Pushing the Darks

EDM 108: Draw a clock in your home

EDM 108: Draw a clock in your home

At the beginning of last week I had asked some of the online artists that I admire if they would be willing to write a critique on my first hundred days of the EDM challenge.  I received a lovely letter from Jeanette Jobson of The Illustrated Life.  For those of you unfamiliar with Jeanette’s work, she specializes in dry media but works in everything from stone to fish.  She seriously wrapped a fish in paper and then added paint to the impression.  It sounds nasty, but the results were gorgeous.  Jeanette is an artist’s artist full of talent, creativity, and practice.  That’s exactly what I said to butter her up so she would write me this nice letter:

Sent: Monday, April 27, 2009 7:28 PM
To: Jonathan Manning
Subject: Review of your art

Hi Jonathan,

I have looked at your drawings and the first thing that strikes me is your dedication to put in effort to improve your drawing as well as the quantity and diversity of subjects that you tackle.  It truly is the way to improve drawing skills by practice and by exploring objects in the world around you.

When I look at your initial pieces and compare them to your more recent work, I can see the changes that have taken place with your ability to observe objects, values and relationships.  Your early pieces show a good grasp of form even though its not there completely at that point.  As the drawings progress, I can see the changes in your observational skills as more detail creeps into them.  You’re starting to really see what is in front of you, rather than what your brain is telling you should be there.

Values are fairly flat in the early drawings as is quite common with people still feeling their feet as artists.  Later drawings are showing more form through depth of shading.  Darks are still limited but moving in the right direction.

I get a sense of the pieces that held your interest in the sketches and those that were more just ‘things’ to draw to fulfill your commitment to the EDM.  The detail and livelier marks in some of the drawings shows how a subject inspired you and how creating the detail was part of the enjoyment for you.

Overall, I see an improvement as I’m sure you do as well.  Practice is the great leveler for achieving drawing skills.  It is said that it takes 10,000 hours to become proficient at anything, from baking bread to drawing.  I’d love to see your work after the 10,000 hours are up.  I’m sure it will be inspired.

Best wishes,


Wow.  That makes me feel warm and fuzzy for sure.  I received that letter shortly asking my beautiful young bride, the art teacher, for some advice on “pushing the darks.”  Here is what she had to say:

When my Dear Husband (DH) asked me to help write a lesson for his site, saying I was intimidated is a huge understatement.  I normally teach 6th-8th graders to draw what they see over several months.  I walk them through various value techniques – shading, cross hatching, stippling…  How on earth do I write a single lesson to instruct you, dear reader, to “Push the Darks?”

To begin, figure out what you’re going for – realism or not.  For realism, study your subject for SEVERAL minutes.  Pay attention to the composition.  What do you, the artist, want to focus on?  Do you want to draw all or part of the object?  Will it fill the page?  Do you want to add anything else?  Study the contours and draw what you see.

If you are not going for realism, what are you trying to capture.  Focus on that while you lay out your shading and composition.

My DH has a habit of getting the basic shapes down and then making up the shading as he goes along, never looking at the object again.  The artist in me says, “Wow, cool!”  The teacher in me screams, “Wrong, do it again!”  (Just like Pink Floyd.)

Values, the degree of lightness or darkness in a color, give form and dimension to your work.  It can make your project look like a photo or a cartoon, 3-dimensional or flat.  Be careful to not just draw outlines to show light and shadow.  Instead focus on the value areas.  Let your viewers eye/mind fill in the areas not outlined.  Let the negative space, the area AROUND your subject, do the work for you.  The contrast between light and dark provides movement and draws the viewer in.  When I say, “Pushing the darks,” I mean that you should try to have your darkest areas as dark as you can make them and in stark contrast to your lightest areas.

For practice, complete several drawings of the same subject with the same light.  Push the darks on one.  Make the contrast stark, just black and white with no middle value.  Do another with only a variety of values and no lines.  Vary the shading- try hatching (straight lines for shading), or stippling (a series of dots to fill in an area).


As my DH reminds me often, experiement and break the rules.  The rules exist as a reference for unfamiliar territory.  But they can seriously hinder your art.  They’re really more like guidelines anyway.  Be a pirate.

I couldn’t have said it better, dear.

0 thoughts on “Pushing the Darks

  1. How lovely that Jeanette Jobson wrote back – it’s a really nice letter! I also love the advice from your wife, I have the same bad habit of not looking at lights and darks properly so next time I draw something I’m going to remember her advice and push those darks :)

    Aveen’s last blog post..EDM #221 and a new footballer

  2. Aveen, I have to tell you that I was really excited to hear back from Jeanette! She probably thinks I’m some kind of kook stalker, but I just love her work.

    I am going to try to do more value thumbnails before I tackle a project. Except for stippling. That takes a special kind of patience.

    Thank you for your comments!

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