Exercise: Tonal Figure Study


Exercise: Tonal Figure Study

…concentrate on conveying form by exploring tonal values… Make an initial drawing in which you simplify the main volumes of the figure as a series of cylindrical forms. Locating and describing the central axis around which these volumes move can help you to understand the position of the figure and how it occupies space.

Again I am without a model other than myself.  Reluctantly, I have to resort to photographs as the initial source material.  The photographs were black and white to deepen the tones, although, as they tend to do, they were flattened somewhat. This does not make things easier or quicker as one may think, after several attempts I finally took a couple of shots where I managed to have dark against light and vice versa. From these, drawings were made as per the brief, mapping out shapes, positions and tones.

Tonal Figure Studies Charcoal on brown paper

Tonal Figure Studies
Charcoal on brown paper


Using brown paper as a neutral ground with charcoal, I made four drawings, each progressively using more tone to draw out a three-dimensional image. The final drawing was made by covering the space with an even layer of charcoal and lifting out the lights with a putty rubber and then reaffirming the darkest darks.






The support used was a Daler board specifically for oil painting, however, I was using acrylic. The board was pre-primed so I stained it with two layers of a burnt umber wash. This support was interesting as it seemed to prolong the drying time of the paint and made a nice compromise between oil and acrylic.

Colours used were:
Burnt Umber
Ultramarine Blue
Burnt Sienna
Yellow Ochre

Tonal studies with the almost finished painting in its surrounding space.

Tonal studies with the almost finished painting in its surrounding space.

To concentrate on tones I decided to used mainly earth colours with the blue and burnt umber making a solid dark. I avoided the white until near the end and used the yellow ochre as the light. Instead of a linear drawing I blocked in the darkest darks and the lightest lights of the figure and immediate surroundings, then mid tones in shapes. I was determined to use my tonal drawings more than the photographs for the bulk of the painting, however, a few anomalies with the drawing were corrected by referring to the photographs. As I became more confident of the figure placement, I introduced a little more colour and white, although still keeping it fairly muted. Keen to place the figure into its environment, I cross referenced tones across the figure and beyond, reducing the chroma the further away from it by using tones of the burnt umber and ochre. All blinds were closed, with the only light coming from the double doors opposite the sofa, this concentrated the light source onto the front of the figure and the viewpoint was to the left, looking slightly up.

Self Assessment of the “Final” Painting

The painted figure is solid and well seated in its environment, although I find a few things will need revisiting. In retrospect, the foot curled under the body may be a little out of proportion – this may be due to it being closer to the camera lens, therefore distorting and enlarging it. I should have compensated for this when drawing in paint.  The charcoal drawing does not seem to be out of proportion so had thought of this potential pitfall at that time. I also feel that the right leg needs more tonal variation in the flesh, which was there at one point but has been lost under subsequent layers. The right hand is not clearly distinguishable from the right foot, particularly in the photograph below, this also needs more work. I will put this to one side for a day or two and have another look at it with fresh eyes.

Almost complete acrylic tonal study of a figure. 14x18"

Almost complete acrylic tonal study of a figure.


5 thoughts on “Exercise: Tonal Figure Study

  1. Great result Gina. Fantastic to see all your progress. I think you are right re the hand and foot, is light from the right leg side? But upon saying that I like how they sit there together. It will be interesting to get your tutors feedback on this. I hope you are allowed to post it! keep up the fab work!


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