Drawing Fundamentals: Tonality and Shadows

Lesson 7/7 - Demo: Drawing by Numbers


Drawing Fundamentals: Tonality and Shadows


Lesson Info

Demo: Drawing by Numbers

Here's a sketch I did on a tablet of an urban neighborhood in my area of Rhode Island where I live, and here too I'm just making really quick marks on basic block shapes. And I've got dark darks and I've got light lights. So let's briefly just look at how we might map this, and that's one of the last things we're gonna be working with, and I'm going to just bring your attention over here briefly, where I have the prototype of the, I basically have the prototype of the demo that we showed. And then again, here's our destination, so this is the, you know, it took me a while to build up this destination, so we'll take a look at where we'd be going with this, but I also wanna take a look at how we could use this idea of a tonal map to help us move towards that. This will be our last sort of demonstration, and then we'll talk about our next steps after this. So again you wanna have a nice sharp pencil, and I often sharpen my pencils with an exacto knife, but I'm just gonna use this little h...

andy pencil sharpener here just to kind of sharpen up my point, especially with cross-hatching. When I'm drawing more freely, I tend to hold my pencil like this so I can move my wrist a lot, but when I'm doing my cross-hatching, which are lines that cross each other to create value, I tend to choke up on my pencil a bit to get a little bit more control, so that's the pencil hold variations are something also to consider. Okay, I have this setup, I'm gonna work off of this, although I have my blocks, but for time's sake, I'm just gonna kind of mirror our destination with this. I had these blocks set up from the left, but let's just sort of work this up, because I have my map, I have a strong drawing. So let's say you set up some blocks or block-like shapes. You do the linear drawing, and then the very next step, depending on your material, would be your five-part gradient. So just take a minute to ask yourself, "How dark does this medium go?" we've done this, right, we did this earlier. How dark does this medium go? How light can it go? And maybe, what are some steps in between? I'm gonna do this real briefly 'cause we've been through this. But I wanna know what my fours are, I wanna know what my threes are, and what my twos are, and when I refer to these numbers, I'm really referring to the ones are my brightest brights in the composition, my then twos are a little darker, threes are a little darker, fours are a little darker still, and fives are my darkest dark. So, let's try this. Ones, I'm not gonna touch. Not gonna touch the ones, 'cause the ones are my brightest brights. I don't need to touch it, it's the color of the paper. All right, but what about my darkest darks? Maybe I'll lay a few of those in. So some of my fives, I can start to lay in, and again, notice when I lay in this note, I'm laying it in with straight lines, and I know it's gonna be one of my darkest darks, but one thing, too, and I'm gonna do some cross-hatching, to start to build the darkness, but one of the things too, that's really important to realize, especially when we start to build more complex drawings, is that it's really about relationships, like this block does not exist in a vacuum. This block does not exist in a vacuum. This number five we're gonna call it, this dark right here, is really intense, and it's really intense because there's something really bright right in front of it. And there's something, there's like a three behind it, like this tone in the background is a three. And the fact that this is lighter next to it, and the fact that this is really light here, starts to create a relationship between these three shapes, they're adjacent shapes, they influence each other. There's a cast shadow that comes off of this block here. This block just touches the one beneath it. I'm gonna make that be shadow marks go in the direction of the cast shadow. And then when they come up and hit this standing block, I'm gonna actually have the lines stand up. I'm gonna put them in vertically, because they're falling on a vertical form. This is a four, this is a three, and then this is a four. So I keep referring to my map, I'm really happy that I have these numbers here, because it really helps me to remember and keep things straight. The big thing about it too, is that if you start to get lost in kind of the ambiguousness of the midtones, it might mean that you haven't made your darks dark enough. And making your darks dark enough can really help the midtones sing. Another relationship here, I see this little guy poking out from behind these two blocks. Darkening that down allows the blocks in front of it to pop forward. We've got a bright, and then we have another dark again here. So again, I'm building these shapes with straight lines, and I'm really, if this is a three, I'm looking over here and saying, "Okay, that's my three, that's my three value, "I wanna lay that in, and I want that to pair with that, "because I want it to be lighter than the four behind it." when the corner of this three hits that shadow, which is a four, you can see how it starts to push this forward, and starts a relationship. Key thing to remember, cast shadows are often very dark next to the object, just as a review, and they tend to get a little lighter as they move away, so this is going from a five to a three. And also, it's really important to address what's happening behind the objects, right, to sort of say, you know, the wall is almost as important as what's happening in the foreground. So building it slowly and really referring to these numbers ultimately will let us arrive to something like this. But it's only after mapping. It's only after figuring out what's what, what are my darks, what are my lights, that we can really arrive at something this illuminous. So if you don't push the darks dark enough, and don't honor the lights, then it's not gonna have the drama that you really want. And you really want after all that time lighting it and drawing it and setting it up, you really wanna set yourself up for success by really looking at the polarities and really pushing those darks and lights and squinting a lot and looking down and walking away from the drawing and coming back to it and really asking yourself what it needs to have that sort of drama. So this type of luminosity is a product of looking and seeing and arranging and practicing mark making and experimenting and really asking yourself what kind of atmosphere and what kind of quality you want your to lights and darks in a drawing. So our next steps, next steps for you would really be to keep on drawing and to set up situations for yourself that have beautiful light quality, that are exciting for you, like you know and you have that bubbling up of excitement when you see something beautiful, you see a tree casting a shadow across a lawn and you think, "God, how could I draw that?" it's a cylinder, and it's got a cast shadow. I think I could probably manage that now. So something in nature, something in your home, basic objects, working from our downloadable practice sheets, and absolutely, uploading to our student gallery, where you can find a community of other students and artists who are practicing these ideas. I'll be in there looking at some of the images and giving feedback, so absolutely practice some things and upload them, that would be really exciting to see what you have done, and just find some joy in it, and notice the people that inspire you, and really aspire to emulate and practice what they do, and then ultimately create your own language of mark making and creating beautiful luminous drawings. Thank you so much for watching.

Class Description

This beginner-friendly class will teach you essential techniques for drawing realistically. Learn how to create light and shadow in your drawings by applying techniques such as tonal scales, cross hatching and mark making. Instructor Amy Wynne teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design and exhibits her work nationally, winning numerous grants and awards.

This class covers:

  • Tonal gradations, hatching, cross hatching
  • Creating a dramatic value range
  • Working with core and cast shadow

A series of practice pages will be provided to get you started.



The package of four drawing basics courses by Amy Wynne are very well organized. Each section builds on the other. By the end, she has given us a technical understanding of how to use marks and tonality and shadows and highlights to develop a beautiful drawing of anything. The illustrations of important points were very helpful. HIGHLY recommend.

Ariana Graf

Amy teaches a straight-forward approach to tonal rendering and mark-making that builds on her previous courses on building basic line drawings. She makes beautiful and believable tonal shading attainable. Loved it!