American illustrator Tom Lovell (1909-1997) often planned his compositions with soft charcoal, keeping the design to three simple tones: light, middle, and dark. This preliminary sketch was done with vine and compressed charcoal on tracing paper, about 3 by 6 inches.
The three-value study is an effective way to plan a painting, not only because it’s fast, but because the medium lends itself to a simple, bold statement. Instead of getting carried away with details of the figures, Lovell is concerned only with their overall position and gesture. He shapewelds the figures at the right, and accentuates the central caped figure by lightening the tone of the far bank behind him.