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How to depict tonal values

Question from Theresa Morelli

I am desperately seeking art skills as I have just discovered that I love creating art and beauty. I have been taking watercolor lessons and learning that I need to have drawing skills to continue to grow. I am having difficulty with use of value in my drawings. Can you suggest a means of developing an understanding of value and the application of it?

Feedback from Vladimir London, Drawing Academy tutor

Dear Theresa,

It is great that you love watercolor. I have to say that it is one of the most difficult mediums to master.

Yes, you are right, drawing is the foundation of all visual arts and good painting is well drawn, especially in watercolor, where you don’t have a second chance to re-draw anything.

Regarding values in drawing, it is very simple. Imagine that you are looking at a black and white picture. Tones of gray from white to black are values. In real life we see in color, yet all those colors come with values – some places and objects are darker than others and some lighter.

In watercolor it is especially important to depict tonal values; it is even more important than getting colors right. Colors can vary; as long as you use cold or warm colors for a particular place in your artwork, the hue of any particular color can be whatever you decide.

For example, a red apple will look like an apple whether you paint it using orange, yellow, red, or violet hues as long as tonal values describe its shape.

Here’s a good exercise to practice tonal values in watercolor:

Take just one paint, sepia, or neutral tint, for example, and paint an entire artwork, let’s say a still-life, using just that single color. This technique is called grisaille.

You can check my watercolor grisaille below:

How to depict tonal values - watercolor by Vladimir London
Watercolor by Vladimir London
ÓPTIMO – Kolinsky sable and RESERVA – Kolinsky-tajmyr sable Escoda watercolor brushes
Saunders Waterford CP(NOT) Paper

To your creative success,

Vladimir London
Drawing Academy tutor

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Yudit Eszterhazy-Mieczyslaw says:

    Hi Vladimir,

    I am looking at your incredibly beautiful grisaille painting and wonder: how many lifetimes have you spent to reach this level of mastery?

    Yudit Eszterhazy-Mieczyslaw

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