Foundation drawing: tones and textures

This week, we worked with charcoal to learn about textures and tones in a drawing.


Since drawings are 2d, we can only create the illusion of texture by manipulating light. For smooth surfaces, there will be a smooth graduation from light to dark; for rough surfaces, there will be sharp contrasts of light.


Varying tones is crucial feature to have in order to bring life to a drawing. Objects have no outline in reality – hence for realistic drawing, it does not make sense to have clearly delineated outlines. Hence, without outlines, the only way to portray an object will be to describe it based on its tones and how it behaves under light.

Takeaways from Prof’s demonstration of a rainy day:

  • The importance of creating a delusion, and acquiring the know-how. In a rainy day, there are no sharp shadows due the diffusion of light from the rain droplets, the ground, the walls, etc. As sunlight is still the main source of light (other sources including street lights/ lights in buildings), the ground (horizontal surfaces) will reflect the most light among all surfaces. Additionally, due to the reflection of light among rain droplets, the further the distance, the brighter it will appear. Hence, in a rainy scene, furthest objects will appear the brightest. 
  • Prof barely drew any details, yet we could tell that it is a rainy day. We could make out the forms of the cars, the people, the umbrellas….. with minimal strokes. This goes to show the importance of light and dark in a drawing – they make all the differences

We had a chance to draw a still life set up. Here is my from the session:

I am not foreign to the use of charcoal, however I had some troubles adapting to the paper I was using which was somehow quite different from what I’ve used in the past. For examples, I found that it was more difficult to erase and get a sharp edge. Also, the charcoal does not seem to adhere to the paper – when I rub on the charcoal with my fingers, the tone lightens immensely more than I intend.

I think it can be quite distinctly observed that the quality of drawing drops from the right towards the left (excluding the crumpled paper texture). This is because I am a rather slow worker. Thus I was drawing at a more comfortable pace at the start and spent a lot of time on the glass bottle. However as more and more time passed, I was pressurised to work quicker, and the rushed drawings do not fare so well.


For the ceramics, it was very difficult to capture their tones because the change in tone is very subtle under the diffused studio lighting. Prof mentioned that it was very important to ensure that the darkest parts of the ceramics are lighter than the darkest parts of the darker objects.

For the kettle, I think that my tones are changing too abruptly and the contrast is too large. Also, each band of tone (which I drew as a flat solid colour) should have a gradual change in tone within itself.

For the crumpled paper (in the background), while I did not have enough time to work on them, the portion that I did draw is too dark and the tones too flat.


Again, I found it more difficult to work with the ceramics – their textures are so hard to capture! Reflections on the kettle and glass bottle are a lot more straightforward because each change of tone is very clean and distinct. Since their surfaces are smooth, all I had to focus on was the reflection.


Even though this lesson did not focus on the drawing itself, I find that my proportions and perspectives are rather poorly done – especially the eclipses.

Personally, I love drawing. I would love to attend more drawing sessions and improve as much as possible.

My Line is Emo — Research on Artists

I am rather fascinated by how non-representational mark making is able to express so many varied emotions. This means that the marks must contain some form of inner significance – one that is able to trigger our thoughts, transport us back to a memory, and resonate with us.

On second thought, however, it makes sense that non-representational marks are able to express our feelings. Emotions are not thoughts after all. They are not literal, not tangible, and not exactly rational. It follows that expressive mark making is indeed an apt medium to portray them.

To learn more about mark making as well as to source for inspirations, here are some artists whom I have researched on:

Ed Moses

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Ed Moses is an American abstract artist. To him, art is about “exploring the phenomenal world”. Since the phenomenal world is so diverse and impermanent, it comes as no surprise that Ed Moses’ approach to art is highly experimental. It is quite obvious from his works that he refrains from being limited to a certain style.

Ed Moses does not consciously dictate what to do in front of a canvas and is happy to accept whatever ‘accidents’ and mistakes as part of his artistic process.

Some of his works:

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Love the subtle use of red!

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The bright red stripe is so bold and striking!

