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Question: I read about traditional Italian Renaissance techniques known as "chiaroscuro," and "sfumato." What exactly are they?

Answer: Dear reader. For the answer to your questions I consulted a teaching manual called, "Instructions in Classical Drawing." I am biased towards that teaching course because I compiled it over 35 years of drawing. It contains some great insight into drawing from some of the best artists and teachers, some of whom were my mentors and instructors at art college back in the sixties.

Simply put, chiaroscuro means "the manipulation of light," and sfumato literally means a "turning to vapour." Both terms are classical drawing and painting disciplines from the Renaissance of the 1500's.

Chiaroscuro is more than drawing light and dark or shading. Chiaroscuro is a better way to draw light and dark than cast shadows. Cast shadows are deadly in a drawing. Chiaroscuro's main purpose is to manipulate light around an object or form to mould that form in the best possible way. Light is interpreted as to its direct source and reflected light, and then drawn in such a way as to create an illusion of light where the darkest darks and lightest lights meet side by side inside the form and closest to the viewer. As lines and planes recede into the background, the contrast between light and dark lessens. High contrast drawing is called "tenebrism," but that's another question.
Sfumato was a favourite technique of Leonardo Da Vinci who became its principal champion. Sfumato's main purpose is to eliminate edges and lines in an undulating fashion ( sometimes you see them, sometimes you don't ) as lines and edges appear and disappear gently in mists and light or just the colour of the paper itself. This can be done in oils and tempera with transparent glazes, in water colour through scrubbing, and in drawing by lifting lines and shapes with a kneaded eraser or gently sumdging the line or shape.
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