Mastering Tone in Beginners Art Classes

Beginners Art Classes-Sunshine Coast – Mastering Tone.  This month let’s look at how you can improve your drawing skills and make your artwork sing, simply by understanding and applying tone.   Mastering Tone in an artistic context refers to the level of light and dark values rendered in your artwork. Making  your objects appear 3-dimensional and realistic. This enables your viewer to understand or “read” the artwork.

For many artists beginning their art journey, tone is something that can be overlooked in a quest to get, “just the right colour”, shape, or painting skills.  However, tone is the essential ingredient your artwork needs to make your creation sing and not look flat.  Using light, shade and tone in your work also contributes to the mood you wish to portray in your artwork.  Tone is so important that if you used all the wrong colours in your work, but your tones were correct your artwork will still be successful.

Where is the Tone in Those multi-coloured Pop Art Paintings?

You have probably seen some of those lovely multi-coloured pop art paintings around at the moment especially of dogs.  You may wonder why when the dogs are not painted in realistic colours it still looks like the particular dog and breed and they don’t appear flat.

We have seen the effects of light and shade on our surroundings all our life, however, our very clever brain has mostly blocked out these details in our ordinary everyday life.

Tone is easier for the beginner to Understand in Black and White

Tone is easier for the beginner to understand if working with a black and white medium like graphite or charcoal.  For this reason, we teach shading and tone in the drawing component of our beginners Art Classes on the Sunshine Coast in our Complete Drawing and Painting Certificate Course.  Both in graphite and charcoal before commencing the painting units.  The knowledge you gain by working in graphite or charcoal is relevant to whatever medium you choose including pastel, ink, and paints whether watercolour, acrylic, or oils.

In total darkness, there would be no tone, as we need a light source to hit the subject matter creating a highlight. It is best to have only one light source.  Every object will have a highlight where the light hits it and bounces off.  On the opposite side to the highlight there will be a shaded area and a cast shadow.  We look upon these shaded areas in our artwork in various levels of tone.  To make sense of how dark or light theses shadow areas of tone are, we talk about them in levels of value.  Meaning how white, grey, or black the shadows are.

The light will gradually transition from the highlight area to the darkest areas

The light will gradually transition from this highlight area to the darkest areas.  How dark or light this area is and how quickly or slowly it transitions will depend on many things.  For example, the light source e.g. sunlight, daylight, or artificial light like a light bulb.  How close or far away the light source.  Or the time of day.  Each will create a variety of tone plus a cast shadow.  A bright light source from an artificial light or strong mid-day sunlight will create strong highlights and clearly defined shadows.  Whereas, on a cloudy or rainy day the light and shadows will be diffused, or indirect, therefore weak.  Mid-morning or mid-afternoon is a softer time of the day, therefore softer transitions of tone.  Whatever your choice, artists love shadows and contrast so seek them out, as they make for a much more interesting artwork.

Try Experimenting with Lighting

Try experimenting with lighting, even a hand held torch in a dark room shining it on a couple of still life objects.  Then try holding the torch above and slightly to the right or left of your objects.  See what happens if you back-light your object.  Or light directly from above or directly from the front.  Try holding your light closer to and further away from the object.  Look at your cast shadow.  See how that changes depending on where you hold the light.  Strong lighting will give you strong contrasting tones and can be very dynamic in your artwork.  This is ideal for still-life arrangements.   Remember, if working in colour, the early morning light will cast a slightly blue light and the late afternoon will caste a slightly yellow light.

Modelling with the correct level of tone is the key to making your drawings or paintings look convincing as if they are solid and three-dimensional.  Also conveying information about textures, bulk and weight. Without tone your drawing tells nothing about the form itself. In short, your light source, strength and direction will dictate what, where and how the shadows or tones will fall.

Let’s Ask Ourselves if we Drew a Simple Circle

Let’s ask ourselves if we drew a simple circle.  Remember in my blog post “Drawing Techniques” we talked about how you can break most things you want to draw into the 4 basic shapes that form most things in life.   We could turn that simple circle into many things. For example, a smooth and shiny dinner plate, a fuzzy ball of wool, or perhaps a smooth billiard ball just by showing tone and texture.  Remember the amount of texture or detail you show depends upon how much light is falling on your object. Where there is little light there is little detail or texture.  Most of your texture will be in the mid-tone areas.

Tone can be Difficult for a Beginner

For beginner’s tone is difficult to see and understand in colour.  It’s hard to understand how different colours have different tones when thinking about everything else like mixing the right colours and painting well. But tone is vital to give our viewer more information than just the shape and colours of the object.

About the Value Scale

So where to start?  To make sense of all this we use what we call a value scale.  By designating the various levels of lightness or darkness a number.  1 being the lightest and the highest number being your darkest (black). Some artists use a scale from 1-10 others will use a scale of 1-6.  In our course I teach with a value scale of 1-6.  This is more manageable for a beginner and will still give you the full range of tone.

Come and Lean About Tone

Come and learn about tone and much more in our Beginners Art Classes Sunshine Coast The Complete Drawing and Painting Certificate Course.  Your artwork will grow with pizzazz as your knowledge and talent grows.

Sphere-Tonal Values-Graphite. Beginners Art Classes Sunshine Coast

Sphere-Tonal Values-Coloured Pencil. Beginners Art Classes Sunshine Coast