when I drew the original drawing and also noticed some discrepancies in proportions and perspective while re-drawing.  Therefore, I used the plant as the primary reference.  Specifically, I got the impression that the right-hand petal was not wide enough for the perceived angle; there were also a couple of places that required clarity in the structure.  Since copying the page below, I have noticed another discrepancy: the sepal of the lower flower lies behind the petal of the upper flower, not in front.

Before enlarging, I checked the ratio of the sides, which is 1:1.3.  When I drew a frame for this on an A4 page, it did not bring the long side of the drawing to the far edge.  However, once I had adjusted for the petal width, I needed to adjust the long edge in order to maintain the original composition. This did not cause distortion of the flower, but rather improved the accuracy of representation.  The twigs were drawn freely in order to fill the space in an interesting way and create a balance of negative spaces.  I have not reproduced these exactly from the original drawing, which was intentional.


Here is the basic A4 outline. I made a couple of copies of the initial A4 drawing in order to explore some routes to abstraction through mark-making and colour before drawing on a larger scale.


The first drawing using this outline was made using Pitt artist pens in 4 tones of brown (#175, #186, #189 & #192).  Some time ago (before undertaking the course), I had abstracted a rock face using these pens in an attempt to recreate the textures of a rock face on the page.  I now tried this technique on the orchid (below).  I was quite happy with the range of marks and their use to create tonal contrasts.


As the flowers are white, the next stage was to darken the background in order to bring the flower out of its background.  This was done using gentle and varied shading using Inktense pencils in aquamarine blue and olive, without a wash.  This drawing appears skeletal more than simply structural but the proportions are better.  The angle of drawing needs checking before embarking on the final drawing in this series.  The tonal changes need to be more subtle / gradual, to avoid a striped appearance and convey more of a sense of the contours of the flower.


The next drawing used the same outline – i.e. was also based on a copy of the original line drawing above – but this time I explored the use of colour to create tonal contrasts. I also printed the outline onto a textured linen paper. I undertook a few experiments in the sketchbook first to consider…..

….firstly, ways in which a hue can be lightened or darkened using white or black, to create a series of values ranging from white, through tints, to the pure hue, and then through shades of the hue to black.

….Secondly, how the juxtapositioning of colours can affect their relative values.  I interpreted the aim of this exercise as being related more to this second point.  I need to be able to see colours as tones when they lie next to other colours, which is harder than comparing values created by a single colour. For example, in the exercise below, red could be seen as a relatively low or high value, depending on which other colour(s) lie(s) next to it.


I chose to use a series of mainly cool analogous colours, ranging from cadmium yellow as a high value through apple green, iris blue and beech green to navy blue as the lowest value. It helped to “rate” these according to value on a scale (see bottom of page above) and then relate the relative values in the flower to the values represented by the different colours.  I chose five colours only because, although there is an infinite number of values representing every gradation of tone, it is impossible to represent them all and it is probably better, at least at this stage, to keep colour use simple and understandable so that colour can be easily used to represent tone. I have chosen to leave the background white but this is ambiguous because I have also used the white of the paper as the highest value.  It should probably be the darkest value, not the lightest, or at least provide a contrast.


Subsequent to making the drawing, I have done further research on colour theory in an attempt to analyse the problems with colour because it does not fully work to my satisfaction.  I found Stephen Quiller’s book “Color Choices” really useful.  Quiller explains how to extend the range of an analogous scheme to include semi-neutrals created by mixing the chosen colours with their complements (p.56).  This creates more balance by adding some warmth to a predominantly cool scheme (or vice versa).  I like analogous schemes for their ability to easily create a mood but sometimes they also convey a sense that something is missing.  I do not want to interfere with the colours in the subject at this stage but thought that I would see what effect adding semi-neutrals to the background might have.

I began by identifying the complementaries.  There was trial and error involved in this.  I used a colour wheel for guidance but print quality is variable and, in the end, it has to be a personal judgment. Choice was also restricted by the range of coloured pencils available and some complementary pairs below are not perfectly matched. Both semi-neutral possibilities were considered for each complementary colour pair.


Two semi-neutrals had more warmth than the others.  I chose the one that was made by the colour in the centre of the value range: iris blue and dark cadmium orange, and also decided to use some of the cadmium orange on its own to heighten the warmth and create more colour balance.  The revised drawing has more depth as well as warmth, both of which create more visual interest.


