My students should have this phrase firmly buried in their subconscious mind by now. Hopefully it re-appears in the conscious mind, front and centre, every time they observe (with squinted eyes) something with the intention of drawing it. If you learn to see the shapes of tone in everything, you should be able to draw that thing. If you draw the shapes of tone you won’t draw the subject as your brain wants you to but as your eyes describe.
By shapes of tone, I mean the shading and shapes of the shadows (tones) that appear as a result of light and/or lack of light. This can be tricky when you observe objects with different colours. Your brain will tell you that a black item is just black and it may demand that you shade it in as dark as you can. However, if you observe carefully (with squinted eyes) you will notice highlights – light on the lit side and shadow on the non-lit side. The same thing happens when you see a white object. Your brain might expect you to draw a completely white object but your eyes will tell you otherwise.
When drawing a portrait the whites of the eyes seldom appear white as the brow, eye-lashes and eye lids create a shadow when the light comes from above e.g. the sun and ceiling lights. When a face is lit from the side the bridge of the nose also causes a shadow. Sometimes we can’t even see any differentiation between the iris and the white.
During a workshop on portraiture I demonstrated how these shapes of tone are observed and used as a visual guide to drawing the 3 dimensional form of the face.
Thanks to Elise Kooperman for filming and editing this video.