Accurate drawing and understanding tonal values: Killeenaran Quay, Co. Galway

If you like this please +1 it!


This lesson is aimed at my class of students, who know this quay well and will have a chance to draw it from the very same angle as I’ve chosen here, should they so wish.

In this lesson I aim to illustrate how using the elements in your scene as grid points can help you make an accurate drawing. Of course in order to do this you must be able to “see” well; you must also obey a few rules, such as not making up any lines! Only draw what you see.

After showing you how to get a proportionally accurate drawing, I’m going to finish off by colouring the drawing with one colour only, in order to get you thinking about using different strengths of the same colour to suggest all kinds of subtleties of light. I’ve chosen Payne’s Grey for the simple reason that I love its quiet softness, even when it’s ladelled on (I actually used Mountain Blue in the sky, as it just felt wrong to paint such a beautiful blue sky in Payne’s Grey!)

Here is the final sketch I did of the quay at Killeenaran.

How did I turn a blank page into a drawing? I started with the big stone bollard in front of me, and slightly to my left. Now, I must point out that until about a third of the way through my drawing I used pencil first, and switched to pen after that, but for the purposes of a clear drawing that scanned well I’ve demonstrated the excercise in pen. It’s a Platinum Carbon pen in waterproof ink.

1. After I’ve drawn the bollard, I make four points: they make up the end of the wall on the far side of the quay, on the left; the corner of the quay wall, on the far side; the corner of the quay wall, just in front of me and to my right, and the point at which the quay wall meets the bollard, in front of me. To get the position of these little dots right, I ask myself questions: “How far down the right hand side of the bollard is my first point? How far above the bollard, and how far to the right of it, does the quay wall end?” And so on.

So now I have a few points, and I have to join the dots. Not too difficult, but I try to give my lines a little detail, by following the contours of the paving slabs as accurately as I can, and drawing the cracks between them.

Next, I draw the base of the wall on the far side of the quay. I also draw the paving slabs to the left of the bollard. They’re a little offset because there are steps behind the bollard which you can’t see. I also draw the base of the sea wall where it meets a seaweed-y mud, as it’s low tide. If I’m careful, I can also draw the boats: by careful, I mean I use the point on the bollard (A) where the stern of the boat intersects with the bollard, and (B) where the base of the bow meets the paving slab. I’ve also included the line of the shadow below the middle boat, because it’s so strong it’s hard to see where the boat ends and the shadow begins.

Next, it’s time to put in the line of the grass on the far side of the quay, and the row of bollards receding into the distance. These are tricky! They get smaller as they get further away, so you’ll need to estimate their respective sizes carefully. Also: the line made by the tops of the bollards forms a shallow slope. Get this wrong and you’ll lose the sense of persepective.

Whew! What a busy drawing. I probably could have included an interim drawing but once you’ve got your main points, you have much more freedom to put in the details – just as the further along in a jigsaw you are, the faster it gets. You’ve simply got more points of reference to use as a guide to placing subsequent elements.

I’ve included specks for sand, rocks covered in seaweed to the left of the bollard, mooring lines with seaweed hanging off them, shadows under the row of bollards (and a massive one behind the big one in the foreground), a few fluffy clouds, the hedgerow opposite and lastly a few cobbles in the foreground. It’s important to draw your shadows all at the same time, as they move fast and you’ll lose the effect of a “snapshot” if they’re all pointing in different directions.

To paint, I have decided to stick with just one colour, Payne’s Grey. I paint a thin, even layer onto all the bits that look “dark” to me. I’m not too worried that some bits are very much darker than others – I know I can add a second layer as soon as the first one is dry.

When completely dry, I can pick out the areas that are slightly darker, and add another layer to those bits. For example, the red of the hull of the boat is very much darker in tone than the cabin above it, even though the latter is in shade. So it gets two extra layers (waiting for each layer to dry before another is added). I do the same with the row of stone bollards, and the hedgerow. I do add one more colour, putting Mountain Blue on the sky, because the sky just has to be a nice light blue!
The closest stone bollard gets its own special treatment: I add more layers as I wrap my way around the left-hand side. This is because I noticed that it was darker on the left, being in deeper shade. I also deepened the shadow of the bollard too, for the same reason. One or two cobbles inside the shadow were highlighted with a white gel pen, just because a rogue ray of light must have been catching it somehow.

I dot a bit of extra Payne’s Grey around the seaweed-covered rocks on the left – they were quite dark. If you’re attempting this in the flesh, add as much as you like – as long as you remember to apply the paint in thin layers, letting it dry in between.

The sky is treated a little differently: to add shape to a cloud – or rain, or whatever it is – it’s nice to add wet paint to wet paint. This makes it blend beautifully and looks very realistic! (See the painting on the bottom, as it was done on the spot, ans has a better feel.)

So there you are – drawing accurately, and understanding tonal values. It’s mush more intuitive and less “wordy” in the field – naturally – as you use thoughts rather than words to tell yourself what to do! The only way to learn is to get out there and try. I really hope this has been of some use. Do feel free to comment and ask questions on anything about which you are not clear.

(c) Róisín Curé 2014 all rights reserved


Art Materials I Use and Can Recommend

My favourite watercolours are made by Schmincke. I use a very small set when I am on the move, or this set of 24, which is available to buy here from Utrecht Art Supplies (in the US):-


Set of 24

Set of 24

or in the UK and EU :-

Jackson’s Art Supplies
Schmincke : Horadam Watercolour : Metal Set : 12 Half Pans

I also use Escoda Versatil brushes (available from Dick Blick in the US) :-


Escoda Versatil Brushes

Escoda Versatil Brushes

or from Jackson’s in the UK and EU :-

Escoda : VERSATIL Kolinsky Synthetic : Series 1540 : # 8

There are three pens I always use. The first is the Platinum Carbon pen, which can be used with cartridges or a converter. A converter is useful when you are choosing your own ink. The Platinum has never let me down: they tell you to use it every couple of days to avoid clogging, but I have left it longer than that and I have never had a problem in many years of use. It is also very reasonably priced and is available to buy from Amazon :-

The second pen I am never without is the Kuretake Brush Pen. I always use waterproof Platinum Carbon ink cartridges in my brush pen. This is available to buy here from Dick Blick in the US :-


Kuretake Brush Pen

Kuretake Brush Pen

or from Jackson’s in the UK and EU :-

Kuretake : Bimoji Fude Pen : Black Medium BRUSH : Maroon pack XT5-10

The third pen I really enjoy using is more expensive, but I chose it for its flexible steel nib, which gives a lovely variable line thickness. It’s the Namiki Falcon and is available here from Amazon :-

I find that grey ink gives a softer line than black – it’s more like a pencil line – and I always make sure at least one of my fountain pens contains grey ink. I use Lexington Gray by Noodler’s, which is waterproof when dry, also from Amazon :-

I use various types of watercolour paper, but one I come back to a lot is by Langton, available here from Dick Blick :-


Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige Watercolor Blocks

Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige Watercolor Blocks

1 Comment

  1. jeans ralph lauren homme

    April 28, 2015 at 1:45 am

    Light, reflect light, or even block it and cause shadows. This will cause some things to appear brighter than others. This is what we call contrast. For example, imagine a person standing on a sandy beach. The water will be one level of brightness, the sand will be brighter, and the sky will be even brighter. The shadow from the person will be darker. This represents a higher than normal contrast scene. There is a common standard we use to measure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 − 5 =