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I am following Heather on her blog. She is studying drawing and has been practicing value studies and making marks to describe form. This runs hand-in-hand with what my students started last week.  I decided to take a black and white photo of clouds (thank-you Wet Canvas!) and practice some mark making of my own. I introduced my class to the marks made by Degas, Van Gogh, Seurat and a few others that are found in the pages of Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawing book. We spoke about how we needed to try and find the mark making that best suited us. I decided to try some mark-making of my own.

 2H, B and 6B pencils

In this study I drew my marks all one direction laying line next to line and going over areas that were to be darker with a softer lead pencil. I found this to be very tedious and time-consuming. Notice my angle strayed off to the right in the upper right hand corner. Bad me! 🙂

 2H, B and 6B pencils

In this study, I used the sides of my pencils. This was the quickest method to get these shapes and values down. In the past, this is what I see my students doing. Makes me wonder if other forms of mark making are too tedious and confusing for them in the beginning.  My other thought was that this form of shading comes in handy for a thumbnail sketch, done quickly, for a larger finished drawing or painting.

 2H, B and 6B pencils

This way was, by far, the most fun for me. I tried to imagine the form of the clouds I was seeing and attempted to emulate their contours and gesture by allowing the point of my pencil to scroll over and around them. I like the feeling of roiling clouds that I was able to capture with this mark making. Note I made my strokes over the sky flat. I saw no form in that and made my marks to reflect that.

 2H,B,6B pencils and gum eraser

In this attempt, I used crosshatching and incorporated curved lines laying next to each other as well as layers of lines going the other way to build up the layers of midtones and darks. This took longer than the contour/gesture study but was shorter than the lines laid next to each other study.  I like this study because it incorporates the contours as well as gives furthur definition to the cloud forms and allows me to achieve better values in the sky. I used a gum eraser to lightly touch up some areas around the rays and to soften some areas within the clouds.


  1. What about squiggles!

  2. THESE ARE PHENOMENAL! There is no other word for them. They remind me of a cross between William Blake and an engraving by Rembradt.

    • Thank-you, Jay. I need to explore my drawing more like you do. As I was exploring the third one, I actually thought of you and that exercise we did when we took turns on the same canvas, exploring marks and possibilities. You would not believe how hard that first one was to even stay inspired. I hope some of my students tried this.

  3. Hi Leslie. This post reminds me of how long it took me to solve the problem of clouds in my work using .005 pen tips for stippling. It’s interesting just how compelling such focused studies are all on their own–well to me anyway.

    • I thought of stippling and then said, “NO” to myself. 🙂 I would have had to take three days off just to recover. There are so many ways to render value…this is but a small blurb in mark making. Thanks, Eva!

  4. Very interesting, particularly the variations. I love pencil work. I also find it difficult to keep on track with straight hatching unless I have a sheet of paper underneath my hand and covering part of the image.

    My favourite way of achieving different tonalities with pencil is to use the side of the pencil on everything and then use a tissue to rub it. Different pressures achieve different tonalities. I tend to work only with B pencils, H’s literally put my nerves on edge! My fave is a 2B. Sadly the make of pencil I most love is now no longer made.

    • I had to use the sheet of paper under my hand on all of these.
      I have, on occasion, used the tissue paper rubbing when I need a smooth dark tone. I am glad you mentioned this as it is fun to know how others find values in graphite. I handle an H very lightly so as not to damage the surface of the paper. I know what you mean. My favorite is a 3B Derwent. Just feels good in my hand. Shop around, there might be something similar to your old favorite out there. Thank-you for the comment, Val.

  5. And what about circulism?

    But if you find building value with hatching tedious, you’d go insane practicing circulism, LOL! I love it though, it gives incredible skin textures in portraits. Besides it is not tedious, it’s meditative… I need an :evilgrin: smiley here 😀

    • I like hatching like in the last drawing. That is my favorite way to draw. I find that line next to line tedious in the first one. I considered doing one with the tiny circular movement of filling in the values. I use that method in much of my colored pencil work and it gives a nice flat tone if done properly. Very useful in super realism, also. Thanks for the mention of it, Alex.

