Fiddled around with my Wacom a bit and scribbled out this little value sketch today. Rough as hell, but that's the way I wanted it. In fact, it looks best in the little thumbnail above - no need to open it. I had a little trouble for a while - couldn't see my cursor at all over a middle grey ground - but found how to change the cursor and then it came together.
Simply having the figure in 3 or more values against a middle background does wonders - as long as the values themselves are in the right places. The figure really seems to pop 3 dimensionally. Though at certain stages I started to get caught up in details and began to lose that sense of form.
THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO GET THE RIGHT VALUES IN THE RIGHT PLACES!
This is where it's super-important to envision the figure in terms of boxes and flattened cylinders - somewhat curved planes that meet at rounded edges. Now that I understand the point of these sketches I want to crank them out rapidly and hopefully improve my visualization technique.
This is the stuff Robert Beverly Hale stresses so much , especially in Master Class in Figure Drawing - showing all those drawings by Rembrandt and Ruebens and DaVinci etc - now I understand exactly what they were paying attention to in doing them.
To quickly review the information I'm talking about:
Whether you're drawing from a live model or a photograph, don't just copy the shapes and tones you see. That isn't learning anything - it's only copying and often results in drawings with little or no sense of 3 dimensional solidity. Instead, create in your drawing a virtual model of the figure you see. Build it from boxes and cylinders, but even the cylinders need to have some sense of form - so they're slightly squashed cylinders. That's the form of arms and legs anyway - they're not purely cylindrical. So you're visualizing something like a little artist's mannikin made from soap that's been wetted and rubbed down a while, until the corners are nicely rounded and the planes themselves are curved the same way the planes of the body itself are curved. Each plane is either facing toward the light or away from it, to varying degrees, and this determines how light in value the entire plane is. Sometimes there's a lot of visual confusion (on the model or photograph) that makes it hard to see which planes need to be light or dark - and often the lighting is itself confusing, so a good artist doesn't rely on exactly what he sees but instead draws his virtual model of the figure, adjusted to resemble the person he's drawing, and with virtual light thrown onto it so that the planes all show clearly which way they're facing in relation to the light source. This is the way the great masters learned to draw - it results in a very clearly readable drawing that leaves no doubt as to which way each portion of the body is facing or how it's shaped or exactly how the light is hitting it.
Other than wanting to improve on the rendering of the value areas themselves, I also want to fix the contours of the drawing - get the shapes right. In other words, I want to improve the boxes themselves and the information they carry - the tilt and direction of each part of the figure. It's these 2 things that will benefit tremendously from these sketches. When I learn to draw the figure properly in terms of limited values (only used the lower 4 off the palette and even lightened up the darkest dark considerably) and to pay close attention to the shapes of each part of the figure and which direction they're facing, then I'll have the basics of figure drawing down pat. This is the most important thing you can possibly improve on in your art - everything else is very secondary. Also, when I can do this right, I should be able to do speed paintings.