Drawing paper, such as a newsprint pad or sketchbook, any size up to 18" x 24". You can also try pastel or charcoal paper, for a nice texture.
Conte crayons or compressed charcoal sticks: Conte crayons are about 3" long and block shaped, and hard. They come in black, gray, brown and red ochre. Compressed charcoal is usually 2" or 3" long, rounded, and hard, and usually black. Utrecht and Pearl online have what they call "Charkole," which looks like it might serve the same purpose.
These materials can be found at an art supply store, a general department or office supply store with an art department, or can be ordered online at www.utrechtart.com, www.pearlpaint.com, or www.dickblick.com. At the websites, look in the menu under Drawing supplies, or Charcoal.
Sometimes, what we know differs from what we see. When drawing or painting, we sometimes need to choose between what we know and what we see. For example, though we can see a person or object only from one vantage point, we know that the person or object is rounded, and continues beyond the "edges" that we can see. Though we can draw figures or objects with a line on a flat surface to try to depict reality, we also need to have a real sense of the actual 3-dimensional form.
The first exercise, Contour Drawing, dealt with the element of line. This exercise, Mass Drawing, deals more with the 3-dimensional reality of figures or objects, that is, their form, or mass, using tonal values of light and dark.
This experience of the 3-dimensional form gives our work not only physical depth, but depth of content as well. Even if we choose to make art without the illusion of three dimensions, our understanding of these dimensions will add substance to our work. For example, the painter Paul Cezanne had a strong sense of the flat surface as the reality of painting, but his understanding of the third dimension gives his work a solidity that not many artists have achieved, and creates a tension between the 2-dimensional and the 3-dimensional realities. This is one reason why his work is so powerful.
First, choose an object or figure to draw. Figures work very well for this exercise, including yourself in front of a full-length mirror, in a non-symmetrical pose to avoid monotony. Don't be intimidated by the figure - just look at it like you would at any other form - just draw what the forms do. But if you find the figure too daunting, find a solid, large form, like an animal; or a large sculpture or still life object. In one of the examples shown here, I used a conch shell, which is small, but has a definite form. Try to work from life, rather than photographs, for this exercise.
Always start a drawing by sitting quietly and studying your object, waiting to draw until you are relaxed and prepared. Allow your eyes to receive the information, rather than pursue it. You are trying to feel the solidity and volume of the form. Start in the "center" of the form by pressing the crayon slowly and lightly in a relaxed, circular motion, as though you were building the object with clay. Continue to "build" the form in outward circles, gradually reaching the outer edges of the form. Work on the whole figure first, before you go back to refine your drawing. Do not worry about proportions or edges - you are only thinking of the mass of the form. When you have the whole form roughed in, go back over it, slowly increasing the pressure of the crayon in the bulkier areas of the form, where the weight is.
These mass drawings do not need to be large. Work in whatever size you're comfortable with. Break off a small piece of conte crayon or charcoal; you will be working with the side of the crayon, not the point, for this exercise.
This darkening of certain areas will help define the form of the object or figure. You don't want details or individual hands, feet, etc. here - only the sense of form. Again, this is an exercise to increase your understanding of forms. You're not making a product - you're practicing. In art, it isn't enough for the intellect to understand a concept - the whole art-making apparatus must be brought along - the eyes, mind, heart, soul and hands. The only way to do this is to draw with these ideas in mind, and the more drawings you do, the more understanding and strength you will have in your work.
Examples of Mass Drawing:
A really good example of this concept are the drawings of the 19th century French pointillist painter, Georges Seurat. They are deceptively simple drawings of figures, probably studies for his paintings. Looking at these drawings, you can see what can be done with such simple means, in the hands of a good artist. Click here to see an example online; also, you can find examples of Seurat's drawings in the following book:
The Natural Way to Draw, by Kimon Nicolaides, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1941