Tone in Art
Blog Post #3-2022
Tone is a subject that most newish artists know about, but don’t fully grasp how powerful a painting tool it is. As one of our painting tools, it is I believe, the most important. When a painting lacks tone it lacks depth, unless the use of similar tones is the desired result.
As an art teacher I have seen so many students give tone a miss in favour of colour. They do colour well enough but have no regard for using tone, how powerful a tool it is and how it can carry a painting. Ever heard the saying that ‘a painting can have all the weird colours it likes, as long as the tones are correct it will hang together and read well’?
Art schools still teach black and white drawing first, for a reason. We all moaned about getting to use colour but until tone was understood and used proficiently we stayed working in black and white. I had the good fortune to attend a private atelier where my teacher was trained in just this method of painting. Tone was reinforced as the way a painting was modelled, by creating tones and sculpting the 3D form in paint on a 2D surface.
So why is tone so important? Tone is the muscle of the painting. If you take my analogy that “drawing is the bones, tone the muscle, skin is the colour” then it gives a useful image to relate to. Designing a painting to hang together means it needs to be supported by the other parts of the skeleton. Get the bones in the correct position, the muscle to do the heavy lifting and the skin to glow and shine. We sculpt these muscles in paint or other media, by using lights and darks.
Tone is described as the change of light, going from dark to light. To see this in painting terms, tone is shown on a bar, in a scale format, usually from 1-9. With No.1 being the lights at white, while No.9 being the darkest at 9. Tone is also referred to as value and so we have tone or value scale.
Tone can be referred to as shades and tints. Again we are dealing with light and dark. When a tone is said to be tinted it means white or light is added. When a tone is said to be shaded it means that it has black or dark added.
On the 1-9 tone bar the middle box is denoted as No.5 or tone/value 5. As the tones go up the bar toward black they are shaded with more black or more dark. From tone 5 going down the bar it is tinted with more white or light as it progressed toward No.1 at white.
When an artist understands how this relationship of light and dark works in a painting, then they are able to associate colour to tone and can move on to using light and dark colours, or toned colours to create with. As my teacher, Nan Paterson said “learn your craft then practice your art”.
So my artist friend, get out there and see what tone or value is all about. Learn as much as possible by practicing with it, get to understand how it works for you, as the muscle in a drawing or a painting.
best wishes, Karol
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Need to make a tone bar to help understand the use of tint and shade/light and dark? I have mini course available that walks you through making a tone/value bar for everyday use. In fact I make two in this video series, one for plein-air and one for the studio! Go to www.onlinepastellearning.com for this mini course using oils or pastel or acrylic.
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The Curious Artist Blog-
talks about everything and anything to do with painting.
It's my aim to share techniques, tips, tricks, adventures, products, paintings, educate, inspire and foster the appreciation of painting.
I welcome your feedback and questions and don't promise to post regularly, but to let you know when I do post .
I'l give it my best shot to answer your questions and if I can't I'll let you know. Gee I may even be able to give you the name of someone who can answer.
Either way this blog is about art, artists and everything to do with painting and drawing, being informative, heck maybe even inspiring, all aimed at making painting enjoyable. I sincerely wish you to join me on this adventure. best wishes, Karol