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.
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.
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!