In previous posts I described how I teach my sixth grade students to plan a composition of basic blocks of wood, dowel sticks, and PVC pipe. I chose those items because they have no surface color, texture, or pattern. I want the students to begin to see that the form itself causes the values to appear lighter and darker. Sixth grade students typically can’t see past the surface decoration to even see basic structure. I also provide each student with a black and white photo of similar items to help them SEE the way the lights and darks work to create the substance or form of the object.
Previously the students drew their compositions using a puzzle piece approach to capture each item accurately. Before we begin to add the values I show them how to use different pencils (2H, HB, 2B, and ebony), a kneaded eraser, a blending stub, and a slip of paper as both an erasing shield and a frisket. Before we tackle our still life, we practice using the drawing tools by adding a light, medium, and dark value to a simple cube drawn to one-point perspective. I show them how to blend each side carefully with the blending stub and how to add a crease shadow on the bottom so that it doesn’t “float.
I have previously emphasized but at this point I usually have to repeat that the only reason we see lines at the edges or things is because there is a contrast in the values. If the values are the same the line will pretty much disappear. Therefore, if you can see a line, or if you have drawn a line you MUST create a contract between light and dark on either side of the line. The result will be that the line you have drawn will become swallowed up into one of the values so that what remains will be the contrast between the values and not the line itself.
After demonstrating and having them practice the basics on the cube, I turn them loose to add the values to their own still-lives. They are always so amazed to see how much more “mature” their work looks than anything they’ve previously done.
I use the same basic approach with seventh and eighth grade students, but I have them either add the values to a self portrait which they capture from a photo using grids or to a drawing of their hand (see Betty Edwards, Drawing From the Right Side of the Brain Workbook, p. 31-38).
If time permits, I also have students use charcoal pencils to draw a spoon on grey paper and add the values.