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Game of tones

Last month Hazel Soan explained how to train your eye to interpret the correct tones for your painting; the next stage is to translate this to your paper


The best way to assess tonal values, in a view or subject you want to paint, is to look for the darkest dark/s and the lightest light/s, and use these as benchmarks for the tonal values in the painting. Everything else falls between these two tonal extremes, even if the extremes are not far apart in themselves. When the subject matter has depth and space the nearer items will appear stronger in tone (brighter/deeper/ sharper) and the distant items will be lighter (duller/paler/less defined) by comparison, even if they appear dark to the eye. The lightest lights and darkest darks will most likely be in, or near, the foreground or in the focus of the painting. If the depth of field is shallow then tonal recession will be negligible.

Tonal counterchange

Much of figurative painting is a matter of deciding whether the value of an item or area is lighter or darker than its neighbour. When you draw your composition, the lines drawn generally demarcate where you have observed a change of tone within the subject, either in relation to the facets of an item or between adjacent items. This means that when you come to paint, it is either side of your pencil lines that there will most likely be a subtle or notable difference in tone. Thinking in terms of dark against light, and light against dark, is the way to make this difference in value exciting on paper. The tonal difference can be minor or major, so think in the terms of ‘darker than’ and ‘lighter than’ when laying adjacent tones to suggest depth and form. The tone of every colour laid should also be painted in relation to all the other tones in the whole.

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About The Artist

Water-based media enthusiasts will find huge inspiration and masses of great advice from professional artists Hazel Soan, Jake Winkle, Cheryl Culver, Paul Weaver and Marie Antoniou this month. Hazel explains how to translate tones into watercolour on paper to maximise the effects of light and shade in your paintings; Jake reveals the watercolour techniques he recommends to paint texture and patterns in animals; Cheryl demonstrates a coastal scene in acrylics; Paul urges you to try quick studies in line and wash to keep your en plein air skills in tip top condition while Marie demonstrates how to use tube black to best effect in your acrylic paintings! Learn more from Adele Wagstaff about the structure of the lower limbs and feet to help improve your figure painting, and the colours to use for skin tones for your coloured pencil portraits from Alyona Nicklesen. With more features on pastel painting, detailed still lifes, a new technique to try and oil painting demonstrations from Peter Graham and Bob Brandt, whatever your favourite subject matter or medium you're bound to find loads to inspire you in this month's issue!