Project 5 Exercise 2 Tonal study of bones and shells

The aim

Choose a subject and decide on the best media for conveying its characteristics. Think about how to convey volume and solidity of the object as well as subtle tonal variations.

The process

I decided to draw a sheep’s femur bone. Skulls tend to get most attention when it comes to drawing bones, and with their complex shape, recognisable features and slightly sinister air I can see why, however there is something very pleasing about a smooth, well cleaned limb bone, with rounded ends and areas of muscle attachment evident. I chose to draw with charcoal, hoping that its fugitive nature would depict the subtle tones well. With a long bone, most of the shape interest is at the ends. The shaft requires quite subtle treatment to make it interesting. I positioned my bone in strong light, in a foreshortened view with the distal end closest to me. The smooth femoral condyles were uppermost, and the bone resting on the anterior surface of the patellar groove. The strong light came from above left and cast a very dark, well-defined shadow onto the table, in a rather classic ‘dog bone’ shape. This arrangement exposed the rougher areas of muscle and ligament attachment around the femoral head. I would have liked to have drawn this A2 size, but I didn’t have any decent paper left that size, so settled for A3. I sketched the basic shapes in with charcoal then started to block in the dark areas. I used my fingers and a cloth to smudge the charcoal into shape, lifting out areas with a putty rubber. I found that to get the more subtle tonal values I had to put charcoal on and then remove, then reapply in a layering technique. It was surprisingly difficult to get the dark shadow even without taking the tone too dark.

Sheep femur in charcoal
Sheep femur in charcoal


I am quite pleased with this. It was hard to depict the shaft of the bone as there was a lot of reflected light as well as subtle shadows. There is a tendency to think of this part of a leg bone as being round in cross-section, but in fact they are quite irregular in shape. From this view parts of the shaft are flat planes that change angles abruptly. This is evident (I hope) from the shadows in the proximal half, towards the femoral head.  In addition I think that I have managed to portray the smoothness of the shaft, the patella groove and of the condyles. This contrasts with the rough area of muscle attachment just below the femoral head. I realised once I had finished that I hadn’t considered the background much, I had reverted to my usual shading without really setting the object on a surface. I think it is because I think of these bones in isolation or as part of an animal and the scientific part of me isn’t concerned with the table. Something to work on!

Project 5 Exercise 2 Tonal study of bones and shells

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