Figure Drawing

Ralph Larmann

Art Department

University of Evansville




Shading & Texture



the Figure Drawing LAB

Chiaroscuro Applied to the Figure

We can apply the characteristics of chiaroscuro to the face by looking at all the changing planes and by paying special attention to our light source. In the diagram at the upper right hand corner of this page the convention described on the previous page is applied to a group of spheres and a pyramid (nose). If you look at each part of this scene you can pick out six or seven distinct areas: highlight, light, shadow, core shadow, reflected light, secondary highlight, and cast shadow.

Some elements to note:

  • The head is oval in shape so the shading will stretch around the form differently than in a sphere.
  • The eyes are a sphere and will protrude from the face. A common mistake among those first learning to draw the figure is to draw the eyes as flat.
  • The nose has flat planes on each side which change in value (lightness/darkness).
  • The lower lip tends to more often be lit more than the upper lip because light generally comes from above it. The lower lip tends to be shadowed.
  • The nose casts a shadow. That shadow wraps around the planes of the face.

The rest of the figure has similar characteristics. The arms, legs and trunk of the body can be thought of as cylindrical forms which have the same distinct areas of light.

Changes in planes cause these amounts of light and shadow to be altered. This link to a Lhermitte drawing of An Elderly Peasant Woman shows how chiaroscuro is applied to the face. The use of texture is equally impressive in this charcoal drawing.


applied chiaroscuro



[applied chiaroscuro]


Questions or comments can be forwarded to Ralph Larmann at the University of Evansville.

applied chiaroscuro

This illustration shows how to take a simplified formula like chiaroscuro and apply it to a more complex form. Simplifying the figure into simple geometric parts is a good way to lay out a figure early in the drawing before taking it to a finishing stage.

Another good page on chiaroscuro is at the Art Studio Chalkboard web site.




[Primer][Proportion][Shading & Texture][Construction]

created 6/15/98 by R. M. Larmann
updated 7/3/04

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