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Tone and colour

Part 1 Understand the full importance of tone in your watercolour paintings, by Jem Bowden
Black-and-white version of the painting Old Trees by The Avon (above right)

Colour is often a major preoccupation among aspiring painters, yet it is only one aspect of the visual world. Tone (value or ‘tonal value’) is perhaps even more important if you want to paint in a way that depicts reality convincingly. But tone – variations of light and dark – is also important in giving paintings visual impact. A few key points I’d like to pass on are:

1 Observe the tones in your subject as much as – or more than – you study colour, if you want to depict reality in a convincing way.

2 Consider how you might use tonal contrast to improve your compositions, making some creative changes to your subject. This will also make you observe more carefully what is there in the first place.

3 Learn to mix very strong darks and very pale washes, to include consciously a full range of tone in your paintings, not just medium or mid-tones. Watercolour is as much about mixing paint with water as it is about mixing colour with colour. We might talk about the paint-water ratio, or in other words how much water you use to dilute the pigment.

Most watercolours will have parts where a very watery wash is needed, and parts where thicker, stiffer paint is useful. Too often the consistency is very similar throughout, resulting in a narrow range of tones, often not particularly dark nor particularly light. Although being colourful, such pictures can look flat or a bit feeble. Partly it can stem from poor observation, but often what is needed is better control of the water content. If we control the water, we can turn up the contrast and hence the impact.

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About Leisure Painter

Welcome to the March issue. This issue is packed with practical advice, tutorials, demonstrations and illustrated techniques, all aimed at teaching beginners and amateur painters to draw and paint successfully. Enjoy working with watercolour, acrylics, oils, gouache, coloured pencils, pen and ink and more. Learn how to draw and paint animals, landscape, flowers and elements of the countryside. Develop your skills as you learn about the value of tone, how to loosen up your style and how to add drama and a sense of narrative to your paintings. This issue also launches a beginner's guide to acrylics. Enjoy your month of painting with Leisure Painter.