Sketching Tip: Seeing Darks
To me, a painting isn’t complete until is has a full range of values. Even in a quick sketch I like to see strong contrasts in the areas of interest. (Not so much in the background – as that’s often far away).
The great thing about a sketchbook drawing, is you can go right to those solid blacks using a thicker pen line or (my favorite) a brush pen.
When you draw in black ink, you automatically have the highest contrast. It’s just the white paper, and the black drawing. At that point, whatever color you splash on you can be pretty sure it’s going to work.
A short while ago I was answering a student’s question about placement of blacks in the drawing.
I find this comes up a lot – the question: “How do you know where to put the darks?” It seems there’s a natural fear of doing it wrong. The solid blacks are so powerful – they’re scary! What if I put them in the wrong place? Or use too much black? Will I ruin my future painting?
Quick answer: probably not – and even if you do, it’s just a sketch! Try it and find out :) You can always make another one :)
I’ve always found this question a little hard to answer. Because the only thing to say is, “well – you just *look* at the scene”.
Look for the areas that have the darkest shadows. Hit them with the black ink – and suddenly the thing pops out into three dimensions.
It’s like the drawing is the skeleton of the painting. Just the clean bones of the thing, waiting to be fleshed out in color.
This time, when trying for a better answer, I hit on the idea of using a high contrast adjustment layer in Photoshop to show ‘scientifically’ where these darks are in the image. The idea here is to remove every color other than black.
I knew this would work. But I was surprise how perfectly it matches! When you look at the isolated photographic darks next to the drawing – amazing hey?
It’s scientific proof I can draw :) I had never seen this photograph processed this way. I actually didn’t realize how close my sketch was to the real values. It’s just become second nature to look at the world, and see a high contrast version. So – there it is. That’s what you’re looking for. Just the darkest-of-darks.
Here’s another example of this discovery. (By the way, these examples are not original sketchbook drawings done on location. Here’s a few of the original pages over here).
So, here’s the photo vs. the line art – and then the contrast filter vs. the same line drawing. I just can’t get over how closely the ‘eyeballed’ darks match up to the real situation.
One last example, this one shows a little bit of ‘cheating’.
Here’s the photo vs. the line drawing, and then below the high-contrast version vs. the same line drawing.
Notice how in the contrast-tweaked version, the most distant spit of land vanishes into the lights? And as well, there is no top edge to the cliffs. They melt into the sky.
In the drawing, I instinctively blacked in that distant cliff – even though it is not really in the darkest dark value range. And I drew a hard line along the tops of the mid-ground ridges. These are both choices which are photographically wrong but make for a more clear rendition of the scene.
Remember! None of this was pre-planned. It’s just interesting to see how these Photoshop tests reveal that drawing is an analytical process of seeing and interpreting nature.