Tag Archives: attention

Shapes of Tone

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.white_bowl

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.  Nathan_portrait

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.

Quick Tip #3 – The Creative Negative


Creatively, negative space is any space or shape that’s next to, but not, the thing you are drawing.  Like yin and yang they have to exist together.  One of my favourite examples is the word ‘skyline’.  It exactly describes the negative shape when we look at a city scape.  Instead of drawing the ‘building line’ focus on the sky and draw the skyline.  That will make your life much easier 🙂


Oh and while I was playing with Gimp (a free version of photoshop) I did this cool thing 🙂


Awareness, Attention, Focus



Joy of Life Sometimes a painting just seems to paint itself.  "Joy of Life" sprang off the brush about 4am one morning.  It was a break-through and seemed to grow on the page.
Joy of Life
Sometimes a painting just seems to paint itself. “Joy of Life” sprang off the brush about 4am one morning. It was a break-through and seemed to grow on the page. – Tony Smibert

Over some years I’ve had the privilege of participating in workshops given by a wonderful artist and generous tutor (amongst other extraordinary talents), Tony Smibert. I took the following notes during one of his workshops.  Having observed hundreds of drawers (including myself) at various levels of ability I am often reminded of this unusual analogy.

Pay equal attention to
Be aware of the whole space within which to draw. Sometimes we don’t see the edge of the paper and either draw too small or too big. It helps to put a frame on the page.
Eg. A tennis player has to be aware of the size of the court so that he doesn’t hit the ball out. So that he puts his service into the serving box

Pay attention to what else is in the composition. Where are the objects in relation to each other. How dark is the tone compared to other tones on the page. Many times we think a shadow on a particular item is very dark – in relation to the item – and do not see the tone in relation to the whole composition.
Eg. The tennis player has to pay attention to where his opponent is on the court and anticipate where he will move to so that he can decide where to place the ball.

Draw the particular line, item, tone focusing on how to do that.

Eg. The tennis player has to focus on the ball coming towards him and how to hit that ball for maximum benefit.

We often concentrate on how to do the best for one small part of our drawing i.e. focus, to the detriment of awareness and attention. This leads to a disjointed drawing where things don’t appear to belong together. It is so easy to move from one line to another, one item to another without being aware or paying attention to the whole picture.

The drawer has to keep all three mind-sets to produce a successful drawing as does the tennis player for a winning game.