Day 10: Learning to simplify values

We looked at how important the big, simple shapes of the shadow and light are to the drawing, but you may be struggling to see the simplified tonal shapes on the figures and faces you’re drawing. Don’t worry, it’s a skill you develop with practice.

The first thing is to realise how much you can simplify, how much detail and information you can remove, and still have all the important information. Look at how with this reference photo, I’ve switched from loads of levels of light and dark in the original to 20 levels here. In other words, every part of the image is falling into one of 20 levels of value. In a drawing, this would be a serious level of detail – photorealistic. Here, I have it at 10 levels – still very clear and very detailed. Here it is at 5 levels. Everything about the pose and figure is totally clear and recognisable. It’s all either very dark, very light or one of three levels of mid-tone. And it’s still completely recognisable. It’s the same at 4 levels. 3-5 levels like these are good for a lot of drawings. But even at 2 levels, it’s great. This is just solid black on white and it still works and makes sense to our eyes. You can see the pose and you can see the shape of the figure.

Here are few ways to see the simplification if you’re struggling.

Squinting: We want to simplify the light and dark we see, and a great tip is to squint. The myth that it damages your eyes apparently isn’t true! Squinting means you blur what you see, so you won’t be able to see the details and you just see the big picture.

There are different levels of squinting. Early on, it can be useful to really squint a lot – just a little less than completely closed. That will give you just the biggest and simplest shapes to get you started. 

And then once the biggest and simplest shapes are in there, you can squint a little less and let some more information into your eyes. 

I have a confession to make though, I personally rarely squint. I personally feel like I can see the shapes without it, and I don’t like it how it feels on my eyes! Once again, these aren’t rules, it’s an approach that’s worked for a lot of people, see if it works for you. 

Something else you can try just as an exercise if you’re using a photo reference is to use software to simplify things for you and draw the simplified shapes – just as an exercise so you can get used to the way the light and dark can be simplified. We did these with the posterise function in photoshop. One student – Serazer – put the contrast on the photos high to achieve something similar. She said it really helped her to get into this practice. 

So today when you’re drawing a figure, look for the very simplified shadow shapes. If you need a bit of help, try squinting to see big areas of light and dark. Good luck with your practice and I’ll see you tomorrow!

Day 10 Croquis Cafe practice session

Day 11 tutorial

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