  6. Each has its own beauty..evokes a different feeling.. lovely demo as usual. will check out Chris now..

    • Thank-you, Padmaja! I agree. Each says something different. Hope you enjoyed Chris!

  7. I have no patience with pencils. I am impressed that you spent all this time in the study of pencil creating values. If I tried this, I would have a big sheet of blank paper, since I would have left the room hours ago. One of these days I may have to consider growing up, but not today. 😀

    I love the cross-hatching one the best. It’s beautiful!!

    Oh, I enjoyed Chris’ blog, too! Thanks, Leslie!

    • What a great comment, Beth! We actually discussed “patience with pencils” in this class. Several of the students paint. They wanted to improve their skills and learn to see better. My daughter did not like the scratchy feel of pencil on paper but loves the smooth feel of the brush gliding over a surface. Yes, this took quite some time to draw these. There are more marks I could have used but called it a day after the fourth. 🙂 Thanks, Beth!

      • Yes, some of it may have to do with the feel of pencil on paper. I even do crossword puzzles in ink. 🙂

      • And, for you, I imagine the absence of the glorious colors you introduce to your work affects your desire to draw.

  8. This is really cool and it’s great to see sketches and graphite studies from you.

    • Thanks, Ryan. Drawing was my first passion! I need to find more time to complete some drawings from time to time.

  9. Oooo thanks for the mention Leslie! I love these value and mark-making studies. The one at the very top reminds me of silk. I like how you’ve done several studies to demonstrate the different approaches to your mark-making, and they give me something further to work from. I agree that it can be tedious, but I find it hypnotic as well and get lost in it, which is a good thing – I think! I don’t mix my pencils though. I use either an HB or an F, and just build the tone from there. Although I did cheat a little on my last pencil drawing, and used an HB graphite stick over the top of a normal F pencil. It worked well!

    • You are welcome, Heather! You deserved it with all the hard work you have been doing with your drawing lessons, not to mention inspiring me to try some different mark-making. Thank-you for the comment! 🙂

  10. Leslie, I think mark making can be like handwriting…in that everybody’s marks already have a certain amount of individuality built into them. What if you just let go instead of following certain excercises?

  11. Good sketches.
    i know a little about this.
    Same i dont use it as often as i should. lol

    • Thanks, Richard. It is always fun to go back and explore possibilities. We can only get better. 🙂

  12. CON-TRAST! I am digging them!

    I spent a lot of time using a multitude of different pencils and found that I just got stressed out changing up all the time. I commend you for sticking it out. These days I just grab anything that leaves a light mark to sketch something complicated and go over it with drawing pen or marker. Otherwise I forego the pencil all together.

    • Thank-you, Posky. I think many people forego the pencil. A pen glides across the paper so nicely!

  13. I love these. When I first clicked on this page, I thought Leslie is showing the great masters.

    I so wish I could take one of your classes. You are inspiring.

    • Thank-you, so much!!! I did look at a lot of drawings of the masters before attempting this. It never ceases to amaze me, the variety of marks that can be made to describe what we see. I do so wish we lived closer and could explore art side-by-side instead of having to rely on the “web waves”. I could learn a thing or two by watching you create.

  14. Now, that’s a study ! Something I should do more often, values !! Always so inspiring you are my friend ! Wonderful !

  15. Definitely like the last. For some reason, it reminds me of of the cloud & ocean wave styles on vintage naval tattoo art. It never seemed to transfer to skin as well, but the old “flash” sheets had it. Nice.

    • Thank-you! That was my favorite, also. I never thought of that. I think that shading a tattoo is one of the most difficult techniques for a tattoo artist. There are very few who can do shading, on skin, justice.

  16. I like them all! My own cross hatch work can quickly become a muddle, but yours Leslie look clean and tidy. I really like the last two. Have you ever tried drawing with your eyes closed. Think of something, find the picture in your mind and see what your hand produces using messages from the brain rather than your eyes!

  17. Thanks for sharing Leslie, as always i always learn new things about drawing from you. Keep it going.

    • Thank-you, Francis. I sometimes forget that it was drawing that first inspired me. Without this as my background, I could never have done what I’m doing in the other mediums quite as effectively.

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