In the final drawing in this exercise, I went in closer, enlarging the scale on A3.  I have been reading Nina Leland’s book “Confident Color” and decided to use a split primary palette for this drawing. This involves using the three primaries with a warm and cool version of each (Leland, p.98).  Leland stipulates that only certain colours in the palette can be blended in order that no blend contains traces of all three primaries.  For example, a warm yellow lies towards the red side of the spectrum and so it may be blended with a warm red but not a cool red, which contains bluish hints.  In practice, I found this very difficult to remember, even with only six pencils.


Having chosen the colours to use (see sketchbook page above), I arranged them into a value series from high to low.  I was not certain about this and became less certain and more confused while drawing. In particular, I was not sure about the order of the dark red and helioblue-reddish – which one has the lower value? (See band of colours at the bottom of the page above.) I settled on the dark red, which seems to have been correct.  It was only after completing the drawing that I thought of taking a black and white photo to check the values.  I tried to apply the colours with similar intensity.  This being the case, it would appear as if the pale geranium lake (third from left) has a lower value than phthalo blue (to its right).  The red is also very close in value to the darker blue. I was fooled by the warmth of the red over the coolness of the blue – warmth and coolness are not necessarily connected with value.


The subject of the drawing is recognisable, so the structure and shape is representational but the colours are not.  I wanted to explore the use of colour in a way that did not try to accurately represent the colours of the orchid petals but which, instead, used colour to represent changing values as a result of the way in which light falls upon the flower.  The lighting conditions did change while I was drawing and I ended up revising the drawing to fit with artificial light.  This produced a different outcome from the other drawings in this exercise, which were drawn in natural light. It is not a good idea to begin a drawing only one or two hours before sundown…

The end result is confusing.  It might be better with a different background perhaps, as I tried above, with a semi-neutral and the complement of one of the colours, which could have balanced the brightness.  Although the aim was to produce non-representational colour, it should still fulfil some sort of visual logic, which it fails to do in the body of the flower, although the subtler changes in the “lip” at the front are better if, or maybe because, they are much subtler.  However, you would expect more vivid colours closer to the viewer and the subtler changes further away.  I made a mistake in one place through perceiving pencilled lines incorrectly when adding colour, although perhaps it doesn’t matter if it is not intended to be botanically precise… However, I was trying to reproduce the internal structures accurately.


In order to analyse what has gone wrong, I took a monochrome photo to give a clearer idea of contrasting values. It is “interesting” (and disappointing…) to see that areas of the colour drawing which can be differentiated by contrast in colour do not translate into contrast in value.  This is noticeable in the right hand “gap” where there is insufficient tonal contrast between the background and the plant immediately in front.


In future, I would need to make sure that the colours chosen represent a more comprehensive range of values.  A routine “black-and-white check” would be useful until I acquire an instinct for the relationship between colour and value.  Confusing two of the values must have contributed to lack of definition in parts of the drawing.  Changing lighting conditions confounded the issue.  The values need simplifying – the image is too busy and the background doesn’t work, although it is slightly better in black and white, suggesting that the colour is more of an issue than the value.  Using a semi-neutral for the background, as I did in the earlier drawing might have produced better colour balance.  The “discovery” of semi-neutrals occurred at the end of the exercise, after I had completed the A3 drawing, and therefore, the only option now would be to re-draw.  In view of time pressure, it would be more profitable to move on but retain what has been learned and apply it next time. 


Overall, what worked?

– I “escaped” the use of representational colour. I enjoyed using colour in more “random” ways and trying to apply it for the property of value rather than hue – challenging, though.

– I extended the range of mark-making although this is most apparent only in the first drawing, which was also the most successful of the three, perhaps for this reason.

What needs work and which strategies might help?

– More care is needed to link colour to value. B&W checks during the drawing process would help.

– Areas of tonal contrast need simplifying. In addition to drawing a preparatory outline, it would be helpful to identify broad areas of tone and to note where changes occur suddenly and where gradually – these could also be lightly pencilled in but need to take care that this does not complicate drawing.

– Colour should not overpower and needs to be chosen to rest the eye as much as to stimulate it.  This worked quite well in the first two drawings. The last drawing would have benefited from some coolness.  When creating a colour palette for drawings in future, I should also identify some semi-neutrals in order to achieve a better colour balance.


Leland, Nina (2008)  Confident Color.  North Light Books.

Quiller, Stephen (2002)  Color Choices: Making Sense out of Color Theory. Watson Gupthill.


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