A simple exercise in tonal/value work

Teaching the basics of drawing and what a simple pencil is capable of is one of the first things I like to get to grips with my first years (aged 12) at the start of the year. They are familiar with the idea of line, the setting up of an arrangement, but tonal work is often limited to shading an area in gently with a shade of grey. I want to deal with the extremes of shading, going from the whitest white to the darkest grey and everything in between that a 3B or 4B pencil can offer. I want to cover the gradations in shading and how you can achieve sensitivity in your results. Building on this I like to lead onto the modelling of form that can be achieved.


fullsizerender-7There are numerous ways of doing this, from shading in boxes, drawing cylinders and imaginary balls. The ‘how to draw’ books are full of such exercises. Technically they cover the same ground, but they hardly catch a twelve year old’s imagination and leave them with a feeling of ‘wow’ as they leave the art room.

Yesterday I had the chance to cover some of this ground when I visited a neighbouring school to lead two, two hour workshops. I decided to cover these same areas with the two classes of 23 twelve year olds.

Working with a gridded up version of one of my favourite subjects, Chuck Close I was also able to bring in a little art historical context that was completely new to the pupils. After discussing his work for a while I was able to set them loose on trying to produce high contrast fragments of a large scale group drawing.

Four hours later I had a reworking of the first Close self-portrait and his image of a young looking Philip Glass and a classes full of children wanting to photograph the result to share what they had achieved as a class working together. In terms of creativity the assignment might not be the most experimental. But as an exercise in an important technical skill it does lay a basis that can be built on later.

For a more challenging variation see:

Tonal drawing and a favourite resourch

5 thoughts on “A simple exercise in tonal/value work

  1. This is a great approach to tonal work because it’s collective and it does not require so much observational drawing skills – the grid makes parts abstract. I wonder how this could be done with original work, not copying Close or any other? Challenge?

      • I remember that – but if I recall correctly it was not about tonal drawing. I thought about using Dürer grid or something similar

  2. Dear Peter,

    As you wrote you are only too pleased to discuss the possibilities if you’re approached. So here I am. On your web I found ( http://www.petersansom.nl/workshops.html). I’m really interested in an art related Clil activity for a four hour workshop with 12 years old. As portraits would be more suitable to the second years.

    What about your activity Journeys? Of course they have to talk about their (imaginary) Journey, the have to discuss, plan and so on. And I can show them paintings (Gaugain, Munch, Kurt Schwitters, Per Kirkeby, van Gogh)

    How do I make a really Clil activity out of this.

    Thanks a lot,

    Anja Koning

    CSW Middelburg

    ________________________________ Van: Peter Sansom Verzonden: woensdag 5 oktober 2016 07:57:30 Aan: Koning, J.J. Onderwerp: [New post] A simple exercise in tonal/value work

    petersansom posted: “Teaching the basics of drawing and what a simple pencil is capable of is one of the first things I like to get to grips with my first years (aged 12) at the start of the year. They are familiar with the idea of line, the setting up of an arrangement, but “

    • The journeys thee is certainly one that I have used with first years Anja. I normally base it around two journey ideas. One being their new journey to a new new school……most often on a bike, surely the case in Middelburg? The second journey is more of a dream journey….one that they might do once they have their tto language learning experience behind them!
      In both cases to make it a bit more clil orientated you need to do things to generate language rich content. This could be a discussion where they explain where they went for a recent holiday and what the weather was like. Equally it could be a written die scripting of their bike ride to school or what they might hope to see or experience on that dream journey they want to make. You could even read pieces of text from a travel book about capital cities and let them guess which cities you are reading about.
      Some of these sorts of activities can be worked in to practical work (I’m sure you want a high practical content!). To do this I sometimes make a group painting of a world map and then use the texts generated to mark out the trace of the journeys that they want to make, along with illustrations of things that might see there.
      On this page,
      There is a group drawing project where I use the description on the bike ride to school around the edge of the picture.
      I hope these sorts of ideas help a little. If you can make it to Utrecht on Wednesday 16 November, I’ll be leading the tto art teachers meeting there. Clil ideas and activities will certainly be on the agenda at afternoon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s