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Learn to Draw: Still Life

Lesson 5 of 6


Amy Wynne

Learn to Draw: Still Life

Amy Wynne

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Lesson Info

5. Lighting


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Still Life Duration:06:22
2 Composition Duration:12:45
3 Depth Duration:06:14
4 Value Duration:08:05
5 Lighting Duration:09:57
6 Your Drawing Process Duration:03:38

Lesson Info


Once you've set up your composition as I've done here in the studio, the next consideration is the lighting. Lighting can either be from natural light, which is pretty much what we have here in the studio, the light's coming in from the left. I have Western exposure, so sometimes the light is rather dramatic, right now it's a bit more subtle. But when you're at home, setting up your own lighting, using a desk lamp, often I try to get a single light source if I'm using artificial light. That can be more dramatic and a little bit less confusing. When you use multiple lights, sometimes it casts like triple shadows and it's really best, especially when you're first starting out, practicing tonal rendering and working with lighting to keep it as clear and concise as possible. So right now we have this set up lit with natural light. You can see shadows are being cast to the right side, highlights are on the left side. And I started to work up a linear version of the setup using pretty much a...

ll of the ideas that led to this particular point in the lesson. Compositional dynamics, entry point, working with negative shape, really trying to make some solid and exciting choices about the arrangement of objects and my vista, whether I'm gonna be high or low to my set up. But I wanna dial it back for a second to remind you that this setup, although it's a bit more sophisticated and intermediate than maybe drawing basic shapes, was still born from those basic shapes that we did way back in sort of the more beginning lessons, things that people learn early on in drawing. Ellipses, the top of this blue container is a very narrow ellipse shape, the ellipse of the bowl. And then cylinders. The cylinder of this little bell here, the cylinder of the stick that hits the meditation bowl and then the egg shape of the striped rock. So even though initially you might think, oh, this is a bit challenging to kind of try and do something this complex, you just take a breath, boil it down to your basic shapes. You can build it just like you've built even the simpler drawings by just putting it all together. Orchestrating it too, with the compositional ideas you've learned. So the next step is tonality. I'm working with a graphite pencil here. So I just simply initially wanna just do a little bit of a gradation just so you can see, I know you saw it done on the iPad, but I just want you to see what this particular substance sort of feels like against this paper. And with graphite, it's only gonna go so dark, because as we've seen, graphite has a bit of a sheen to it. Unlike, lets say, so this is my one, two, three, four, five. This is really small and it's really quick, but I just kind of wanna see how dark this graphite is gonna go. And sometimes it varies depending on the type of paper you're using as well. So that's my darkest dark, my lightest light is the one. And then working gradually into a four. Three, two. Just to kind of remind myself of what the tonalities are gonna be, and also to say that I'm going to assign, not with numbers and everything this time around, but I'm gonna keep an eye on, what are my darkest darks when I look at the setup? What are my lightest lights? And work on having the mid tones have some variation in between. So, sometimes when I start doing tonal rendering on a drawing, I'll sort of like dive into some of the areas of highest contrast, because that's an area where the dark darks and light lights meet. And I can already just from very early on establish some of the polarity, some of the drama, and then the rest of the drawing sort of fills in. So, coming around, looking at the way the light rakes around this brass bowl, from the left side over to the right side, there's a very, very dark quality to the right side, and sort of the inverse happens on the inside of the bowl, which is really quite beautiful. So I'm gonna start to make some marks darkening the inside of the bowl. And I'm not making them like haphazardly every which way, I'm actually making them as if I was almost like drawing them into the bowl. I'm having them kind of go in the direction of the curve of the bowl. And so that's not only creating a darkness, but it's also creating sort of a dimension and a feeling of roundness. Just by adding my tonal rendering I'm doing that. This darkness comes up against the front lip of the bowl, which is a bit of a highlight on it. And when I squint down, and again, squinting is a really important element to tonal rendering. When you squint down, and I'm talking about like squinting so much that almost all the detail falls away, when I squint down, I can really start to see how dark this sort of shape is on the inside of the bowl. And then the flip of that is how dark this side of the bowl is. So it's like this inverse tonality, and