Compressing the Darks

I got myself a year’s subscription at, an online platform that offers me a year of watching recorded classes, workshops and former students’ critiqued homework.

I’ve been through a workshop with Ian McCaig (a concept artist with decades of experience). And I’ve done a whole class with Thomas Fluharty (a draughtsman and oil painter with decades of experience).

Currently, I’m in the fourth week of a class on the Essentials Of Realism with Jonathan Hardesty (a chap who only decided to go into art in his early twenties and then ended up making the decision to join an atelier with 3 other students and be taught classically by 2 classically trained artists for three years, he also seems to be a great teacher).

I am learning what compressing the darks means and why that is so important. It seems we (as observers) don’t gain much information from the parts of the object which are in shadow. And when we draw (or paint) we don’t have the range of values that real life offers. So, if we use up too much of the reduced range in the shadow areas, we are left with much less range to work with in the light areas. It may also be that we intentionally reduce our value range even more, before even starting the drawing, just to achieve a specific mood or capture a certain ambient light effect. The more range we have left to work with in the lights, the more we can achieve when modelling the form.

The transition values in the light area play an important role when it comes to form. The more room you have in your light value range, the easier it will be to create that transition.

It is about now that I’m starting to understand why Jonathan Hardesty teaches us to begin a drawing by blocking in the lights and darks. We have mainly been drawing portraits (which is good for me, I enjoy portraits) but we are not focusing on anatomy, instead we are “just” learning to identify the shapes that outline the shadows, highlights and transition areas of the model. This is the stage that feels like copying, but as soon as we start putting down the values and have to activate our critical vision and make sensible choices, it starts to become a very creative process. It is challenging and fulfilling at the same time.

The two homeworks I have made for his class are not exceptional but I think I have already learnt a lot (the portraits don’t really look like the originals much, but they look pretty realistic to me and I’m fine with that). They basically grew out of blocks of light and dark, and it was fun to see the face appear once I started adding the values.

4 thoughts on “Compressing the Darks

  1. Demetrio Cran Apr 13, 2021 / 1:41 am

    Hi Stuart! being creatives with values as a consequence of the limitation of the medium in comparison with reality is a concept that makes me want to try drawing from casts and still lives. You have a lot of experience from life drawing, do you think that this is going to change your process?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stuart Apr 13, 2021 / 6:20 am

      Hi Demetrio, I’m always thinking of working on a still life. They are the next best thing after life drawing. Going to life drawing was much easier for me because it was just around the corner. To do a still life I would need more room at home and patience. You can spend hours on one still life. Still it’s good to get some professional feedback to advance faster or at all. I never got or afford any of that while in my life drawing years. All I think I can do now is practice what I think I’ve learnt. There is much to explore and test out with still life drawing: textures, consistency, composition, story telling.


      • Demetrio Cran Apr 14, 2021 / 1:33 am

        Your experience with life drawing was mainly with short poses, right? I mean poses under 20 minutes. My experience with life drawing is super limited and is from my twenties, mostly. Poses over 20 minutes. These days figure drawing is all from photos and videos. I did some still life in my home in 2015, but not having much idea how to approach it. Now I think that I will start with the Bargue Course, then drawing from casts, and still life for the end.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Stuart Apr 14, 2021 / 5:01 pm

        yes, my longest were 20 minutes, mostly they were between 7 and 15 minutes. The Bargue Plates are very intense, academic, analytical … but I believe they teach to see, make decisions, stick to them, be consistent and you should learn a lot about form, mass, light/shadow … just need a lot of patience, one drawing can take you up to 8 hours, it’s a mindset. Good luck … I never drawn a Bargue Plate, just gone through the theory 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s