Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Once Again, it’s All About Values

4/8/15 India ink, dip pen, Bristol paper
Value, value, value: Just about every art class I’ve taken or technique book I’ve read has emphasized the importance of seeing and accurately conveying values. Yesterday afternoon I took a three-hour “Drawing in Ink” class at Gage Academy, and its focus was no different.

Mixing varying dilutions of India ink, we first used a medium-sized sumi brush to apply washes of ink to the paper, attempting to reproduce the values in photocopied works by masters. Instructor Eric Elliott advised us to squint and look only at the large shapes – not the details. (That’s advice I’ve heard in every watercolor sketching class I’ve taken!) Once all the values were sufficiently reproduced, we used a dip pen with India ink to draw in details. The point of the fine ink work was to help define the forms – not to outline the shapes already put in with washes.

Sketch of the David by Raphael
My first exercise was a Rembrandt painting, which I found relatively easy to reproduce because it had only a few values. The second was a portion of another painting (by some other long-dead master whom I’ve now forgotten. . . sorry) that I found more challenging because it had a wider range of values.

The third exercise was practicing hatching techniques by copying a sketch of Michelangelo’s David by Raphael (I started the exercise in class and finished today at home). Examining Raphael’s work, it was fascinating to see how the hatch marks were not random scratches; to the contrary, the lengths and curvature of the marks identified and shaped the forms. Eric warned us that if we got carried away with hatching, David’s smooth form would end up looking too hairy! (Unfortunately, he did start getting a bit hairy in my rendition, so I quickly decided it was time to stop.)

Some students seemed to find the hatching exercise tedious and tiring, but it was my favorite. Although I’m not a huge fan of traditional dip pens (gimme a fountain pen over a dip pen any day!), I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the class – both the ink washes to create values and the tedious pen hatching.

Although I can’t see myself using dip pens with bottled ink while sketching on location, I’ve heard the value-value-value mantra often enough to know that whatever I learn from these sink techniques can be applied to any medium, and my sketches will be better for it.

Gage offers a variety of three-hour “quick start” classes like this one to give students an opportunity to try a small tasting of a particular medium or technique before committing to a full course. (Another one I took was “The Quick Sketch” in January.) I guess the strategy works: I immediately signed up for the full 10-week course, which begins next week!

4/7/15 India ink, dip pen, sumi brush, Bristol
Original painting by Rembrandt
4/7/15 India ink, dip pen, sumi brush, Bristol
Original painting


  1. Wonderful way of adding values to a sketch. I love your hatching in the sketch of David. The long lines are perfect for the long contours on the legs and thigh. Sounds like a wonderful that can be applied to any subject.

    1. Thank you, Joan! The long lines were really hard to do and still look fluid rather than stilted. Studying the original carefully makes me realize why Raphael is a master. ;-)


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