Things that make your painting work!

Old Coach, Watercolour

Old Coach, Watercolour

After the initial drawing and then covering your canvas or paper with paint it is time to keep your eye on the ‘tonals’.  A painting can be beautifully executed in several colours but still doesn’t ‘work’. It is the ‘tones’ the darks and lights, which make it work. A painting can be quite ordinary but if it has good tones it will look great anyway!

Many of the darker shades can be predicted. There is always a dark shade around the bottom edge of things or when things change direction. For example where a hedge of bushes meet the land in a landscape. Where the nude model connects to the cover she is laying on on. Where a tree meets the ground. Check your light source and the darks will be on the opposite side. A tree may be lit up on the right by light but the left side will be dark. There are many others areas.

Lady of Paris Acrylic/Mixed media

When checking for tones stand well back and ‘squint’ at your work and you can see the tonals. Remember tones are simply depth of colour – how dark!


Colours that recede: Purple Blue & mixes. Muted colours. Colours that come forward: Red Yellow Orange & mixes + Clear colours Detail is strong in the foreground and softens in the background – sometimes to almost nothing. It may also fade and soften in the foreground depending where your focus is.

Shadows: Usually shadows are lilac/purple but with reflected colours from other surroundings. I prefer they are not made to be black! They need ‘reflected’ lights in them.

Focus: Foreground has more detail. Distance is more soft, indistinct and paler and maybe with lilac/purple reflections. Purple/lilac used to dull colours. Raw Sienna or burnt sienna will dull bright colours.

Tones and Hue:  Tone means ‘depth of colour’ or how dark your colour is. Hue means ‘type’ of colour or shade. Eg. red blue yellow…

Accents: Use ‘lost and found’ edges on flowers or nudes. The eye will compensate and make it work.

Pull and push: Put light against dark and dark against light as often as possible to get subjects and focus to stand out.

Now…Take out some old paintings and give them the once over with your critical eye. Find what you can do to make them ‘sing’!!!!