The Tone of Painting

I’ve been learning to think about tone in a painterly way.

Tone is the structure of a painting and is what makes objects appear to be three-dimensional. If you think in terms of movies, you’ll notice that a black-and-white movie tells you most of the information you need to know about the environment. You can tell what is grass and what is water and what is skin, and so forth. Color adds a new layer of information, but tone is the foundation underneath.

So that’s step two of my painting course. I learned some tools for better line drawing in step one, and now I’m learning to see the tone in objects and apply it to paper.

Here is a sketch I did this morning in charcoal on news print:

Below you can see where my instructor drew planes on an apple to show how tone radiates from a highlight. One is the lightest tone and 10 is the darkest.

News print doesn’t allow you to go very dark or very light with charcoal, so I moved to a more charcoal-friendly rag paper for the next try. The only thing I dislike about this paper is that it has a very strong vertical grain running through it that gives my drawings stripes.

You can see on the side where I marked off the approximate percentage of the drawing that would be in each tone family — light, medium, or dark. I understand this to be a critical component in oil painting — knowing ahead of time where your tones are.

Here’s a close-up:

You can see the vertical stripe issue. Overall I’m pretty pleased with this one. I especially like how the highlight turned out in the top of the apple and how you can see the shadow of its stem.

The next step is to learn how to apply tone to the surface on which the objects are resting to make it three-dimensional as well. You should be able to see a table top and a wall behind it in this drawing, but I haven’t gotten to that step.

More after class next week.

Categories: Art, Brain Workouts

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