Drawing Fundamentals: Tonality and Shadows


Lesson Info

Demo: Tonal Egg Drawing

I'm going to show you a fun little animation of how it might develop and then I'll show you a little bit of that how I would build up an egg from cross-contour to tonality, a little bit like I just did, but a little bit, working a little bit further with those ideas. So let's move into the animation. Tonal egg, that egg probably looks familiar. So that tonal egg, going from a circle outline gradually building to tonality is something that you can absolutely do. And the key thing as we talked about earlier is lighting it well, lighting it with a dramatic sense of where exactly do you want the light to hit the hardest, that would be your lightest light, and then raking across the form, wrapping around, and then it's cast shadow, and possibly what's happening in the background. So what I'd like to do is I'd like to just take that into sections. So we have our outline of an egg. We've envisioned maybe how lines would wrap around it. We talked about how if we wrap a line around it that coul...

d be a guide for our tonal rendering. Starting to build it up with curved marks. And then working in gradually addressing the cast shadow. If you look at the diagonal dark that sort of skirts across the egg from right to left, there's a bit of a darker band. That's what they call core shadow, and that's something that you don't want to have get too dark and you also don't wanna leave it out. So that's something to also consider. Also, look right under the egg. There's a much darker quality to the shadow as it's really being completely blocked from the light with the form and there's a little nick of dark behind the egg which allows the brighter part of the egg to contrast the background and seem more luminous. So you might think, well why are we drawing eggs? Like maybe I'm not, maybe you're not so interested in drawing eggs. Well the reason we're drawing eggs is because, well, it's because of da Vinci. Not completely because of da Vinci, but if you look, I've, this is actually one of my very very favorite da Vinci drawings. It's a drawing of cats, but it's cats with a dragon. So there's a little dragon in there which is really cool. It's like right below the two big cats. So it's cats with a dragon. Something you see everyday, right? So these are cats in all different positions. He, look at, they're roly poly, they're definitely made of these egg shapes and so if you have a cat or a dog or an animal at home, they're a great motif to draw. They're always moving and you can really structure them with egg shapes. And check this out. Like here are our eggs and here are our eggs with tonal marks wrapped around them. So this is absolutely how you can apply this idea. So I'd like to take you through a tonal egg and then I think, in terms of what we have time for, I'm gonna take you through an animation of a tonal cylinder and then we're gonna go into this draw by numbers blocks because I think that that will be a really nice springboard for your work at home and also allow us to demonstrate a few more ideas about the gradient and also the mark making being more vertical and horizontal versus curved. So let's talk about the egg and we're gonna develop it here at the table. And I'm gonna work off of a preliminary drawing that illustrates cross-contour and our destination from here is really to here. And we might end not at working up the whole thing, but I do, if you kind of take a look at the table here, I do want people to understand that, you know, a starting point could be this egg with the cross-contour on it, an early stage, and an ending point could end up with something like this. But this is a guideline and if you are looking at this thing like, "What do you mean by cross-contour? "And I feel like I'm missing something," then you could go back and you could look at our drawing base six two where I talk about where we actually wrap lines around eggs and around cylinders and we really play with ellipses and practice sets, you could go back and watch that and then come back to this and see it again with being more informed about how to draw the basic shapes. So let's work up this tonal egg a little bit and, you know, again, you wanna have some nice sharp pencils for this kind of mark making and I'm gonna illuminate the egg. I have an egg on the table here as my subject. I'm gonna illuminate it from the left. We talked about lighting earlier in this course so we're just gonna kind of play with that idea. The lighting in the studio here is a little varied so we're gonna kind of work off of basic lighting from the left side. And so I'm just gonna build this a bit and, again, sort of remembering our destination might end up being something like this. But we're remembering that this is a organic curved form and it's something that you really need to keep in mind because, you know, I'm not gonna make a lot of straight kind of architectural marks when I'm drawing this. I'm gonna really remember time and time again this is an egg and it's rounded and I could hold it in my hand and it could cup into my hand and that's a really really important thing. So obviously the first step is to create an oval and I'm just gonna reiterate what's here so that we can have sort of a shorthand towards working up the tonality. So coming around and getting into this oval and then quickly remembering that if the egg is on a slight angle to us, like we just saw a little while ago, we can imagine how our cross-contour lines, which is literally a line that wraps, would wrap around the egg, an imagined line that wraps around the egg, how that could help us inform our total rendering. And then as we talked about, rather than marks that would go like this, we can start to play with marks that might