I can also wrap this around the bowl with a particular direction, because the bowl has a curve, so I want my marks to also mimic that curve. I can start to build these sort of like, this builds to the left, this builds to the right and creates this sort of circular quality. This bowl is also casting a shadow upon the little stick for the gong there, so this cast shadow of the light's coming from the left, the cast shadow's coming off the bowl, raking cross the ground plane, and then what's really beautiful is that when a cast shadow hits around an object, it often creates sort of a rounded shadow, which is a bit subtle here right now because of the light. And the light is gonna change when you're using natural light. So you sort of have to capitalize on the effects as you see them. But this shadow is starting to wrap around this, and it's helping by using some cross contour marks. It's helping us create not only a darkness, but also a shape, a dimensionality, a three-dimensionality. Now in this little nook in between these, I'm noticing it's really one of my darkest darks. So what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna go ahead and really put some pressure to my pencil so that I can make sure that somewhere in my drawing I have a super dark dark. And these two objects actually start to blend together, because they are almost of exact same darkness. And it's okay to let some of the boundaries go. Because it allows the viewer to fill in those places for themselves. One other area I wanna elaborate in terms of cast shadow is the way that this blue container is casting a shadow on the wall. And when that's happening, you don't want the outline of a shadow to actually be evident at all really in the final drawing. Because shadows don't actually have outlines. And it actually makes it look just flat and unreal. So shadows are beautiful, because they're sort of a reiteration of the reality of the object. And it really is a beautiful echo and creates a real sense of space and place in the drawing. So this shadow's coming off this blue vase, this blue container, hitting the wall. And it comes across the ground plane, there's a quite a bit of dark, across the ground plane at a diagonal, and then as soon as it hits the back wall, it changes its angle and moves up. So it's actually helping us move across, and then up the wall. So it has a really nice spacial quality to it. Just one other area, and then I'm gonna sort of show you a fast forward. One other area that I think is really beautiful here is the way that this piece is casting a cast shadow across the ground plane and it's tucking behind this part, and this is very dark on this side, which can be built up. One of my darkest darks is the little nook that happens down the middle of this sort of bell. And that's another area that I really wanna darken. And one other thing here is that this cast shadow off of this area of bone here, this cascades a little bit down the front lip of the composition, and this again helps us sort of work with this entry point moving us into the drawing. So building my tonality, starting in with some of these subtle shadows, over time, as you develop it, you might get to a place where there's a sort of richness that this drawing starts to have where I've really kind of gone in and, through creating darker, sort of more like richer tonal shapes, I've actually gotten rid of a lot of the outlines that existed before when I was putting that preliminary drawing in. Because when I look at these objects, they're not outlined. So tonality gives the opportunity to dissolve those outlines and have adjacent tonal shapes create the reality of the image. So as you work with tonality, as you work with image making with a tonal gradient, you're choosing your materials depending on the items that you're drawing, you're really working with your lighting, noticing your preferences between natural versus artificial light. And you're also working with cast shadow and the arrangement of the objects, all of this, understanding the value, the darkness or lightness of the colors of the objects, all of this weaves together to ultimately over time create really dynamic and luminous drawings.

Class Description

Join instructor and professional painter, Amy Wynne, as she teaches this introduction to still life. She’ll share how to create symbolism and meaning in a still life. Amy will also  share the different genres in still life, such as fertility/decay, vanitas, self portrait with objects, and nature.

In this class, Amy will cover:

  • Still life Composition: working with the Rule of 3rds and strengthening negative space
  • Depth: varying scale
  • Value: transitioning color to monochrome and creating tonal gradient
  • Lighting: Mapping lights and darks and creating tonal rhythm

Amy will end the course with a series of drawing challenges to get you drawing more every day! She’ll challenge you to draw of a motif, developing a creative habit.

Amy has been teaching painting and drawing for over 20 years at colleges across New England including the Rhode Island School of Design.


Gina Nieto

Great class. Thank you Amy for your insight. The section on value was one of the best I've come upon. Now to start my challenge.