Shadow + Highlight = Form
There are no secrets to drawing three-dimensional form. When looked at objectively, form is just areas of light and dark value (or highlight and shadow). To help you see how this works, and to help me explain the steps of the drawing to you, I made a “value map” and gray scale of my subject’s shadow and highlight areas.
You don’t have to make a value map and gray scale to follow the steps.
Set up your own still life and draw from it as you follow along with the steps I recorded while working on my still life.
1. Choose which paper to use.
I chose a paper by making test swatch on a few different kinds until I found a slightly rough looking hatch that mimicked the towel’s texture.
(It doesn’t have to be perfect.)
I just wanted to draw the most interesting part of the towel, so I measured the width and height of that part and marked the measurements on the paper. Then I made a loose line drawing within those measurements.
With the side of the 4B pencil in an overhand grip and using light pressure, I drew the most obvious lines of the folds with quick strokes. After I was satisfied with them, I added more details, including the shapes of some of shadow areas.
3. Add the darkest shadows.
Using the side of the 4B pencil again, I hatched in the darkest shadow areas (6′s and 7′s on the gray scale.)
I darkened them into a value that was slightly lighter than they actually were so that I could easily change them if I decided they needed to be different later on.
I rarely hatch a value right on the first try. It’s easier to change things later on if the first value is a little lighter than the full value will be.
4. Add the medium dark shadows
I added the medium dark shadows (3′s, 4′s, and 5′s) with the side of the 4B pencil. As in the last step, I made the values a little lighter than they really were.
I could draw the shapes of some of the shadow areas more easily than others because their edges were more clearly defined and easier to see. The shadow edges with gradual transitions into the surrounding areas were the hardest to see. Because I knew I would be re-visiting those areas in the later steps, I didn’t try to draw them perfectly at this stage.
The terry cloth made the medium dark values hard to see because the tops of the tiny loops caught the light while the lower part of the cloth remained in shadow. In those spots, squinting my eyes “averaged” the values by mixing them, and then I drew this “averaged” value.
5. Add the highlights.
I switched to the B pencil to hatch in the highlight areas (1′s and 2′s.)
To keep the texture close to what was created by using the 4B pencil, I held the B pencil in the same way, using the side of it to make the hatching.
I could have used the 4B pencil with a very light pressure to create the lighter values, but I was able to create a more realistic looking variation in texture by using the harder pencil. The softer 4B pencil’s lead would have left behind darker “notes” on the grain of the paper no matter how lightly I applied it, and the towel’s highlight areas didn’t have extremely dark notes in them.
6. Revisit the darkest shadows.
I switched back to the 4B pencil and adjusted the darkest shadows (7′s) to their full values.
While I worked on darkening them, I corrected their shapes if they needed it, too.
Some of the darkest shadows of this towel formed lines near the folds that were so dark I couldn’t see any of the towel’s texture in them at all. To help create those very intense black lines, I re-sharpened the 4B and used its tip in a writing grip to darken them. I avoided crushing the grain of the paper by going over the lines several times with medium pressure on the pencil.
7. Re-visit the medium dark shadows.
Using the 4B pencil again, I hatched the medium dark shadows (5′s, 6′s, and 7′s) to their full values and reshaped their edges if they needed it.
Most of the dark shadow lines were hard edged and looked alright as they were drawn. Some of the edges were soft though, and they needed more attention. (See hard and soft edges.)
To soften those edges, I merged them into the surrounding values with gradations beginning with the 4B and switching to the B for lighter value and to match textures.
Some areas needed to be darkened in an overall way so I hatched over them with the side of the B pencil, including the parts I had originally created with the 4B pencil.
To re-shape some places, I tapped-erased them with a kneaded eraser. When I lightened an area too much, I simply hatched it until the value darkened again. I continually compared the values to each other and to the subject as I drew them.
While I was doing this, had a dialog going on in my mind that went something like this:
- Is this area darker than the area next to is?
- Does this edge gradate into the next area or does it end abruptly?
- How close to the edge of the fold does this shape come?
These questions helped me focus on each area and adjust it by comparison.
8. Final Touch-Up
I used the kneaded eraser to tap-erase some of the smaller highlight details (1′s, 2′s and some 3′s) that I’d missed or that were smudged.
For instance, I added a highlight line around the edge of the top right fold and added more highlight detail to some of the folds in the middle of the towel.
To finish, I darkened a few more shadow gradations and re-drew some of the shadow shapes.
Hard Edge – ends abruptly at edge.
Soft Edge – transitions into the next value in a gradual way.
Tap-erase – literally tap with a kneaded eraser to lighten a shadow or re-form a shape. You can shape the eraser to make textures too. For this drawing, I pinched one end into a dull point to create a rough texture that blended with side of pencil hatching.
Arrange the towel in a flat area with a strong light source coming from one side and slightly above. A table lamp works well if the the other lighting in the room isn’t too bright. Experiment with lowering the other lighting, by closing curtains and so forth, until you see clear shadows and highlights on and around the towel.
The paper links go to Dick Blick, my affiliate and the art store I’ve been ordering from for over 20 years.
Canson Classic Cream Drawing Paper – An inexpensive general use paper with a good tooth for sketching practice.
Strathmore 400 Series Drawing Paper Pads – This is a slightly rougher textured paper that doesn’t allow fine detail, but it’s very tuff and takes a lot of abuse. I use this paper or Canson depending on the drawing. Strathmore would be a very good paper for this exercise.
- A 4B pencil and a B pencil (You can substitute similar grades of pencils.)
- A Sharpener.
- A kneaded eraser.
- A light colored terrycloth towel without any design.