How to Draw an Egg
Silver and glass are easy compared to drawing an egg!
I thought I'd kick this off with something a little wicked for those of you that enjoy my art lessons. The topic is so simple it's almost stupid, right? How to draw an egg? Come on, you just make this oval and leave it white, right?
Ever try to get a freehand symmetrical oval accurate without it being lopsided? Ever try to shade a white thing at all? Eggs are a pain! Eggs are one of those things that if you see it done well in a still life, it should rate right up there with the realistic crystal, lace and shiny silver stuff in the arrangement.
If you want to wow a gallery owner with your still life, put out a lace doily on a white tablecloth with a silver dish and crystal glasses, then set out several eggs in it so that everything in the picture is white or shiny or clear. You will definitely impress fine art people if you can do all those things right. And you will have an easier time with the silver and the crystal.
Okay, silver and crystal are tough too, and have their specific tricks. It's mostly about careful observation drawing anything like this.
I am going to use charcoal for this demonstration, but you can use a pencil or any drawing instrument you have at hand. Keep in mind that if you want to scan it afterward, charcoal or very soft graphite pencils are better for the lighter values showing up on your scanner. Every scanner will lighten your art by about one value step on the ten-level value scale I use.
But first, let's talk about values. This has nothing to do with your morals and everything to do with looking at things in black and white.
Grayscale Value Finder
The illustration above is a Gray Scale Value Finder that I bought at http://www.aswexpress.com for under $2. It seemed like a lot of money to pay for a goofy little bit of printed card, except that an accurate value scale is incredibly useful when you're working out how to draw something. Especially in color, if you can tell whether a red area is the same value (as dark or light) as a green one next to it, that helps in making objects distinct from their backgrounds.
"Value" is an artistic term that just means "How dark is it?" Usually on a scale of ten, but some artists will break it up even finer and create gradations of twenty or more shades. This can be really cool in gouache painting where your strokes are distinct and you have to shade smoothly by adding a little more white to the paint -- I went to about 30 shades once on a gouache painting. But the value scale is important. A painting that's all very light values looks washed out. A painting that's all very dark values may look murky. A painting that has high contrast is going to have drama and usually look a lot more three dimensional.
In drawing white objects, that value finder is essential. Believe it or not, any white thing you want to draw in pencil or charcoal, such as an egg, is going to wind up having dark values on it that go on the left side of the Gray Scale Value Finder.
In fact, that's an old illustrator's trick. Divide everything in your picture into Light Areas and Shadow Areas. Then don't let the highlights in the shadow areas get any lighter than the shadows in the light areas. This creates an inherently dramatic artwork. Apply it to an egg and you could have a recognizable egg with some very dark values on it -- and people will still see it as white. Weird, huh?
It's because the local color of an object is only the color it is. A white thing that's curved has light falling on it. The light has a color. It has shadows on it. The shadows have reflected color from objects around it. Turn on a yellowish incandescent light. Then put something blue near the shadow side of the egg. It'll have a lot of shades of yellow in the light side and a very blue looking shadow. It may even have other colors on it.
So most of the surface of a white object is not white. In fact, only the very lightest highlight on it can be white, and even then it might not be. If you put something glass next to an egg, the shiny white reflection of the light is going to be a lot brighter and whiter than the lightest part of the egg. That white highlight is what makes it shiny. So the whole egg has to be shaded darker than white to make the crystal and silver next to it look real too.
Some things in art are just counterintuitive like that.
Egg drawn with an Oval Template
Egg Shape -- The Outline
You might think an oval template is the perfect answer to sketching in your egg. Wrong. Oval templates are symmetrical all right -- in both directions. A real egg has a fat end and a narrow end. Worse, though they give an impression they're all the same, they're not. There is no magic formula for getting the precise shape of a standard egg perfect because the next egg from the very same chicken might be shaped different. If she had indigestion it might come out narrower or it could be almost round. Some are short, some long, some fatter at the fat end with a more pronounced difference from the narrow end.
So the good news is that in doing a serious still life, you only need to average these proportions or look at your actual egg. In fact, since the people in the gallery will be looking at your painting rather than the real egg, if you don't get the "likeness" mechanically and it looks like a different egg, they will never know it. Any organic object has a little margin for error in its shape, because living things aren't perfect.
Turn it with the narrow end facing you and it's a bit like a blunt cone. Turn it with the narrow end facing away and it looks like a sphere. Any angle in between will result in a shorter fatter oval or teardrop with a unique proportion and shape.
Tip: If you are going to draw eggs from life, cook them hard boiled first. That way they won't spoil if your painting takes too many days to complete. Also if your cat knocks it off the table, it won't splatter on the floor. It may get a few cracks but the cleanup is easier.
So here's a freehand sketch of my hard boiled egg, truer to its real shape laying on its side with the narrow end pointing to the right.
Egg sketched freehand showing a typical shape.
