This exercise should help you simplify your seeing into drawing. I found this pasted into a sketchbook of mine and wanted to share it with you.
The aim is to try to encourage you to think in tonal areas. My natural habit is to draw in a linear way; I think most of us do – we use line to follow form and contours, making outlines. Even if I’m drawing tonal areas I often use line to make the delineation.
Here’s the page in my sketchbook:
I used an image from a newspaper and I would recommend you try this first. Using an image that is already two dimensional will be easier to start off with. The image is already contained and you will find it simpler than trying to interpret from a real scene. You will need paper, or a sketchbook, and a soft pencil I used a 3B.
Look at the image carefully: you are looking to divide what you see into 4 tonal areas: a very dark (almost black), white, and 2 mid tone greys. Look for at least 30 seconds. Not just a passing glance but try to capture and hold the image in your mind.
Once you think you have the image in your mind, look to your page and draw as much as you can you can in just 30 seconds maximum. You can see my first image was linear in form. This is fine – it helps you adjust to the overall composition.
Next make 4 small boxes and create your 4 tones with pencil as you can see in the bottom left.
Now you have made the 4 tonal areas look back towards the image with these in mind and decide which areas are which. Where are the real darkest areas? Which parts are going to be the highlights you leave white? How will you make the distinction between the mid tones? If you find it hard to decide then screwing up your eyes and squinting can help simplify what you are looking at.
Then look back to your page and from memory try to draw the image again, just using tones. You will see from my note that this took me one minute to draw. Spend up to 2 minutes but aim to work quickly – remember you are not looking for detail but a way to capture the overall tonal pattern of the image.
Improving your visual memory is a key skill in drawing; spend at least as long looking as drawing!
Have a go with a newspaper image first. Then try from real life. Good luck!