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Personally, Ed Moses’ paintings are really enchanting. He varies the transparency of paint, fracture lines abruptly, and smears paints across the canvas liberally, allowing the elements to emerge from and sink in the canvas –  just like the ebb and flow of waves

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol was an American artist and a leading figure of the Pop Art movement who played an influential role in contemporary art and culture.

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Rorschach is a series of paintings that Warhol made in 1984. These paintings are essentially ‘ink blots’, with inspiration drawn from “The Ink Blot test” created by Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach. Patients had to interpret ink blots presented to them, while psychologist would help to decipher their mental and emotional states based on what they perceive.

Interestingly, Warhol misunderstood the clinical process and thought that the patients were supposed to create their own ink blots for the psychologist to decipher – which led to the creation of the Rorschach paintings.

Warhol used the pour-and-fold technique, which helped him to achieve symmetry.

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The paintings are huge!!

Sol LeWitt

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Sol LeWitt was an American artist who played a leading role in the Conceptual Movement. He placed great emphasis on the concept or idea of his work, rendering inherent narrative and descriptive imagery to be unimportant. As seen from his works, they are all non-representational.

His artistic explorations were systematic: they generally dealt with geometric elements and patterns – visually appealing nevertheless. Interestingly, as he stresses on the importance of ‘concept’, for large part of his wall drawings, LeWitt only conceive and plan them –  the actual works are usually executed by draftsman.


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LeWitt believes “each person draws a line differently and each person understands words differently”. This is one of the reason he chose to let draftsmen carry out his plan:

Draftsman inject their own interpretation of the plan into the actual work, allowing the final work to morph into something elusively different from the original plan, yet it is still the same artwork. Any misinterpretation or error made by the draftsman are accepted as part of the work.

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I have a curious observation, that is – although these three artists differ greatly in style, all three embrace mistakes and ‘accidents’ as part of the artistic process. They do not eliminate them, but rather generously and happily incorporate them into the final work. This is something I should learn from them and not be fearful of committing errors. I should always keep an open mind and be willing to continuously experiment with new ideas.

Foundation Drawing lesson 1

Hello, I’m Yu Qing :) I graduated from Hwa Chong Junior College and was from the science stream. I do not have any formal art background, but I like to draw and doodle since young, so it’s really great that ADM has a foundation drawing class to help me get my basics right. As I plan to major in animation, I feel that acquiring strong drawing skills will be very beneficial. I hope to make the very best out of this class in this semester!

For our first Foundation Drawing class, our prof introduced a style of sketching that he would like us to have a go at. It is rather charming – instead of drawing objects in isolation and being obsessed with bringing out its form, his way of sketching is a lot looser.

  • Scenes are to be looked at in the overall perspective.
  • The sketch is primarily concerned with the interplay of positive and negative spaces.
  • There need not be any clear boundary of whatever we were drawing, we can simply allow one object flow to the next.

I feel that our prof’s demonstration drawing is very ‘fluid’, natural, and somehow visually comfortable. One table can morph into another table in the back, yet the front is represented by positive space while the latter negative.

Shortly after, we went down to Canteen 2 to do some sketching! Prof suggested we apply quick strokes when we are confident and slow down when we are not.

This was the very first sketch I made. I feel like I didn’t understand what Prof was trying to tell us. My sketch remains too clean and I was shading into spaces quite arbitrarily.

Some other sketches I’d made:

I wonder if I am thinking too much while drawing, or not thinking enough at all. As my mind is usually blank when I draw, I do not consciously decide which object to be represented with negative space and which positive. Perhaps this is why my sketches are still rather isolated and traditional.

This is a sketch that I was rather happy with. I feel that there is more fluidity between different objects, but the use of positive/negative space is still rather ambiguous.

After comparing my own sketches with my prof’s, I also notice that he varies the tone of shading a lot more – which may be why he is able to create more depth. Also his lines are way looser than mine – I will feel compelled to finish drawing the leg of a chair yet he can very freely leave it as nothing more than a line with a small suggestion of a cuboid structure.

Hope that with a lot more practices, I will be able to manoeuvre comfortably around positive and negative spaces!