Notice the Corrections
I've been drawing eggs, round objects and all sorts of things for years -- and I still didn't get the egg shape perfect on the first go doing it freehand. So don't worry about little imperfections. Sketch it lightly at first and then start shaving the edges till the shape is what you see.
Observation is the most important element of life drawing.
The more practice you have sketching things you see in real life, the easier it is to get the shapes of real things accurate. Don't draw what you think you see. Don't draw "an egg." Put a real egg out on your desk or table, then look at it for a while.
Try to match the exact curve of its shape with a pencil or charcoal. Sketch it lightly, look back at it and correct it to match what you see. From the point you start drawing, it's not just "an egg." It's definitely not the symbol of an egg that you have in your mind when you read the word. It's an organic shape at the exact angle it's sitting.
One way to draw it very well is not to draw the whole thing, but to start shading and draw the shape of the shadow on the egg instead of the egg itself. Start with the darkest area and shade more lightly. I'm going to use a stump or tortillon for this to get lighter values.
A tortillon is a rolled cardboard blender, usually gray and pointed on one end. Used with charcoal, you can pick up some color on the tip and draw with it. Stumps are the slightly more expensive heavier double-ended blender, those can be sharpened with a pencil sharpener. Either of these blenders are very good for sketching accurate values in charcoal because you can control the pointed tip a lot more carefully than just blending with your finger.
I know I've got one of these things in my drawer, gimme a minute.
Okay, found a little skinny stump in my pencil drawer. Let's see how the egg looks if I push it back into the same position (it rolled) and start drawing just the shadow by shading it with the stump.
Shadow Side of an Egg
When you draw the shadows, you draw the light.
If you draw the shape of the shadowed areas of any three dimensional subject, that will also show where the light is falling on it. It's also more likely to be accurate than trying to outline the whole thing. A shadow is such a unique shape that you have to pay attention to exactly what it is, where it's lighter or darker, where values shade softly into each other or end at a hard edge.
I actually sketched the light side of the egg too here, but my scanner dropped out the light values so the sketch is a perfect demonstration of just the shadow. It implies the egg is there. A way to let the light side show is just to draw something else behind it -- like something darker. At the moment the shadow of my water container is right behind the egg. My table is a middle value cherry wood and the cast shadow of the egg is also a distinct shape in front of it.
So let's finish this drawing of the egg by drawing around it in the negative space to give it a bit of background. I might slightly darken the light side once I'm finished with everything around it so that you can see there are value differences right on top of the light area too.
Draw the Background to Show the Light Side
Cast Shadows and Negative Space
In the final version of this egg drawing, I showed the light side of the egg by drawing the dark area behind it (caused by a deep cast shadow from another larger object). White things and light areas too light to scan show up when you draw from the negative space. That is also a trick I could've done with the second egg drawing. After sketching off all the bumps on it that broke up its perfect shape, I could have just drawn dark around it and eliminated those sketch lines to result in a good egg sketch from that one.
Cast shadows are just what they sound like -- the shadow cast by the thing you're drawing. Their shape helps to establish the shape of what it's sitting on and show the direction of the light. They are vitally important in realistic drawing. Unique to the angle of the light, the color of the surface they fall on and the angle of that surface, a cast shadow can show you if there's a white box next to your white egg by changing angle to crawl up it.
Modeling shadows are the first ones we did -- the shadow side of the egg itself. There is a core shadow darker than the rest of the shadow area, where no reflected light from the table or anything else hits the surface of the egg. Then there's the penumbra, which is the halftone area between the shadow and the light. This can sometimes be very colorful depending on the color of the light.
If you use a gray scale value finder, that handy little widget with its chunked-out holes, you can look through it at something real to see the exact value of an area without seeing its context. That can help you get past some seriously counterintuitive surprises, like how dark the cast shadow on a white thing can get.
I exaggerated the values in this drawing a little bit, but only a little -- and all that did was change what the light was doing to a stronger, harsher light. Right now I'm looking at it in sunlight diffused over neutral color pale walls, so the shadows are fairly soft.
If you keep the shapes and relative values of the shadows accurate, then you can alter their color or value and still have a good recognizable drawing. If you want to try this in ink, crosshatching can get the effect well especially if you use curved lines. Stippling will give a gorgeous effect that's very smooth and takes a long time to ink and do well. So practice in pencil or charcoal by drawing real eggs, or take a good photo of an egg on a white surface in strong directional light.
The more often you practice drawing rounded objects like eggs and observing the way shadow shapes and values change with the light, the angle of the object and the surface color, the more accurately you can draw anything else. Practice makes perfect. Don't worry about a few lopsided eggs or misshapen cast shadows, just keep trying and most of all, draw the shapes and values as you actually see them.
That is the essence of realistic drawing -- to look past symbols to what you actually see. Don't read it, don't think about what it is, don't even think of it as an egg. Think of the shape af that shadow and your drawing will come out a lot better.
Enjoy! For more good art lessons about drawing, color, painting and oil pastels, check out my Oil Pastels site: http://www.explore-oil-pastels-with-robert-sloan.com
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