Tones in landscape painting

Many newcomers to painting find the terms ‘tone’ and ‘value’ confusing: what is their significance and how do they relate to colour? The two terms actually mean the same thing in painting, that is, the degree of darkness or lightness of a colour. With indigo, for example, you can obtain a very dark tone by not adding too much water, but when you reduce its intensity with water you will achieve a lighter tone, and thus it is possible to create a wide range of tones. In comparison, however, a lemon yellow will have a much smaller range of tones because it is a far lighter colour.

In this extremely simple watercolour you can see how tones have been used effectively to highlight the cottage by describing its outline with a mass of dark green tone behind it. The roof is a mid-tone which sits well between the white wall and dark background. The pathway remains light in tone, though slightly darker under the trees where it is caught in shadow, and it is defined by making the adjacent ground darker. This darker ground ranges from quite dark in the foreground to being almost imperceptible in places. The light-toned field between cottage and foreground trees helps to show up the dark tree-trunks and fenceposts.

I don’t cover tones in great depth in all my books, but my Learn to paint Watercolour Landscapes has a useful section on the subject, and signed copies can be obtained from our shop.

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