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This is a little hard-boiled heightened drawing confession

A heightened drawing with flaws by L.S. King

A heightened drawing with flaws by L.S. King

The moment was quiet when I sat down to write this yesterday. Then the leaf-blowers began their monotonous humming outside my window and the buzzing matched my thoughts.

The final critique for my drawing class was yesterday. Starting a half-hour before it, I found my hands shaking; my heart racing and you would have thought I was on trial. Even a cup of Constant Comment did little to calm.

Upon entering the drawing studio, our instructions were to hang up three drawings – the ink wash, a drawing of our choice, and a recent homework assignment. You’ve seen my ink wash results and I’ll share the wildcard (my choice) later, but today I am posting my pre-perimenopausal subject matter drawing – three eggs in wadded-up tissues set in the shadows.

I did this drawing, not as a biological story (that came about after the time I spent prepping the scene), but as a way to challenge myself. Heightened drawings are complicated (for me) – using toned paper and adding in the highlights and whites via white charcoal medium. I decided to focus on white objects, and not having the safety of white paper seemed like a good idea at the time (two weeks ago before the Drawingpalooza). Often I use a lot of dark medium in my drawings, so I knew if I went with white objects, I’d have to practice great restraint.

But, I couldn’t just do that. Oh, no (I’ll take the hard road and you take the … sensible road). As I worked on the composition and lighting, the whole idea of the ageing process came to mind when I realized the eggs would inevitably rot during the drawing process. See how the storyline developed? Then I realized it was all a fun metaphor so, I lit the scene from behind and keep most of it in the shadows.

So, back to the final critique – there I was hanging up my three drawings and I looked at the egg image in the dim light of the studio. The outcome looked nothing like it did on my drawing table at home where the surface of the workspace was lit by artificial sunlight.

When I first showed the work in progress to my professor, Brent, his response was that I needed to raise the values (make the tones lighter) and he said my tissue looked like tinfoil. Granted I never saw the tinfoil – well, maybe its color, but not texture. But I did see his point about the values.

This past Sunday, I exposed more of the reserve (the natural color of the paper) and added higher values (more whites, and I inadvertently committed a cardinal sin in heightened drawing. I ended up making some of the midtones murky because I didn’t keep my dark and light mediums separate. When you add white to a heightened drawing you must keep the surface underneath it free (or clean the area of heightening) of darker medium. In my case, a little of the white medium mixed with the darker tones, creating moments of creepy, murky, dirty gray.

And when I looked at my drawing hanging up in class, it looked like I had made it so much worse.

So we got to the critique. We talked about my other two drawings and then came to the egg image. Brent said what I described above (the critique revealed my cardinal sin).

We talked about the image in general for a few moments, but then I mentioned how my drawing surface was lit when I worked on it and I wondered if my working light affected how I interpreted the various tones.

Here’s the lesson: yes. The light hitting the surface you work on really affects tonality. If your paper is lit brightly, there’s a good chance your creation will appear darker than you may want. Your eye compensates for the lighting environment. When the drawing is seen in dimmer light, it will look darker and the tones may be incorrect. On the plus side, if you know where your drawing will end up hanging, you can draw in similar light. To compensate for unknown circumstances, Brent recommends a neutral light.

My critique ended with Brent asking what I thought about my piece. I said that I could easily classify it as a failure, but I don’t believe that is true. In many aspects this was a huge success because I learned so much from creating it. And in the right light, I’m pretty OK with it. It may never be framed, but I’m not completely embarrassed to show it here.

And his response? Well done. He agreed that in the learning process, some images are successful because of the lessons gained during the journey.

So before I still my words, did you get the main take away from my story? Here it is: be careful how you light your drawing space Too much light and you may have a darker creation then planned or envisioned.

For any artists out there who have read this far, how do you handle lighting your work area?


The Unwinding Path is the blog of L.S. King – photographer, want-to-be printmaker and sometimes hypnotist. By day she is an arts communications officer at a rural university (translation: photographer, writer, and media content provider), and most of the rest of her time she is an MFA graduate student at Radford University.


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