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Direct-to-Ink Exercises: Part Two: Tone Shapes

April 21, 2015

This is the one of three exercises from the Richmond workshop : 01 Single Line | 02 Tone Shapes | 03 Post and Rail Panoramas

Direct to Ink Exercise: Tone Shapes

  • Every scene can be thought of as three values: Light, Middle and Dark.
  • In this exercise, we will create the silhouette shapes you see, with masses of accumulated pen marks.
  • Think of it as simply scribbling in the dark shapes. working from left to right in a continuous ‘blob’.
  • This exercise will develop your ability to see the composition as a big shape.
  • You’ll find this skill invaluable as a painter. But even if you stay with drawing, you’ll benefit from a better sense of mass and volume.

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  • This time, do not outline. Instead, build values shapes from the inside out with passages of pen hatching.
  • Merge the shape of cast shadows into connected mid-tone shapes. High key passages can be left as negative space.
  • Foliage and trees, or dark rooftops can be seen as solid dark shapes.
  • Try to imply internal structure by varying your mark making.

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  • It’s ok to ‘color outside the lines’. Just approximate what you see – try to interpret reality into simple shapes.
  • Dark masses (windows, contact shadows) can be done with the brush pen.

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  • These tonal drawings should have more solidity and sense of three dimensions than the previous line drawings. Compare your linear sketches vs. your tonal ones at a distance. Stand back a few feet. See how the big tone shapes hold up?
  • This is why paintings work on the wall, and drawings work in a book. You read a drawing, you view a painting.

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  • When you’ve tried a few of these ‘shape only’ exercises – add back in the Single Line Drawing.
  • Use the line for detail, the tone shape for masses.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. Rekha permalink
    April 21, 2015 9:13 AM

    I have tried drawing several time but always have difficulty with tones. What do you suggest is the best way to recognise them?

    • April 21, 2015 11:54 AM

      If you start just by looking at shadows – and drawing that strong dark shape – that is the best way to start learning to see shapes. Its also great to learn this in a museum lookong at the dramatically lit sculpture.

      • Rekha permalink
        April 21, 2015 12:24 PM

        That’s a brilliant idea! Thank you

  2. April 21, 2015 9:30 AM

    Thanks Marc! Your Richmond workshop was very helpful and enjoyable! Your book is great too!

  3. Elizabeth permalink
    April 21, 2015 10:46 AM

    Thanks for the exercise Marc. I’m going to put this to practise today.

  4. April 21, 2015 8:26 PM

    Hi Marc, just spent a great afternoon with part 1 direct to ink, loved what I did, thanks for all the enjoyment of your posts. I have your book too.

  5. April 23, 2015 10:32 PM

    Thanks so much Marc. I’ve been improving by leaps and bounds because of you! I’m amazed with my own improvement, haha! You’re a great teacher. The exercises that you give are spot on and bring my work to a higher level. Thank you.

    • April 23, 2015 10:34 PM

      Well – thank you for saying Sylvia :) Glad to be of help :)


  1. Mainly drawings | ideas melt like snow
  2. Direct-to-Ink Exercises: Part Three: Post and Rail Panorama | Citizen Sketcher
  3. Direct-to-Ink Exercises: Part One: Single Line Sketching | Citizen Sketcher
  4. Continuous Line Sketches – 2nd attempt | Artistic Adventures

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