Lesson 2 Watercolour - Tone & Value

'Into The Light' - 'There is no light without dark and no dark without light'

Value is the key to the illusion of light!

tonal light painting

 ‘An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1768

Although it tells a very sad story I love this painting for the artists’s use of tone/value.

It hangs in London’s National Gallery.

I must have stared at it for a long time,

it is years ago but I remember it very clearly.

This is when it dawned on me that it was the darkness that gave it the light.

Tonal Value

Here is a tonal value scale, where all shades between white and black have been broken down into 10 values.

This is definately in the top 3 of things you need to learn as an artist.

Learn to recognise how light or dark a tone needs to be within your painting and you are half way there.

watercolour tones
watercolour tones

Same value, different colour.

TOP: Here you see two swatches of different colour a light and dark purple.

BOTTOM: The second picture below is the same photograph turned to black and white showing that they both have the same tonal value.

Why is tone important?

With tone you can do three great things to your paintings:

  1. You can produce the illusion of depth in your paintings, by making the distant elements seem futher away. (see Lesson 5 ‘Atmospheric Perspective’.)                                                                    
  2. You can add ‘punch’ to your ‘focal point’ or ‘center of interest, i.e. drawing the eye to that part of your painting. (see Lesson 4 ‘Composition’) by placing your darkest darks and lightest lights in the  focal point area.
  3. Give form to an object, i.e. make it look solid.
Watercolour Painting