A little ‘first- aid kit’ for artists
Bill Breckon, from The Watermill at Posara in Northern Tuscany, where they run wonderful painting, creative writing, knitting and Italian language holidays, has sent me a “very simple but enormously effective first-aid kit” for painters. It comes from one of The Watermill painting tutors, Anne Kerr.
She says: “I make no claims to its invention, but this little kit helps you sort out the tonal values in your paintings.” Anne adds: “Tonal values would be easy to see if everything around us was black and white: some things appear very dark, some not so dark and others very light, almost glowing. But we can’t help noticing the colour of things at first glance — and colour often gets in the way when trying to sort out the values or tones of the subject.
“When starting a painting, it’s a good idea to make a black and white copy of your reference picture. If you are working on location, then just take a snap of your view on a phone or tablet. You can then change the photo to black and white very easily using various computer programmes or on a photocopier. This black and white photo will give you an excellent guide to the tonal values of your subject. You will easily see the darkest darks and the lightest lights at a glance. You can see this in my flower painting in the figure below:”
“Many people underestimate the importance of tonal contrast in their paintings. I always try to visit local amateur art exhibitions whenever I can. There are some wonderful and awe inspiring paintings out there. There are also some paintings that, although beautifully done, obviously lack something. I find that it is invariably a case of tonal values having too little variation. A few quick alterations would have made their painting stand out with new dimensions.”
So what about the first-aid kit? Easy! You can make it yourself: “Draw a series of eight to ten squares and, using one colour only (Payne’s grey is a good choice) paint each square with an increasing number of layers. The easiest way to do this is as follows: Leave square 1 alone and start at square 2. Run your brush all the way to the end. Reload, go back and start at square 3, run your brush to the end. Keep doing this until you have completed all squares. Square 1 will now have no layers of paint and square 10 will have nine layers.” See the figure below:
“Trim off the side of your paper so that your little painted chart sits right on the edge. Then take a piece of white paper or white card (about 5cm square) and punch a hole in it. An ordinary office hole- punch is perfect. “When you are not sure of the tonal value of a section of your reference picture, first make a guess at the strength of tone you need then, to see if you are correct, do the following: “Put the little piece of paper with the hole exactly over the problem area of your reference picture. Put your little tonal chart next to the hole and move it from side to side until you find a match for the tone:
“You will probably find that you have nearly always underestimated the strength of tone you require for that part of the painting.”
Anne concludes: “This is a very simple little ‘kit’ but I find it invaluable. It takes about ten minutes to make but you will not regret it. If I have a painting that is ‘not working’, I go back and check my tonal values from my reference picture and this is usually where I find my mistakes. I always have this little kit with me when I am teaching a class. It’s easy for me to tell my students that the tonal values in their paintings are not yet correct but so much nicer and more fun if they see it for themselves. “Happy painting!”
Anne Kerr, from Cornwall in the far West of England, is a professional artist with more than 30 years teaching experience. Her positive approach, her friendliness and her sense of humour ensure that every student feels really comfortable, whether a complete beginner or an experienced artist. You can find out about her course at The Watermill at Posara by clicking here.
At The Watermill they run painting holidays with expert tuition in watercolours, oils, acrylics, pastels and other media and you can find out all about all their talented and inspirational tutors and their courses by clicking here.