Part 2: Project 5: Exercise 2 – Tonal study of bones and shells


Find your subject and decide on the best media for conveying its characteristics. Would the subject lend itself to a strong tonal handling with heavy shading using a solid graphite pencil or charcoal? Or do you want to make a more delicate visual statement? In this case a mix of soft and harder pencils or a drawing pen might be better. Or try both approaches.

Try to ensure fairly constant light for around two hours. Move your lamp or the object itself so that shadows fall in a way that adds interest or highlights and provides dramatic possibilities. How can you convey the volume and solidity of the object?

Notice how the surface textures catch the light. Think how you can convey the subtle gradations of tone from the lightest areas to the darkest. Work out where these areas are and shade in with the side of the pencil or by using hatching techniques. It can be useful to work with less pressure to begin with and, once you’re satisfied, go over these areas with much heavier shading for the deepest tones. If you’re using hatching, try to follow the contours of the object with the direction of marks that you make. Lighter tones and highlights can be drawn in lightly with a putty rubber towards the end of your drawing.

Remember to half close your eyes when you’re surveying tone, both when you look at your subject and as you’re drawing. The size of the work is up to you but it’s usually easier to work out tonal values on a large-scale drawing.

Part 2 Project 5 Exercise 2 - course notes image
Christine Gregory, Fish Head (pencil)


My chosen subject for this tonal exercise was a stag skull and antlers from our garden. We have a lot of deer here in Glenurquhart and this was a found skull from the forest through natural death of a fine animal. We have looked after it for over 19 years now and I thought it would make a great subject for a drawing.

Part 2 Project 5 Exercise 2 - Tonal study of bones and shells - sketches 1
Part 2 Project 5 Exercise 2 – Tonal study of bones and shells – sketches 1

For the sketches I used Graphite pencil – a mixture of H, F and B – and places the skull in several positions to sketch with a natural lamp moved along the top of the subject which was lying/standing in a number of positions. As suggested in the course notes I started light and built up pressure to pick out the mid and darker tones. I also let the white paper shine through in places to capture lighter areas and highlights.

Part 2 Project 5 Exercise 2 - Tonal study of bones and shells - sketch 2
Part 2 Project 5 Exercise 2 – Tonal study of bones and shells – sketch 2

For this sketch I used pencil to draft in the outline and shades and then used indian ink pens to capture some of the essence of the ‘greened’ bone. I like the effect the green and yellow inks have on the structure of the posed subject. I think the pencil shadows on the foreground could have probably been a bit darker.

Finished drawing

On A2 fine grain heavy weight drawing paper I chose to slightly rearrange the positioning of the skull by lifting it up into a more standing position leaning against a back support. I also changed my own position in order to draw the subject from a side angle:

Part 2 Project 5 Exercise 2 - Tonal study of bones and shells
Part 2 Project 5 Exercise 2 – Tonal study of bones and shells – finished drawing

My chosen medium was Conté – black and grey sticks. I sketched in the outline using an H grade pencil and started light again (or as light as I could with Conté stick) overlaying the outline and shading in the tones dark to light. Using a paper stub (tortillon) I took time to try and capture the form of the antlers first and then moved down to complete the skull. I used a grey stick to put down the shadows. Finally, using a putty eraser I removed selected areas of the Conté to create highlights.


I got a lot of pleasure from using my chosen subject and found my skill in using the different media is improving. I think this was aided by taking a more relaxed approach to the exercise and I am particularly encouraged by my handling of the Conté sticks in the final drawing. The composition of the finished work is, I think, more pleasing to the eye than the straight on view of sketch 2. I also think that I have managed to capture some of the impressive nature of the subject – it’s solidity, sweeping lines and texture combine to present a dramatic sense of the longevity and strength of the bone of a long-dead animal.

Stuart Brownlee – 512319
4 July 2015