If you were wondering what exactly a mid tone is since I was just referring to it . . . here is a bit more of an explanation.
Around Thanksgiving I bought some gourds for my art student to draw. I showed her how to create a transparent grid and transfer this by sight to an exact replica of a grid on her own sketchbook. The grid was not over white paper however. She had softly shaded the grid with graphite powder.
Next I had her create a tone chart above her drawing divided into five parts and to shade them from the darkest her pencil could draw through to the white of the paper. She squinted and looked at the gourds to determine which parts matched up with which tones. We discussed her observations and then she labeled her chart to remind herself of her judgements.
The final step was to draw. Since the mid tone was already established this included both erasing as well as marking. When she had established every tone that she observed she went back and checked the results and adjusted until she was satisfied. I encouraged her to draw lightly with small circles as this creates a much more pleasing result than what every student seems programmed to do – scribble scrabble back and forth digging into the poor paper.
When I was an art teacher in a private school I had little to no budget for supplies. It covered sketchbooks for the students. That constricting boundary fueled my own creativity for imagining how to use what the students already had. Although I did use graphite powder this time, the project can be done with only a blank piece of paper, a regular pencil and a kleenex to smooth out the graphite markings of the pencil.
Here is another way to explore tone. Instead of using a mid tone paper I chose a dark tone from Target’s “Kid Made Modern” construction paper. I only sketched in the highlights with white prisma color pencil. The key to pencil is to remember to always keep your pencil sharp and in this sketch I was not as diligent as I should have been. I was too enthralled by listening to the the Moth podcast. If you haven’t checked it out you should – it’s a truly addictive steady stream of interesting stories simply told.
Back to my study though, I tried to use french curves to capture the glass curves. I wasn’t very happy with the results. I felt like it would have been better to draw my own stencil if I wanted to capture the exactness of the form. The circle stencil for instance in the vinaigrette bottle is perfect.
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards: Edwards suggests the mid tone method of drawing as well as the use of a transparent grid.
artprojectsforkids.org: Kathy Barbro has some great drawing practice worksheets available in her online store. They are well worth the money as they provide an easy warm up and just the practice necessary to make drawing from a grid a cinch.