The Importance Of Tone
Tones form the main structure of paintings, they give us body, depth and three dimensional effect and yet regularly, the whole concept of dealing with tones and how they work is either brushed aside or momentarily forgotten in the excitement of producing a finished artwork. Failing to give some consideration to a tonal plan prior to starting a painting can result in either a washed out image or an overworked, dark and muddy picture.
It is important to study and use tone effectively as it is tone, not colour or line that will separate the features and objects in a painting. Generally it is a case of simplifying the amount of tones that you see to about five main values, although confidently putting these into a painting is often quite a different story. In this three part series of articles, I will try to convey the importance of tone and how, with a little thought, you can really make a difference to your artwork.
Depth and Body
In order to give your paintings depth and body you need to make sure that you are including the tonal extremes - that is a very light and a very dark tonal value. To begin with it is a good idea to obtain or make a tonal strip or value finder to assist you in judging the tonal strengths in your paintings. To make your own simply paint four tonal values on watercolour paper using Paynes Grey and graduating them from intense dark to a mid-light. The white of the paper forms the fifth tone of the scale. Cut the strip out making sure you cut through the segments down one side so that you will be able to place the strip either on your reference material or on your work.
You can gauge the tonal values of your painting by half closing your eyes and comparing the different strengths to your value finder. This is a great way to obtaining the right tonal values in your paintings. Try the following exercise to see what I mean.
Take a look at your problem paintings that you aren't too happy with and analyse them from a tonal point of view using your value finder. Are any of these paintings either washed out or too dark? If they fit into one of these categories, then use the value finder to first estimate the main strengths of tone and then second, identify whether or not you have any of the tonal extremes included in your painting. If your painting is devoid of either light or dark tones (or both) then put them in using your value finder as a guide. Does the painting now suddenly come to life? By including the tonal extremes you will give the remaining values a point of reference and your painting will have much more depth and body to it than if you didn't use them. Try the following combinations for a great tonal effect:
To paint bright light or sunny scenes - keep the majority of your tones pale and use a limited amount of dark elsewhere, for instance in a shaded area.
To paint heavy, dark mood - then use the opposite, lots of mid dark and dark tones with an isolate light part. This can have incredibly dramatic effects.
The following painting demonstrates the use of tonal extremes for which I have used mainly mid tones with a limited amount of light and dark tone. Look in particular how stage 6 has much more depth and body to it that stage f5.
Winsor & Newton colours used;
Ultramarine, Vandyke Brown
I drew out the scene on a piece of Saunders 140lb rough paper using a 2B pencil. I chose rough paper for this painting because I wanted to achieve some heavy textured effects using a dry brush technique.
I started by wetting the paper down with clean water and brushing in fluid washes of Ultramarine and Vandyke Brown making sure I left the puddle area in the foreground as white paper. Whilst the wash was still wet, I suggested the background hills using a wet into wet technique with the same colour mixture and then let the whole thing dry.
With a pale mix of Vandyke Brown and Ultramarine I blocked in the shape of the farmhouse and brought the wash over the land towards the foreground, further outlining the edges of the puddles. I used more Ultramarine in the mix for the background (cooler) and increased the Vandyke Brown towards the foreground (warmer) in order to obtain recession in the painting. Using just two colours in this way can produce very effective results.
When the washes had dried I used the same kind of approach; more Ultramarine than Vandyke Brown for the cow in the distance and the one drinking from the puddle and then more Vandyke Brown in the mix for the cow on the right. I have deliberately left the animals free of any detail on order to emphasise the foggy atmosphere.
I began to concentrate on building up the tones and textures in the area around the puddle using varied mixes of Ultramarine and Vandyke Brown. If you were painting this picture, would you consider it just about finished at this point? Look at the tones in the painting. They are mainly light and mid tones with no dark values involved. It is important that I should use the dark values in order to give the painting more depth and body and also so that the tones do not appear to be washed out.
The nearest cow and the strong shadow parts in the foreground texture were added using a very strong mix of Ultramarine and Vandyke Brown. The inclusion of this dark tonal extreme has created a reference point for the lighter tones and the whole tonal scale has now been brought together giving the painting much more vitality and depth. Have a go at your own paintings with the use of tone in mind and make sure you include those all important extremes.
From Photograph to Painting with Matthew Palmer
The Italian Job with Malcolm Cudmore
Spring Fervour with David Hyde
Market Day in Brittany with Marilyn Allis
Cromford Canal with Matthew Palmer
Portraits in Pastel Pencils with Heather Jolliffe
A Passion for Watercolour Painting