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How To Make Better Paintings With Tones.

There’s a lot of confusion about terminology in #painting and #tone is one that gets mixed into many different descriptions. My tonal values are all wrong or the tone of the #colour should be redder, then there’s tone, #tints, and #shades! I must admit, I used the word tone for a long time, when what I was really trying to describe were #values. Even I’m confused now!

In this blog I hope to dispel the misunderstanding and give you a little information along the way. By the way, many of my students have reported at some stage or other that their painting looks #muddy. Have you ever felt the same? The term ‘mud’ is often used to describe drab colour, but that is actually tone, and therefore it gets a bad reputation. Tone is essential for balancing colour, so forget the mud, it’s not what you mix, it’s what you do with it.

A Beautiful View Of Ingleborough, Watercolour 56 x 38cm

There's lots of tone in this painting apart from some of the lights in the wall and the sky. Off-setting tones like this is paramount for achieving balance and visual cohesion.

"Forget the mud, it’s not what you mix, it’s what you do with it".

First let’s look at what tone is. Simply put, it is how #grey a colour is, it’s not how dark or light that colour is. The term for darks and lights is value and I will cover that in a separate blog. Having said that, tone and value are directly related and they interact simultaneously, so you can’t have one without the other. To make better understanding of your colour mixes though its good to be able to separate the two terms mentally. Many colours that we see are toned, especially in landscape painting, sometimes only a little and sometimes a lot. It depends on what is happening with the light.

Low light levels will generate a lot of tone, which can be described as #shade, so a colour in the shade will contain a large amount of grey. It is important when painting to maintain the identity of the original colour in a tone, so a toned green for example should be green grey, not just grey. In brighter shade only a light toning of the colour will occur (often called a tint), so the same green will contain much less grey. Some colours in your #palette, such as #Winsor #Newton permanent sap green are already ‘slightly toned’. Burnt sienna and other browns like burnt umber are toned oranges. Most colours though are #saturated, allowing the artist to tone them to any desired level.