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Art In Practice and Development

Updated: May 22, 2018

Art is somewhat like Yoga. It requires practice - a lot of it. But then, most things do, don’t they? This is why we call it a Yoga Practice or an Art Practice. To this point, I was discussing in the last post how one develops a painting, a concept or an idea.

Furthering these ideas, this week I’m going to talk about tonal studies.

There are two different types of tonal studies we can do. One is using black, white and varying shades of grey, or alternatively, raw umber is often used for this.

The other technique is to do a tonal study using colour.

Generally these are done as smaller studies - or even as very small thumbnails as in the picture below.


The more traditional way of doing an oil painting was often done by beginning with a tonal study on the canvas, worked in raw umber. Below I've used raw umber and white for added lights.

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Tonal underpainting for Hinchenbrook Passage

The small black and white studies underneath are ones I have done recently to help me work through some ideas in my present series. I can take an idea for a painting and try out several different ideas, which saves me time and paint. In these ones, I was trying to figure out if a dark or a light sky would be better and what would happen if I changed the different tonal elements.

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Black and white tonal studies

The next two studies, still on the same theme, are exploring colour ideas and tone at the same time. Again I was looking at the sky, but considering colour as well this time. Also, by working through this I found that I need to redesign the window and tree branch placement as these are not working. What looked OK in a simple pencil sketch, didn’t work once I had some solid colour and tone happening.

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Coloured tonal studies

One of the things about studies is they can be as free and loose as you like. You have so much more freedom to engage with your ideas, because you are no longer working to the agenda of a ’finished’ product. In effect you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes and not be perfect. This can be really helpful if you tend to be a perfectionist or a control freak and I think nearly all of us have a little bit of that demon lurking beneath the surface somewhere!

The important thing here though is in the giving yourself permission to fail. Art only happens one pencil, pen or brushstroke at a time - and that my friends is a discussion for another day.

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