PA Clive Riggs shares part two of his series on Improving your drawing

Part1 - Part2 - Part 3

Before I go on to talk about the second part to improving your drawing, here are a couple of tips on line:

  • If you want to create space using line, that is, create the illusion that one object is nearer than another, then you can do this using the weight of the line. The rule is that darker (or heavier) will appear closer, lighter- further away. This can be achieved by either using a softer pencil (2B or 3B for example) or simply pressing harder.
  • Don’t be afraid to use an eraser, adjusting your lines is good practice and as you draw and “tune in” to what you are drawing, checking and correcting is all part of the process.

Mass and tone
Last time I talked about line and how it should be used to represent the outermost boundaries of shapes and how it’s not just solid objects that have shapes, highlights, shadows and empty spaces have shapes too. Being able to identify and draw these shapes is a fundamental skill for drawing and as we shall see, for painting too.

We can now explore the role that tone plays in the relationship between lines, shapes and masses.

Before I go on, we must define tone as the relative lightness or darkness of an object or shape on the scale from black (darkest) to light (lightest). For now, I will define masses as the shapes that you have identified that are general areas of tone. We are thinking in very general terms; no details. To achieve that, think of everything in your drawing in terms of three tones, light, medium, dark.


  • To make seeing masses and tones easier, half close your eyes when looking at what you’re drawing, this will blur all the edges and blend tones into light, medium and dark, getting rid of all detail
  • Don’t get involved with surface texture even though it might be very interesting! Remember, for now, we are keeping things completely flat
  • If your shapes are getting complex, keep the edges square and angular, this makes them much easier to deal with

Here’s an example:

3 tones are used and notice the large dark mass on the right side. This is all one shape. Notice too how the edges are angular. This gives a strong feeling of solidity and the silhouette effect with the mid-toned background adds to this effect. This is where we move into 3 dimensions even though the masses themselves are all flat.

To sum up:

  • Keep your masses general and in 3 tones, light, medium and dark
  • Keep them flat and start with them as angular; putting them together in the right place in the right tone will make your objects look solid
  • Silhouetting with a toned background will help create space and solidity

Now that I have covered the relationship between line, tone and masses, it should be apparent that the leap into painting is not a big one from here- all we have to do is swap the tone masses for colour masses. Next time, in the final installment on improving drawing, I will give you a few pointers on how to arrange your masses to produce a balanced picture.

About Clive
Clive is a professional artist, Educated at The King's School Ely, he served with 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers before studying fine art (painting) at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design in Dundee. He qualified as a lecturer in 2006 and taught art and design in an FE college before deciding to dedicate more time to painting and printmaking while still teaching adults both privately and in community education.

Find out more and visit Clive's website

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