Sunday, 1 July 2012

More Tonal Studies

Maldives Sunset
Watercolour on Paper
13.5cm x 18cm (5.25" x 7")

I’ve been living in hotels again and spending the occasional evening painting tonal sketches (see Tonal Studies).

Maggie Latham is right - tonal studies are addictive. They are a great way to unwind after a day in the office.

Simplicity is a major part of their appeal. They only need one tube of paint and it seems to take much less time to set up for them than to prepare for a normal painting session. This is probably an illusion, but it is a huge attraction for an evening activity.

Working without colour is a great simplification. It allows you concentrate on tone, texture and atmosphere without having to choose the right colours. The subtle tonal changes in the sea of the Maldives Sunset are hard enough to paint without having to try to match the colours as well. This is a preparatory study for a larger painting. Once I am happy with the tonal sketch, then I can work out how to handle the colours.

The Trent Towards Hoveringham
Watercolour on Paper
18cm x 13cm (7" x 5")

Tonal studies are a great way to mess around with paint and to learn how it behaves. Many of the results are complete eyesores and unless they are particularly funny, I don’t even show them to Elaine.


  1. Mark, so glad you are enjoying painting tonal studies…it’s great way to practise techniques and focus on the role of tonal value. You could try mixing your own neutral colour from the three primaries, or add a touch of Light Red (it’s an actual tube colour) to your Neutral Tint (actual tube colour) paint.

    1. Maggie,

      Thank you for the suggestion. Next time I will mix my own neutral. If I am painting landscapes, I will probably use Winsor Blue and Burnt Sienna. This is my favourite greeney grey mix and I think you’ve mentioned it on your blog.

      This week I am planning to paint some of the colour charts from part 5 of your Exploring Colour in Watercolour tutorial

      All the best,