Aim: to create a believable illusion of space and depth in two dimensions without over-reliance on outline. The description of space, depth and volume relies on depicting the way in which light operates on objects and the change in tonality that this produces

Method: Cover a whole sheet of paper with charcoal. Make a drawing from a subject of your choice by drawing into the charcoal using a rubber or selection of rubbers.  Then go back to your charcoal and begin to redraw in darker tones using the side of the charcoal. Continue in this way using the rubber as a white to the charcoal’s black and develop the drawing. Try to avoid using outlines – instead, use sweeps of the rubber or the side of the charcoal to build up patches of tone.

Reflection: Now might be a good point to reflect not only on how successfully you’ve managed to create a sense of depth, but also on how you might make work about the space between the surface and the implied three dimensions.

Labrador, A3 cartridge white paper with charcoal and putty eraser.

Horse Head: A3 cartridge white paper with charcoal and putty eraser

Man, A3 cartridge white paper sepia toned pastel on a tan coloured ground and putty eraser

In all I have presented seven versions of this exercise in this blog.  They were mostly done using white cartridge paper and charcoal..  However, in the spirit of experimentation I have also used other coloured grounds and erasable mediums.

I found this a very fulfilling exercise as this medium enabled a real sense of volume and solidity along with a hazy ephemeral feel to be achieved, like a thin veil had been placed across the viewing plane.

The first exercise was done using a photo for a dog with back lighting.  However, this immediately strayed away from the brief as it said to avoid the use of line and this effect of backlighting essentially sketched a white line around the black dog.

Sleeping Dog, A3 cartridge white paper with charcoal and putty eraser.

However, I soon got in the groove with drawings of dogs horses and male portraits.  The end result is fulfilling but it’s a messy process!


I ‘ve been pretty successful in the depth and sense of volume achieved in the subjects drawn.  The dogs look like they are lying on the floor.  The partial erasure of some of the background also contributes to the sense of depth and a world around the subject (they are not just floating in space.

The African male portrait conveys a sense of depth as well as a sense of being.  The facial expression makes him seem about to talk.  Whilst his partially visible torso creates a sense of physicality which is absent from the other male portrait.  This is also due to the front-on view point which almost confrontational.

The complimentary tone of the charcoal and other mediums used are never wholly eradicated.  This results in a not quite black background and this is not flat and even.  Hence, it seems like there is something around the subject but it can’t be quite deciphered.  A stray thumb print will lift the charcoal and hint at an object of begin close to the subject.  Instead of trying to make this background flat and even, there is a lot to be said for being clumsy and lacking attention and giving variety to the background with some judicious and stray handling of the work.

Portrait – black male, A3 cartridge white paper with charcoal and putty eraser.


Sleeping Dog II, A3 cartridge white paper and putty eraser

Horse II, Black A3 cartridge paper with white chalk and putty eraser