Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pyle on Tone and Edges

Many of you have asked for more classical art teachings from obscure primary sources. So today and tomorrow, I’d like to share some rare nuggets from Howard Pyle.

Mr. Pyle didn’t write down a lot of theories because he was suspicious about systems or formulas. He believed that pictures were made by inspiration, not by analysis. “The student learns rules,” he said. "But all the rules in the world never make a picture.”

Fortunately he did speak about his ideas of picturemaking during class sessions at the Brandywine school. Several of his students wrote down what he said. One good set of notes comes from W.H.D. Koerner, who became a notable illustrator of western subjects.


Keep your picture simple in tone. The fewer the tones the simpler and better your picture. The more tones in a picture the harder [it is] to do.

If a face against the light seems dark, it sometimes can be lightened by darkening the hair or hat.

If you feel your white isn’t light enough, make it still lighter.

Keep pretty much same tone quality in flesh and white cloth except in the shadows.

A white coat in a room must be a trifle darker than your white light out of doors.

Forget your drawing and stick to tone. If you get balled up on a part of picture, go back to the tone and don’t rely on drawing.


The study of edges is the main thing, outside of tones.

One way to get a spiritual feeling in a certain figure [is to] keep everything softer in that figure than in other parts of picture and let light radiate away from it.

Tomorrow we’ll look at Koerner’s notes from Pyle regarding light and shadow.


C B Sorge said...

Fascinating! I think I'll try out a drawing using a simplified tone plan and see how that compares with my normal approach. I'm enjoying these insights!

Anonymous said...

This is fantastic. Thanks for sharing! I've always admired Pyle since my early days of art school.

jeff jordan said...

The insights are GREAT! The application can be a bit more difficult.
Chicken first? Or egg?

Oscar Baechler said...

I love Pyle, mostly because of an exerpt of his published in Andrew Loomis' "Creative Illustration." If only he'd left more notes!co

Julia Lundman said...

Well, I am really glad this came up. I am wrestling with this issue myself. I have been drawing with tone/shadow for a long time now almost exclusively. After looking at years of drawings, I just feel like there is little of "me" in there. Somehow when I look at the works of many cartoonists or illustrators who work in line (with some tone, but emphasis on the lines), the work feels more interpretive.

Do you have any thoughts about line vs. tone? Have you ever considered one over the other or have you always been able to stay on the path you are on artistically?

David Still said...

I think the different ways different schools of artists use tone is very interesting. When looking at Dean Cornwell it's often pretty obvious how he puts light behind important dark parts, and dark behind important light parts - and it's also obvious how well that works! But looking at for example Bouguereau this isn't always as important, and while Cornwell often uses a lot of contrast in the costumes: white collars and black clothes, Bouguereau's nudes often have a very limited value range, that still somehow works to describe form... When I try to put my figures in some kind of environment I often find it hard to keep track of the values. If the main characters have both light and dark in them, what's left for the background? I guess the only answer is to look at the masters and see what they did...

James Gurney said...

Hi, Julia. I tend to think more naturally in terms of tone, but I love line, too.

I suppose line and tone in art are like melody and harmony in music. They work in separate but parallel realms, and it's good to keep them both in mind all the time.

Julia Lundman said...

Hmmmm - the music analogy is perfect. Thanks so much for your reply!

Mario said...

I have the same problem as Julia, line vs tone, or maybe line vs surface (as tone relationship can be replaced or completed by color and temperature).
Working in tones is closer to the way the retina works, while using lines is closer to the brain, I think. I prefer lines, and I think my drawings have improved somewhat when I've discarded all that "diligent shading". The problem arises when I paint, I tend to do "coloring" instead of painting. I should try to build forms directly with the brushes, no preliminary drawing at all...