Well we all love colour and detail and texture in paintings but that is all just decoration and frippery compared to the big boys of painting – the tonal masses!
DEFINITION of a TONE (or VALUE as they say in the USA)
: A tone is the relative lightness or darkness of an object irrespective of its actual colour.
If you, at the outset of planning a painting, can boil down your subject into broad blocks of tones ranging from lights to mids to darks , then you are on to a winner.
Omit this step at your peril and you’ll be left floundering amidst a sea of colour and detail that is going nowhere and defining nothing – giving your viewer no readable pattern to enjoy…just a rectangle of visual noise.
Today I spent an enjoyable few hours explaining the power and necessity of tones to pupil and friend Jude.
Jude thrashing out her tonal study BEFORE launching into a watercolour of the same subject.
Once you establish your tonal pattern all you then need to is translate those tones into colours and you are on your way to painting a satisfying and believable work of art. This requires attention and practice. Do not let the colours distract you – try to SQUINT your eyes and compare how light or dark they are in relation to the colour next to them.
You can achieve this by:-
1 making a simple outline of your subject
2. using only three tones to create a readable/distinguishable pattern of the elements in your subject with just 3 tones (lights – mids – and darks). This stops you fussing and getting distracted with detail at the wrong time.
3. translating those tones into similarly tones colours (using a tone finder tool is good for this – click here to make one – MAKE A TONAL SCALE
Another tack is to scan in the image you want to paint then convert it to grayscale and reduce the tones to just 3 or 4 and work from that. You will also need to keep in mind that you may change areas of tones that do not contribute to the overall INTEGRITY of the painting – this is where you use your artistic license to alter according to your taste.
I have learned the hard way over the last 23 years by reading books, watching DVD’s and experimentation.Here are some of the best books from which I have gleaned vital tonal information.
Note – In the USA they use the word “Value” instead of “Tone” – but it all boils down to the same thing.
Tony Couch – Watercolor: You Can Do It!
Steven Quiller – Color Choices
Joseph Zbukvic – Mastering Atmosphere & Mood in Watercolor
Richard Scmid – Alla Prima : Everything I Kkow About Painting
Working on tones is a way of limbering up your seeing and discriminating skills which is a major part of creating art – I hope that you will spend some time genning up on it if you feel your work lacks punch or vitality – good luck!