wrap around the form that go along with this idea of the cross-contour direction. So I'm making these wispy kind of wispy marks starting low and just wisping up towards the middle of the egg noticing that it's almost like, yeah, like you're feathering them and you're wrapping them and you're letting them fade out towards the top. I wouldn't wanna start in the middle of the egg and work my way down. I kind of wanna go under it and I'm imagining, every time I make one of these sweeps, I'm imagining about how these lines would wrap around. And I'm constantly even thinking about, okay, wait, if they could wrap all the way around, where would they go? Because this egg has also got some dramatic dark on its upper side so I can wrap it around the top. But notice how when I'm wrapping it I'm really trying to keep it along the lines of these cross-contour marks. And as I build it, I'm also noticing that the egg has a very bright bright right here. This would be, really, if I look at my tonal gradient from earlier, that would be my number one, my lightest light. I'm gonna just reserve that as the paper color, paper tone. But I can work up to that, sort of soften towards it. And slowly kind of close in on these other lights because if that's my lightest light then I don't want it to compete with other things. And you can see how it doesn't take long to start building it towards this idea, to start building it towards this tonal drama. And the other thing about tonality that's really important and we're gonna address it in our draw by numbers in a few minutes, is that it's not only about the object. Like an object exists as it is. It's illuminated in a certain way, but one of the things people forget is that this object just doesn't float in space. Like it's not this orb in space. It's related to the background and it's related to it's cast shadow so it's really important to put those in early on, not just save them for the end. So when I come around with these cross-contours, I'm also gonna look at what's happening beyond my egg. So what's happening beyond my egg is a little bit of darkness back here. And one really important thing to know is that you never want to come in and draw like a really hard edge around the egg and shadow out from there. You want to bring the shadow down to kiss the edge of the egg. So it's kissing the edge of the egg, it's starting to swallow the outer edge. And it's like tickling the edge rather than making a hard graphic line to denote the edge and what that does is it allows the edge to breathe and it allows the organic quality of the form to sort of come about. So I've dropped this dark behind the egg. I've started to sort of elaborate my ground plane and then I also want to notice how the egg's hitting the ground and how from that we can start to work with our cast shadow. We talked a little bit earlier about cast shadows and how we don't, we want the cast shadows to have luminosity. We want the cast shadows to not feel like they're holes in our page. So if shadows are product of blocking light, you're not blocking all the light usually. There's some luminosity to them and that's what actually makes them so beautiful. So coming off the egg you can start to feather out a cast shadow and also, right up close to the egg, there's often a darker dark and then that shadow often sort of fades out like a gradient. So these are some first steps to starting to build tonality with an egg form. Which are really actually I find it very meditative to do this. I find it really interesting to practice and just sort of kind of work with this sort of mark making and what I would encourage you to do, you know, is to find a household object, like find a rounded object or find a sort of rectilinear object and like place it on your coffee table and notice the light as it falls on it in the morning. And notice the light as it falls on it in the evening or notice the light when you flick on the light in the middle of the night and it's illuminated with fluorescent light. You know, just sort of see the variations and ask yourself like, "Wow, in which situation "would I be most inspired to draw this?" And really try to go in and take some time to do that. Have a little journal that you can just do some quick tonal studies with and that could be a really nice way in. You can also do tonality by smudging with charcoal, of course, and we saw some of that kind of mark making, but I actually think that, and that's fine, I'm personally not a huge smudger. I was trained more to make marks that go in the direction of the form and I enjoy that kind of mark making, which is not to say that smudgy charcoal drawings aren't gorgeous and can't be beautiful. But this discipline of like putting marks down in a particular direction is really wonderful to practice and then you can kind of spill out into smudging and just find your way with it, but I really encourage you to practice this sort of discipline before you move into something more atmospheric. So building this egg ultimately with these rounded lines we might get to something more refined like this and that's out of practice and out of, really, observation from life. So important to draw from life instead of a photograph because in life you can manipulate the lighting and drawing from a photograph is an automatic two dimensional abstraction of what would be going on and so when you have an actual object, an actual egg or an actual cylinder illuminated, like, you know, I can put my hand around this and I can see it in the light and I can feel it's texture and it's right in front of me and I think that's a really important part of drawing is having these objects right in front of you.

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.
  • 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!