The Gravy of Charcoal Drawing

Drawing Homework for the Week of 11/16–11/23/2016



For this fine pre-Thanksgiving week, PartyPeople, we are going to anticipate those fancy tablecloths soon-to-be dribbled with cranberry blips and gravy bloops by practicing our wipe out drawing skills on a mini-still life of drapery (fabric). Did you know wipe outs are the gravy of charcoal drawing? Yup… they cover everything and are just a tad on the messy side. 😛

The goal of this assignment is to apply what you’ve learned about visual measuring PLUS what you’re currently practicing with value blocking to a more complex subject. Think of it as a benchmark for how well you’ve absorbed the learnin’ so far: like a take home test only more… dusty. By the way, it’s okay to be intimidated by drapery’s undulating forms, but remember it can still be broken down into simple masses and shapes just like everything else we’ve encountered in class.

Although I am assigning this homework now and strongly encourage you to do it this week so you don’t get overwhelmed next week when you get new content thrown your way, you will not turn it in until our next class meeting, which is Wednesday, November 23. No need to send me images unless you need help or feedback, both of which I happily offer. In the meantime, here  are assignment details, some step-by-step and examples to help you succeed.

Da Basics

As stated above, you will be creating for this homework assignment a wipe-out still life of drapery.



No, no, no… not that kind of wipe out! We’re talking about a drawing where you use erasers to wipe away areas of a preliminarily established value in order to render forms.

You Will Need…

  1. A piece of white drawing paper at least 11″x 14″ in size.

  2. Charcoal. You can use either vine charcoal or compressed charcoal for this assignment, but please start with vine and use compressed only as necessary to make the darkest marks (ie. towards the end).

  3. cat_yack


    Erasers. Kneaded (a.k.a. cat yack) erasers are designed to lift charcoal gently. White vinyl erasers, like the kind that come on the end of most mechanical pencils, can be used for more aggressive  removal, but be careful not to tear your paper.

  4. A piece of plain white or light colored cloth. A sheet, a tablecloth, a napkin, a towel, a t-shirt, your crazy Aunt Ida’s handkerchief… pretty much anything fabric-y will work as long as it’s in the 1–3ish value range and  doesn’t have patterns or printing.

  5. A lamp or other strong directional light source you can point at stuff.

How to Set Up the Still Life

  1. hanging_clothsPin the cloth to a wall or drape it over something and arrange a few big, distinct folds. Three or four will do. You can get fancy if you want, but you’re learning, so I’d rather you demonstrate excellent technique on something simple than mediocre technique on something complex.

  2. Point a light at the cloth from one direction to create strong shadows. Play around with what looks good to you, but make sure you get a deep range of lights and darks.

How to Prepare the Drawing Surface

  1. Cover your drawing paper with a light gray in the 3 to 4 value range. You want it to be dark enough that you can easily see the marks you make with the eraser but not so dark you can’t erase at all. Use vine charcoal for this step, since compressed charcoal is more difficult to remove at any strength.

  2. Blend the marks using your hand, a paper towel or toilet paper until you have an even all-over value.


    Nothing says awesome like charcoal hands!

Drawing the Still Life

I may add some photos of these steps for you this weekend, but, for now, here’s a description of the need-to-do.

  1. Look closely at the cloth to determine the basic shapes and proportions that compose it. These include the envelope, the overall shape of each fold, and the shapes of the highlights, form shadows and cast shadows.

  2. Make faint guide marks on your paper either with an eraser or with vine charcoal in order to map out the basic layout. You don’t have to do a detailed contour since you are value blocking, but get an idea of where the cloth will sit on your paper (composition, baby!)

  3. Use an eraser to wipe away the charcoal from any shape that is a 1 or a 2 on the value scale. These will include the form highlights on the drapery folds, which typically fall on the ridges (or sticky-out bits, as I’m sure they’re called in professional fabric circles). They may also include flat areas of cloth or parts of the background hit by the light. At this point you are looking for distinct shapes, positive and negative, rather smooth blends. I know it’s tempting to make it look all pretty-like from the start, but blending is an end game with both wipe out and value blocking. Because the focus is on shape, you should also avoid outlines.  In fact… for this assignment, lines in general are a big no-no… as in just say no-no to defining form with them.

  4. To avoid struggling with an eraser that behaves more like drawing tool than removal tool, clean it frequently by stretching (for kneeded) or rubbing on a rough piece of paper or cloth (for vinyl).

  5. Use comparative measuring, plumb bobs and angles to ensure your shapes are in the correct place and are the correct.. well… shape. Try to see the form of the highlights you’re wiping out as every bit as distinct anything else. Divorcing yourself from the overall look of what you’re drawing and instead focusing on small areas of shape is the best way to tackle a complex subject without getting overwhelmed.

  6. Work general to specific and all over the paper. Building the total composition helps you see value relative to its surroundings, which saves time and prevents many sobs of anguished frustration. With that in mind, cover the whole composition with either white erased areas (which represent values 1 and 2) OR reserved gray areas from your original toning of the paper (which stand in for values 3–10).

  7. Step back, compare and evaluate. Measure and adjust the drawing as necessary.

  8. Use your vine charcoal to refine and add shapes, separating darker grays (6-10) from light to mid grays. The dark grays will likely lay in the valleys and on the sides of the folds that face away from the light. They will also be in the cast shadows. Be aware that cast shadows for drapery are in multiple. In other words, not only is there a big one for the cloth overall, but each each individual fold tends to have its own cast shadow.

  9. Add, you guessed it, yet another round of refined shapes separating out the darkest darks (8–10) from the mid darks.

  10. You can continue adding refined shapes for as long as you like, though, once you get a fairly convincing range of values, refinement can happen more organically by removing or adding charcoal where needed. Some areas to pay particular attention to include reflected light in the form shadows and also the placement of the core shadows (the darkest part of the form shadow).  Getting these correct adds mega-depth to the piece.

  11. Hey, blend lovers, now is also the time when you can smooth out the transitions between different values. On a related note, did some outlines sneak into your drawing when you weren’t looking? Understandable… they are the sneaky sneaky ninjas of the art world! Fight their stealthy campaign to flatten all space! Erase or blend in all offenders. Shapes only welcome here!!!

  12. You’ve been standing back and evaluating all along, right? Well do it one more time to make sure everything is working as desired. Turn your drawing upside down or look at it through your phone to get a fresh perspective.


Here are a few examples of charcoal drapery studies. They’re not all wipe out drawings, but they give you some benchmarks nonetheless. FYI: you do not need to set up compositions as complex as these. Again, three or four vertical folds in your cloth will do.



That’s all, folks!

Don’t forget to check back into the blog next Wednesday for the at-home assignment that will take the place of our usual in-person meeting.



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