Art Tips

What Is Tone In Drawings?

I often get asked ‘What is tone?’ so I thought I’d write some brief notes to see if it helps anyone. 

Essentially tone is light and dark.  It’s the effect of light hitting an object – getting this right will make your painting look three dimensional!

But how do I know what is light and what is dark?

That may seem obvious. But, if you’ve never looked at something with a view to painting it you’ve probably not noticed the subtle changes in the colours of an object.

Two quick ways to work this out are to do the following:

Take a photo and change your photo settings to black and white

This will instantly give you the tonal value of what you’re looking at.

what is tone

what is tone

You can check out some of my beautiful cat commissions here.

Look At Your Picture And Squint

To practice using tone deliberately try painting in just black and white. This will give you an appreciation of the effect tone has on your drawing.

Colour can often ‘get in the way’ when you are learning about tone and shading.

what is tone

what is tone

Once you feel comfortable with tone start to add some colour!

When you look at an image to paint, choose three shades of each colour you intend to use.

So if for example you want to paint a red rose (I’ll be using these in a lot of examples!) select three shades of red…

  1. Dark red – for the areas in shadow
  2. Light red – for the areas in light
  3. Medium red – for the areas in between

You can use just the light and dark and then blend the two colours on the paper, however this is only possible for some mediums and for images where the minority of the image is in the mid-tone range.

I hope this helps and if you would like any further details or a mini workshop in this subject please let me know and I’ll be happy to create some content for you.

what is tone

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