Learn to draw with a full range of values in this step-by-step tutorial with graphite pencil.
A full range of values from rich black to bright white adds impact and interest to a drawing. To help you establish this range in your drawing, block out the shape of the white highlight area and push the darks early to establish a dark “anchor” to which you will relate all the rest of the values. This forces you to incorporate the full value scale. The last step should be to add your details. If you put the detail in too early, you will only smudge it with subsequent blending or erasing. Click on the first image to start a step-by-step side-show.
I began the block-in of the skull with a circle to represent the brain case.
I measured the length of the bill. It was just as long as the brain case. Blocking in these basic measurements at the start of a drawing will prevent you from creating a drawing with great details but proportions gone astray.
A few quick lines blocks in the shape of the bill.
I approximate the location of the large eye socket.
On many drawings, the centerline is an important reference.
I now start to construct the geometry of the skull. This will keep prominent features on either side of the centerline symmetrical.
Notice the angles of parallel features on either side of the centerline.
My last addition to the initial sketch is the location and size of the bone ring around the eye. There could be many ways to block in a skull like this one. You are not doing something wrong if you would choose different initial lines.
I now start to work in the shape of the skull with graphite pencil. My initial lines serve to help keep my details oriented and proportional.
Once I like the locations of my graphite lines, I begin to erase and refine them, creating a more bold and confidant line drawing.
I now define the shape of my highlight areas by shading the rest of the skull with a middle value gray.
To “anchor” my dark value, I fill in the back spaces with intense black with a 5B pencil.
I bring the dark value into the skull itself and choose one last value, a middle gray to complete the shading. Had the skull been mostly light, this last value probably would have been another light gray instead of a dark.
I connect and smooth some of the shadow with a paper blending tool. This also allows me to draw texture into the light areas of the skull.
I modify the blending with my eraser. Do not just use your eraser to correct mistakes but draw with it to show how light falls on your subject.
Once you are done with your blending and erasing, add final details with a sharp soft pencil. The details are one of the last elements on the page to keep them crisp.
Coming back to the drawing after a break, I saw that there was not enough contrast between the background and the bone. By pushing the dark value of the background even further, the drawing really pops.