Friday, January 21, 2011

Drawing the Winter Landscape Part 3 - A Departure

--First I must apology for the lateness of this post. The work was done, but illness prevented me from posting sooner. I will leave this post up a bit longer and give you a chance to view and comment--

Being inspired by a reference photo does not mean you are locked into what is in the photo or even its presentation. The reference photograph is for inspiration only. Nothing in it is sacred. In all you are going to do is repeat another artist’s work, why bother?

For this rendition of the 3 trees reference photo, I am putting away the pencils. What really intrigues me about this winter photo is the strong contrast between the white snow, dark water and virtually black trees.

I am going to depart from the standard grayscale graphite drawings. For this drawing I am trying to achieve a different feel. I am going to depart from the reference but one thing I do wish to retain is the narrow presentation, the aspect ratio. Aspect ratio is simply the relationship of length vs. width. How the height compares to the width. So in laying out the drawing space, I will make sure the length vs. the width ratio stays the same, although I am going to increase the overall size. In this way the narrow presentation of the work will remain while the drawing will be a bit more substantial.

Increasing the size, but keeping the proportion is possible. You could simply double the measurement, but that might not give you the size you want. But there is a rather easy way of doing this.

Drawing paper with guidelines
First, I decide where on my paper I want the bottom of my drawing to me. I like to leave myself a bit of a margin all around the area I am going to do the actual drawing. This gives me a margin to tape the paper to my drawing board, fasten it down and keep it stable. For this I use drafting tape, not masking tape. With my t-square (but you can use any straight edge) I will draw myself (lightly) a horizontal level. Also with the t-square (and this is important) I will find the left edge of my drawing, and draw a line perpendicular to the level base line. This line really needs to be at a right angle to the first level base line. This gives me the lower, left hand corner.

I then take my reference photo, and fold back the white margins. With a drafting dot or a small piece of drafting tape, I put the lower left-hand corner of the reference photo on the lower-left hand corner of the drawing area. Then with a straight edge I will take a light pencil and draw a diagonal line from the lower-left hand corner to the upper right hand corner of the reference photo. Also with a light line (one that is highly erasable) I will extend that line onto my drawing area.

Reference photo on drawing paper

Vertical Line

Having decided the width I want for this drawing. I will draw a border vertical line with my t-square up until it meets the diagonal line. Where the two lines cross I will (with the t-square) draw the top-level line for my drawing area. Wa-la, we have an enlarged drawing area, which is in the same proportions as the reference all without a calculator!

Add top guideline

Now, on to the drawing. You might have noticed in the photographs that the paper seems rather dark. No, the picture is not reversed or turn out too dark, it really is black. And the guidelines are white.

Black paper might seem like a strange choice for a drawing that is essentially white, but it can be very dramatic. Don’t’ be afraid of color paper! Use the paper as a part of the creation of the drawing.

The logical choice for a winter scene would be white, and white paper is the standard for drawing (or anything else for that matter) the choice of black paper necessitates a change of media. There are many media that would work well on dark paper, colored pencils, metallic ink, conte’ pastels, markers, charcoal. While you might not think black charcoal would work on black paper, it does, beautifully.


Compressed Charcoal Sticks
I want to maintain the sharp contrast of the reference, even emphasis it. So I have chosen to work with sticks of compressed black and white charcoal, relying on blending tools and overdrawing to give me a range of grays.

Working with a stick of compressed black, I lay out the major divisions, re-enforcing with the compressed white charcoal. Starting with the background and building by layers, the drawing is slowly built.

Layout the drawing

Blending the sky

Building up the snow

White charcoal is applied to the sky using the blunt side of the block. Then a cotton swap is used to blend and even out the sky. It also removes most of the white, allowing the black of the paper to change it to a soft gray. Major snow backs are built up this way—apply—blend & wipe. Water is built with careful horizontal strokes—white underscored with black then using a tortillion to blend and push the charcoal around. Various vertical strokes fill in eh background alternating between white and black. Blended together we get soft gray shapes that resemble trees in a snowstorm.

The foreground calls for bolder, stronger strokes for the 3 major trees. White over-lays the snow. Here the contrast makes the drawing.

Finished Drawing on Black Paper

So, this is the completed drawing. Any comments?


  1. Wow! Excellent tutorial. I love how you showed us how to enlarge the drawing area.

  2. Thanks, Tina, It is a simply way. People think this is hard, but its not!

    I also like the novelty of working on a white drawing on black paper!

  3. It is amazing I would never have thought of using black paper, but what a great idea I need to get some, birthday Idea? hmm. I love the tutorial and at first I was totally lost with the enlarging process until I saw the pictures and then I understood. I love your picture its so clear and strong, it makes you feel cold. I have been looking at compressed white charcoal but was not sure about the usage, you just answered that question, thank you for that.

    Finally I am sorry to hear you have been ill, I didnt know, I hope you will feel much better very soon, your a terrific teacher and a wonderful person I would hate to see you ailing.

    Hugs Karin

  4. Thanks Karin,

    I love working with different colored and tinted papers. They add so much character to your work.

    The white charcoal threw me at first too. But try it. Even on white paper you can go over an area, or stroke over the black charcoal, and totally change things.

  5. That's brilliant, I don't know if I could get my mind to work in "reverse" like that, but it's definitely worth a try!

  6. It is a lot easier than you might think. The darks become the backbone of the piece, and you build up the lights on that.

    You just have to take the time for the thoughts to perk through.

  7. This is very good. Your instructions have been very helpful and the outcome is just beautiful. I will be looking for more of your work and instructions. Thank you for posting it.

  8. your welcome. I have one more version of this done in tinted charcoal. I hope you like it.

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