Chiaroscuro - trishakyner

Head of the Virgin in
Three Quarter View
Facing Right,
Leonardo da Vinci
(Italian 1452-1519).
Charcoal, black and
red chalks, traces of
contour sketch in pen
and brown ink.
What is Chiaroscuro?
• An Italian term that dates from the Renaissance
(1500s). Chiaroscuro describes drawings,
paintings and prints that display both a high
contrast of darks and lights (dramatic lighting)
and subtle gradations of value between light and
dark (subtle shading).
• Chiaroscuro literally means “light/dark.”
• Renaissance artists began using chiaroscuro when
they became interested in how light could
illuminate a form’s contours, increasing the sense
of depth.
What techniques and materials did artists like Leonardo use?
• Materials:
Charcoal and different
colored chalks
Inks (white with
brown or black)
Renaissance artists
also often used
(colored) paper.
Jan Gossert, 1520, Adam and Eve, pen ink
with white water color on blue grey paper.
In Europe, chiaroscuro became the approved drawing style of art
schools. Here is a charcoal and chalk drawing by Maurice Quentin de
la Tour from the 1700s. Note the use of white chalk (white conte) to
acentuate the fall of light on certain areas. Chalk and charcoal.
The technique of chiaroscuro is often taught today
by having students draw simple white objects under a
single strong light source. These conditions allow
students to see the subtle gradations of shadow
invoked by artists who did not actually observe
chiaroscuro in nature but created a system of imagined
dramatic light. The current trend is to have you draw
simple geometric shapes. In the 18th and 19th century
artists perfected techniques of chiaroscuro by drawing
white plaster casts of ancient sculpture.
Leonardo da Vinci wrote that the perfect way to illuminate the
head of a young woman was to seat her in a courtyard with high
walls painted black and direct sunlight diffused by a muslin
canopy. Who knows, he might have tried this once, but it’s a
safe bet to say that he primary imagined this ideal light.
Here is a drawing of a cast of a foot by
Paul Maillet
A simple shape like an egg is a good place to start. Drapery or a
crumpled paper bag (your homework) is a good next step.
Teachers have given the different shadows and values
we see different names.
In a controlled environment, the area of the object directly in the
path of the light source will be the lightest tone. We call this
area the highlight. The areas blocked from the light source are
usually the darkest. Blocked light = shadow. The areas parallel
to the light source are usually mid-tones. Because objects
usually exist in relation to a ground or other objects reflection
also affects value.
How to get started?
Make a six tone value scale. Pick one of these three
techniques for creating value.
Teams of two should set up an egg still life on white drapery.
Use a clip on light to establish a single strong light source.
Next, do a quick contour drawing of
your composition in light pencil
Now start adding values, using your
value scale as a guide. I like to start
with the darkest darks. Find
highlights, mid-tones and shadows.
Extra credit if anyone locates an
antumbrambra (that’s the lighter halo
of a shadow that sometimes extends
from its core.)