Australian Fine Artist

Venue: Frankston Chisholm

Tutor: Bill Hay


Creating form when drawing the body is mostly done by using the light source and tonal qualities created by light and shadow.

For this session, we started with some usual line drawings and then advanced on to creating a tone over the surface of the paper to draw into and then erase for highlights. If you have never tried this method before, it is a quick way to create interesting drawings that have more than just lines to depict the curves and proportions of the human body.

(NOTE: Drawing of nude female figure follows in this article)


The process begins by using the side of your charcoal to rub over the surface of the paper to create a tonal background. Remember, you don’ have to use the same pressure all over the paper. In most life drawing sessions, a light source is set up to help define the shape of the body, so use it from the beginning.

When I covered my paper I made the side furthest from the light darker than the side nearer to it, I also made the top lighter than the bottom. this variation not only helps to remind you where your light source is but creates a more interesting finished drawing. In later versions I added one or two colours using artists soft pastel, to create even more interest. I checked the colour of an item near the model (green or blue for example) and softly added that to the background as well. Note that I only sparlingly did this so I didn’t overpower the charcoal.

Once you have the background in, you can then start drawing in the model. The nice thing about this method of drawing is that you don’t need outlines to define areas as much so they can be thick and bold where you want to draw attention, and thin or nearly non-existant in other areas, leaving the tone to join areas together visually.

Once the form is established, you can then start working on shadow areas on the body, and this is done by using the charcoal to darken areas of the body in shadow. By using a kneadable eraser to pull back the tone you can bring out the lighter and highlighted areas. You can also cut into outlines at this point allowing the highlights alone to define the edges.

If you need to, as I did, because I didn’t have my eraser with me on the day, you can use a white pastel to highlight parts of the body and light areas in objects around it. The nice thing about these materials is that they can be erased, smudged and added to a lot until you are happy with the finish. Don’t be afraid to wipe off what you aren’t happy with and work over areas.

Another tip at this point is something I mentioned to another student. Start your outlines lightly, don’t go in too dark too soon. These dark lines subconsciously tell you that you have to keep going in the direction you have started on. This may end up with you unhappy with the result because you felt you could keep adjusting as you went. Start light and make lots of ‘adjustment’ marks until you feel you are honing in on the forms. These little marks often make the drawing more interesting and add to the character of the drawing so don’t be afraid to make them and leave them in.

Until next time, happy drawing, relax, and enjoy the process

Sample from this week’s session below (20 minute sketch, charcoal and artist’s pastel on A2 paper):


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