5) Here, I’ve evened the charcoal by lifting areas that are darker than I want with a kneaded eraser, as I described earlier. After lifting only a few marks, the charcoal I’ve removed from the paper will have coated the point I’ve shaped from the kneaded rubber, so I roll the eraser between my thumb and forefingers again, and shape a new point from an unused portion. This is a process I’ll repeat many times. To lift a wider area, I tap the point on clean paper several times to blunt and widen it.
Dirty erasers have their uses, too. A portion of an eraser that’s been partly coated with the charcoal it’s lifted will remove progressively less material each time it’s pressed into the paper. This is useful when I want to lighten a passage only a little. If I’m using a clean eraser, and I want to lighten a passage only slightly, I’ll tap the eraser into a charcoal or graphite smudge on scrap paper to dirty it first.
Kneaded erasers are among the most useful and versatile tools I use. They can be molded into an endless variety of shapes and sizes, and the range of effects I can create with them are equally limitless. In the next steps, they’ll become as indispensable as my pencils.
The layer of charcoal I’ve applied is a very light one, semi-transparent in places, and by now I’ve worked it enough so that it’s no longer easily smudged, and very stable. A light last rubbing with a clean cotton ball insures that no loose particles remain. A quick dusting, and I’m ready to begin penciling.
6) After several hours’ work, the sky has begun to take shape. I want the visible parts of the moon’s edges to be crisp but soft, so I’ve cleaned them up, and lightened the moon’s penciled outline as much as possible. The right side of the sky is taking on the tone I’m looking for, and mist is rising. There’s a long way to go. But I’m having fun.
A little more about the Dixon Ticonderoga pencils I use: Number 1 is the softest, and a good grade to begin developing the darker areas of the sky with. No. 2 and 2.5 are progressively less soft; and good for midtones. No. 3 is a bit harder, and will hold a sharp point longer. This is the grade I use for sketching, for lightly toning inked passages’ highlights, and for much finish work as well. No. 4 is the hardest, and will hold a very sharp point. I use this grade to smooth and soften surfaces and edges, finish bright highlights, and anywhere a delicate refinement is needed.
I began developing this sky with a No. 1 pencil, assuming that at some point, as I usually do, I’d turn to progressively harder grades. But so far, I’ve felt no need to do so. In fact, this pencil’s working so well, I think I’ll stay with it as long as possible, and see how high a level of finish I can create with it.
7) Here I’ve softened the edges of the clouds, and darkened the upper sky. This was a trial-and-error process. Though I liked the sense of brightly lit high clouds that had begun to emerge in the previous session, that area of the sky seemed to compete with the moon for my attention. Assuming the composition remains more or less unchanged, the upper sky will play a large role. This role needs to be a supporting one--to complement, rather than distract from the drawing’s focal elements, the moonrise and tree. But since the upper sky comprises a large area of the drawing, it needs to have interesting qualities of its own--a clear, relatively featureless sky would likely seem empty space, and detract from the composition’s focal elements as well. So there’s a balance to be struck, and I’m slowly finding it.
At this point, most of the basic lights and darks of clouds, mist and sky have been established. Most of the work that remains will be about continuing to soften edges, even tones, and remove distractions. This kind of work doesn’t require a great deal of concious thought. I’m identifying marks that are too dark for their context, and removing them with the point of a kneaded eraser; I’m also identifying points that are too light, and filling them with graphite marks. These marks may be very small strokes, but more often by this time I’ve reached that point I alluded to earlier, when I’m simply adding and removing single dots.
If I’ve neglected to use my magnifier during the earlier stages of the drawing, I’ve almost certainly remembered by now. I use a wall mounted magnifier that swings out over my drawing table, and can be pushed out of the way when not in use. It’s an inexpensive unit, selling for around $20 or so at most office supply stores--but it’s one of the best investments I’ve made as an artist.
8) The sky seems nearly done. I’m satisfied with the upper sky, with its lights and darks, with the flow of the patterns they form; and I’m happy with the look of most of the mist. But I’m not satisfied with the areas to the moon’s right, or above the tree’s top, and the mist that’s obscuring the moon’s lower portion could be a bit better.
For me, areas where inked elements meet graphite are often a challenge to finish seamlessly--especially if the inked elements’ values are very light. In this drawing, I want the graphite background to meet the tree’s outline and the horizon line cleanly, so that their edges aren’t lost. This is another of those times when leaning back from the drawing, turning it upside down, etc., will help identify any areas where the graphite needs to be further darkened or evened.
Each adjustment of lights and darks I’m making at this point is nearly microscopic in scale. But cumulatively, they’ll make a great deal of difference. Typically, by now I’m using No. 3 and No. 4 pencils, and keeping their points as sharp as possible on a piece of scrap paper.
For me, one element of a drawing oftens dictate how all the others develop. In this drawing, the look of the tree’s foliage was that element. Usually, with a tree that’s as strongly backlit as this one, I’ll darken the foliage considerably. But when I’d finished inking the tree, I liked the look of the foliage just as it was--to me, it suggested leaves covered with an early frost, or a dusting of snow. So I decided to give the meadow and path a similar look, and see what might happen next. Again, I kept my options open--if this didn’t work, I could always darken the inked passages. But happily, the foreground and background elements work well together, I think. Now all that’s left is a final polish.
9) Here I’ve darkened and softened the tree’s foliage slightly with a No. 3 pencil, and done the same with the tree’s lower trunk. Toning all the inked passages lightly with graphite helps give them the same warmth as the elements that are created in graphite and charcoal, and establishes consistency throughout the drawing. By this time, I’ve covered almost all of the drawing’s surface with at least a light layer of graphite. Only the brightest highlights, like the visible edges of the moon, are represented by clean paper.
10) As with most of my drawings, there are elements of this one I’m not entirely satisfied with--but they’re insignificant. It’s important that I recognize that point when I’ve likely made an element or the drawing as a whole the best I can, and stop trying to make them just a little better. This drawing, I think, has reached that point. It’s done.
I’ve achieved, I think, most of what I wanted from this project--including a sense of quiet. To me, this simple image represents a dramatic, yet quiet moment, in a place I’d like to visit someday--and in a sense, I already have. I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent here, and I hope you have as well.
'At The Night’s Heart'
Ink, Graphite, Charcoal
3 1/4” x 6 1/4”
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