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.


Exercise: Linear Figure Study


Exercise: Linear Figure Study

…Mix up a loose fluid mix of a neutral mid-tone to sketch in the outlines of the figure and other key lines that help to frame the figure and locate it in space… Don’t get too involved in close detailed drawing of hands, feet and features.  …Draw with your brush as accurately as you can…

I had been thinking about this painting whilst having breakfast and looking through social media, the news etc.  I am finding it extremely useful reading through the exercises and getting them settled in my head beforehand, I know what I have to do and sub-consciously am gathering ideas in readiness. I jotted these down in my sketchbook before I forgot them (see notations in photograph below).

Linear Figure Study & Preliminary Notes 4B pencil in A3 sketchbook

Linear Figure Study & Preliminary Notes
4B pencil in A3 sketchbook

So, although I had to be my model again, I wanted more movement and dynamism in the pose.  Initially, I thought the only way I could do this was with photographs, something I try to avoid ordinarily due the flattening effect the camera has.  However, as this was to be a linear study, I was hoping it would help not hinder.  My great idea (!) was to put the mirror on the floor and me lean against the wall looking down into it – think Jenny Saville – this was OK but not overly exciting. Next I brought my foot up, and thought to make it look like I was stamping on something with the foot being the focus. It was getting more like I wanted – instead of using a mirror, I used my iPad in selfie mode, so acted the same. I had my sketchpad balanced on the laundry basket to my right, with a pencil in my right hand and tried to sketch what I saw on the screen. I just about managed it although I couldn’t see my right forearm and hand nor was the raised foot easy to keep still. I then discovered that I could use a time delay for the camera, so could photograph the hand and the foot separately. I also took lots of other photos in this way. Funnily enough, I didn’t use any of those as the sketch was what I wanted. I know this wasn’t drawing from life with the paint brush, but was the next best thing. With the photographs of right arm and left foot, I had to be careful, as they photographed the opposite way round to the sketch – this is not an easy way out.

As in my preliminary notes, I mentioned having a dynamic ground to the dynamic pose, I pondered using wet in wet acrylic inks etc, however, I decided, as the brief suggested, to draw in paint and then use colour for positive and negative shapes that appeared.

Below is the resulting painting. Process:

  • Using the pencil sketch as source material, drew with medium round brush in mid tone, dilute, acrylic paint to place the figure in the space.
  • Adjusted drawing as necessary.
  • Using opaque acrylic, filled in the negative shapes around the figure which also disguised the discarded, inaccurate drawing.
  • Used muted colours for the clothing, keeping the colour flat to avoid tonal representation
  • Used more opaque, subdued mix of burnt sienna and white for the flesh except the foot.
  • As the underneath of the feet has strong blood flow, used dilute but strong cadmium red to exaggerate its focus.
  • I allowed it to run and over flow its outline, I then began to feel an emotive pull to emphasise the implied violence of the stance, stamping, squashing – was the red paint blood?
  • Following on, I returned to the drawing by using a rigger brush dipped in sepia acrylic ink and loosely traced the outline, varying the strength of the line.
  • Also using the rigger and ink, I added the hair that was falling over the face in a wild way – no features were added to the face – faceless violence!
  • I added some extra orange ink around the head, an attempt to illustrate the frenzy of the action.
Linear Figure Study Acrylic paint and ink Approx A3

Linear Figure Study
Acrylic paint and ink
Approx A3

This is the first time ever, I have felt a strong impulse to try to put a message into something I’ve painted. The accuracy may have suffered a little, particularly on the left arm, however, I feel it has been therapeutic.  From knowing what I had to do prior to doing it, and allowing thoughts to form ahead of the exercise, it has infiltrated into what I produced. I had read a post on social media that morning from someone pleading that violent videos not be shown all the time on the Newsfeed, even if it was for the best of reasons, plus all the violence and abuse that features daily in the news itself.

This has been quite a revelation – what next I wonder?


Exercise: Observing the Human Figure


Exercise: Observing the Human Figure

Set model in comfortable and relaxed pose, sitting or lying down.  Make sure there is sufficient light on both the subject and your working surface. As you’re concerned more with line than tone in this exercise the shadow cast by directional light is not a major concern.

As the only other living being in the house at the time was a spaniel (a stretch too far), I had to use myself as the model. This will be a common theme so have read through this section and made some notes on how I may accomplish the brief regardless:

  • Material: conte stick
  • Warm up 2-3 minute poses
  • Longer pose 10 minutes maximum
Drawing the Human Figure 2-5 minute warm up sketches, 2 x black conte stick, 1 x 8B pencil. A3 Sketchbook

Drawing the Human Figure
2-5 minute warm up sketches, 2 x black conte stick, 1 x 8B pencil.
A3 Sketchbook


As I seem to relate to scale and proportion better whilst standing, my warm up sketches are stood at the easel.  As noted next to the drawings, I found the conte stick a little too thick for this size of sketch. Also, we are advised that the model should wear close-fitting  clothes so that the form of the figure is discernible – the jeans and t-shirt I was wearing proved to be too baggy and impeded my view.




Drawing the Human Figure 10-15 minute sketch, 8B pencil in A3 Sketchbook

Drawing the Human Figure
10-15 minute sketch, 8B pencil in A3 Sketchbook


After a swift change into closer fitting clothes, it was much easier to see what I was drawing.  I also decided to draw larger scale, although not quite at the scale that finally emerged, hence no feet!  This was not a conscious decision, I just found to reproduce what I saw as faithfully as I could, I had to increase the size of the drawing. I am more used to A2 size, so although I didn’t quite manage it, it is good practice to try.






As the brief did specify that the model should be comfortable and either seated or lying, I cast around to see how this could be achieved. As the mirror was in the bedroom and it was “change bed sheets” day, there were pillows, a duvet and a throw piled up on the floor.  I made a base out of the duvet, a couple of large pillows and fashioned a back drop from the throw tucked into semi open cupboards opposite the mirror. Then I had to work out how to actually draw whilst sitting down, I decided to cross one leg over the other and use this to support my A3 sketchbook, this worked fairly well except for covering part of my right arm and hand. It also made a more interesting pose, although comfort did not play a big part! To get around this, I had to put the sketchbook down and study the position of the arm and hand, and then draw from memory, this took a few attempts but just about worked.

Drawing the Human Figure 20 minute sketch, 8B pencil in A3 Sketchbook

Drawing the Human Figure
20 minute sketch, 8B pencil in A3 Sketchbook

NB: All notations at the time are next to the sketches.