10 Tone, how to add it


Alright, I finished adding tones to my drawing.  I didn’t follow the thumbnail sketch I was originally going to use. Originally I was going to make the background the darkest part of the drawing and have everything else be lighter.


When I did that, in the finished drawing, it had the exact opposite effect that I wanted, namely, it obscured everything in the drawing rather that let my characters pop out.  I decided to go a different way:


I decided the lightest light of the drawing was going to be the background.  The mid tone was going to be the mid ground and the darkest part was going to be the foreground.  The only exception to this rule was that I colored Rob’s hair and pants darker than anything else in the picture, that way, he stood out the most.

This had an unfortunate effect. Because I didn’t want to upstage Rob’s hair and pants, I couldn’t darken the foreground elements as much as I would have liked. This meant that the darkest part of the mid ground almost matched the dark tones of the foreground elements. In the end, I ended up having to live with it.

I added the tone directly over the line art I had drawn on the tracing paper.  I found adding tone to a drawing incredibly easy on the tracing paper.  It also erased like magic. No matter how dark I drew, I could erase it completely.  The one thing I found annoying was that it picked up pencil a little too well.  It was difficult not to make something look dark even using an H pencil.  I found it could match the darkness I got from using a 4B pencil.  The tracing paper made it difficult to control the darkness of a pencil stroke. It also smudged like crazy.

I was glad that the line work was done with Prisma Color pencils since, when I needed to erase any of my tones, it wouldn’t erase the lines as well. I’m generally happy with the way it turned out. There are some things I could do better and I’ll fix them in the next step. The next step being, digitally inking and coloring it using STORYBOARD PRO. In general, I think I’ve succeeded in making a decent tonal study that I can use as a guide when I go to add color to this drawing.

A word about using tone.

I wasn’t taught how to use tone properly until much later in my career.  I went to a lot of figure drawing classes where we were taught many things.  Yet, for some strange reason, when it came to using tone, it was never really broken down. I think it was assumed that you just kinda knew what  to do, that you would figure it out on your own or that it just wasn’t important. My one teacher that was masterful at using it (Master artist, Steve Huston), never bothered to tell us how.  Meanwhile all the other teachers I had, didn’t know how to do it very well.    This usually caused everyone’s drawing to be well drafted but poorly shaded.  The student’s tonal studies always looked amateurish and  the edges  just looked like a bunch of smudges on the page.

Then I went to another school of figure drawing that had a very painterly style of drawing.  It used what was called the Reilly Method. THERE I learned how to use edges correctly. They went out of their way to break it down so that it could be done well.

Ever since then, I get annoyed when I see the smudge style tonal studies without the slightest idea that different edges exist.  Especially when I see it used by animators who think they know and yet have never been taught.

So here’s what I learned in a nutshell. You might already know this but if you don’t, it will be very helpful:

As lines can be broken down into three types (straights, “C” curves, and “S” curves), tones can be broken down and simplified into four values and four edges.

I’m going to emphasize edges but I’ll quickly sum up the four simplified values:

  • White, light grey.
  • Dark grey, Black.

Light areas in a tonal study consist of White and Light grey.  The darkest dark of a light area shouldn’t be darker than light grey.  Shadow in a tonal study consist of Dark grey and Black. The lightest a light area should get in shadow is dark grey.  As in all art, it’s not an absolute but it’s  a really good rule of thumb if you want your drawings not to get muddy or poorly unified.

Okay, now about the four edges:

In same way as drawing straight lines and curve lines together creates good shape contrast, having contrasting edges creates a much more pleasing tonal design.  The different edges are:

  • Hard,
  • Firm,
  • Soft and
  • Lost.

I asked my friend, teacher and coworker Paul Wee, if I could post a handout he once gave out in one of his figure drawing classes.  It sums up just about everything I wanted to say in one easy to read page:


The offending edge that tend to pop up in many artist’s work who haven’t been exposed to these edges, is the soft edge.  Soft edges tend to be used for EVERYTHING. I see it a lot in Photoshop drawings where only the airbrush tool is used to shade with.  It makes for a very muddy looking drawing.  Not everything you’re adding tone to is soft and round. Sometimes it’s a little firmer and sometimes shapes meet and come to abrupt ends which cause the edges to become very hard.

In my drawing above, I was trying really hard to make sure I was changing up my edges where appropriate. The figure drawing classes that I’ve taken and applied these edges in, helped me a lot in making those decisions.

Keep an eye out for the different edges and where they fall when drawing from life. It will give your tonal drawings a more designed look.

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