Drawing Skills Part II : Observations in Nature : Detail / tone / stipples

OCA page 52 asks me to collect various natural objects and begin exercises that inspire me so I now have various dried flowers, twigs, shells, cones, feathers etc.

Exercise : Line drawing detail / OCA p 53

I used a black felt-tip pen for this exercise and fig 1 shows the Romaine lettuce stump I was studying.  It was fun to draw in this way and I like the character a simple line drawing depicts.  A no-frills illustration style.

Fig 1. Line drawing detail : sketch #58

The felt-tip was a bit thick so I then used a fine black drawing pen for the lemon that you can also see in fig 1.  I kept it really simple and tried not to fiddle with the lemon flesh too much as I was afraid of over-drawing it.  The pen  seemed reasonably well suited to the lemon but I think the lettuce would have been improved with the use of a slightly finer felt-tip.


Exercise : Getting tone and depth in detail / OCA p 54

Fig 2. Depth and detail : sketch 59


This was a real challenge and took me a very long time.  I had chosen a difficult dried flower head from the garden (fig 2).  The reason it was particularly difficult was that there was no real rhythm or pattern to the florets.  It was so random to copy to paper and get everything in the right place but I drew a light cross on the page so that the image was quartered for the eye and I started with the florets that ran horizontally and vertically along these lines.

When doing my research on Martha Alf below I realised that I had not captured the light and shade at all well so I went back over the work again, trying to create a better depth of shadow and a deeper contrast of light and dark.  The flower is almost ethereal so there isn’t the solidity of the apple she drew.  I’m still not entirely happy with it. I used a 6B, 2B and 2H pencil for this piece.

The exercise was good for helping me to be more patient and persistent as well as improving my dexterity and seeing skills.  I found it extremely hard but I did enjoy it in the end.

Exercise : Stipples and dots / OCA p 55

Fig 3. Stipples and Dots : sketch #60

I chose a dead Astilbe flower head and a live leaf from the same plant.  This, again, was a fiddly job.  We were asked to draw in biro or ink and I chose a fine point drawing pen for this exercise.

I have attempted to create some contours with various hatching marks and used a different technique for the stems and flower heads to show a range of texture.

As careful, painstaking and exact drawing doesn’t seem to be my natural talent and I do enjoy this type of exercise but realise I need to develop patience and must persist in the longer, more detailed exercises too.


Research point – Two artists with totally different styles.

Fig 1. Martha Alf “Tomato #1”, 1978-79


My first choice is Martha Alf. “Tomato #1 1978 – 79”.  This is an incredible drawing that is so precise, well defined, contoured, lit and composed that I’m at a loss to know how anyone can produce something like this with just pencils.  Lots to learn!

I love the way the light is shining on the top of the fruit and the dark corner of the room (?) contrasting; ditto with the dark base of the tomato against the light table.

I wonder how that fuzzy background was achieved.  It could be many dots or the use of a rough paper perhaps with smudged shadows.


Fig 2. Picasso “Blue Dove” 1961


My second choice for this research point is the Picasso drawing “Blue Dove” which was completed in 1961.  I have a copy of this picture at home.  It’s the simplicity of line I admire and how much expression can be packed into a drawing with so few marks.

The comparison with these two styles is stark.  Martha Alf’s ‘Tomato # 1’ must have taken many hours to complete and is beautiful for its depth and perfection whilst Picasso would have taken moments to draw the bird, even though he had taken years to perfect the talent to do so!  It may have zero contour hatching or shadows but has great movement and life.

Looking for drawings for this research has helped me realise the myriad different styles that exist and that my own ‘style’ of mark making will develop over time into … well, who knows?

Check and Log

  • The drawing media I enjoy most is pen, especially for the finer dots and stipples.  Soft pencils are great for blending and the slightly harder graphite for detailed lines.
  • Tone can be created with cross hatching or blending dark to light (see fig ; pattern may be random or detailed and repeated marks and texture can be shown by using frottage, dots, random marks, ticks and many other methods.
  • I’m definitely happier with the big broad brush stroke than the details!
  • I wasn’t good at framing the compositions or giving them a background to create a solidity and firm base for them.  This will inform my next project exercise and I’ll make a concerted effort to include a setting in which to place my objects.  I’ve also made some notes in my daily sketchbook about how I could improve on the images above.
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