Value is one of the most vexing elements of portraiture. Most artists are very reluctant about value and do not push the darks far enough. This is often because:
1. Their eyes are not yet coached to see the subtle gradations.
2. The fear of losing a drawing.
Beginning artists can see big lights and large darks and half-tones easily enough but it takes eye-coaching to see the finer gradations in tone.
In this commentary we will focus on the interplay of strong unconventional lights and darks that are cast upon the subjects head, i.e., light-dappled patterns.
As usual, we first draw the arabesque and place the facial features (brow line and base of the nose).
When working with a intricate value pattern the chief task is looking to simplify the patterns. Sketching, in general, is invariably an exercise in simplification, i.e., making choices.
The next step is that of hatching-in the overall dark/light pattern with single tones. At this time do not yet refine the tones because doing so will surely lead to disappointment.
Using a paper or your fingers, blend the pencil dust. If you use a paper stump be careful not to deaden the values. The lights can be added, improved, and refined with your kneaded eraser.
The facial area and the hair are now carefully sketched in.
Keep these structural lines very light. Also, proceed constructing the tonal forms keeping in mind that, except for the sun-dappled pattern, the tone must be suppressed, i.e., nothing in the shadows must pop out.
This is a delicate balancing act. Tone must be added and then subtly modeled and/or taken away. This is an exercise in going back and forth.
In addition, do not yet want to finish the facial features but be sure that the likeness is already there and that the sizes are right. That is, at this time, your drawing should look like an under-painting.
Like color, value is affected by the surrounding value. You can see, for instance, that once the hair is hatched-in and somewhat refined that the facial area now appears lighter than before.
Now, you can return to the facial area and break down the big tonal masses into their various forms and relationships by using blending, stumping and delicate eraser work.
The challenge with dappled light is to construct the delicate patterns while still keeping a smooth whole. As a general rule, cast shadows have hard edges while shape shadows have soft edges of changing degrees. When using a stump, you should barely touch the paper. This allows you to maintain the tiny lights that bounce off the paper thereby maintaining the image alive and vibrating with light.
To produce the most subtle values use the blackest, hardest pieces of putty eraser you can find.
As is the case with the facial features, the tones of the hair must be subordinated to the overall light and must harmonize with the face both physically and emotionally.
Finally, at this time you can leave the sketch as is or you can push it further by adding more minutia. That is an aesthetic decision left to you.
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Remi Engels is a pencil portrait artist and oil painter and expert sketching teacher. See his work at graphite pencil portraits.
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