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Tonal Exercise

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Recently I have had a new group of people start with me and we were looking at how to improve their work and what they needed to add to their arsenal of painting techniques and understanding of the process of painting.  We decided to explore colour and for the last month have been working with limited palettes, colour combinations like complementary, colour mixing and of course tonal evaluations.

Tone is actually more important to get right in a painting than the actual colour.  If your tone, and by that I mean the darks to the lights, is right, it really doesn’t matter what colour you paint your subject with.  You can test this out by using your computer to display an image and then go through all the adjustments from black and white into the reds and blues etc, you will see that since the tone is correct the piece works.  This is especially important to achieve depth in your pieces. Of course, there are also your warms and cools to consider.

Following are the four steps we took to achieve this.  The first piece was an evaluation of the darks to the lights, this can be done by simply squinting at your reference and seeing the lightest lights and the darkest darks, establish these and then go for your midtones and then then tones between the mid and dark and the mid and light. Simple really ! We used ultrmarine blue, burnt sienna and white to establish this base layer.  Then we moved on and put in more detail until the piece could be a finished painting but simply rendered in those three colours and their combinations.

When we were happy with this stage, we then started to glaze colour onto this under painting, using mostly transparent, single pigment colours. The resulting works were wonderful, with great depth and atmosphere.  At the end, you must also consider your warm colours to bring the foreground forward and your cools to push things back.

Here are the stages of the painting – step by step – try it for yourself at home.


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