Expressive Painting of Venice in Watercolor
Analyzing Tonal Values and simplifying a Venice Picture!
The aim of this lesson on tonal values is to give you a better understanding of your city subject and helps with the structuring and arranging. If you are struggling to realize a theme, this may be because you haven’t fully internalized this basic skill yet. Even if you are good at realizing certain subjects, it may not be necessary to look at new themes. As every subject has its own tonal structure, each one of them requires a different approach. There are certainly many other components that play their part in the painting of an interesting picture, but getting the tonal values right is always a good start.
My approach is to simplify the complex and thereby establish order to understand the basic framework and develop it further.
Looking at a reference image of e.g. an alley in Venice, the almost endless tonal values and shapes you see may overwhelm you. And, strangely, our eye can barely distinguish between the different tonal values and shades. Facing the cityscape in real life makes it even harder. This is because many colors have the same tonal values. For example, shades of green and red have the same middle tonal value.
It is good practice to make use of reference photos. Create a black and white copy of your picture using a photo editing program. Our optic nerves tend to perceive black, white and gray tones better and distinguish between a great range of tonal values better.
Simplifying and Reducing Tonal Values
However, it is advisable to simplify and reduce the tonal values to a much smaller range of about 3-5 tones plus the white of the watercolor paper. This small tonal spectrum allows you to create great illusions in an expressive picture. Start by determining the brightest and darkest tones. These are usually quite easy to identify. Analyzing the mid-tones is slightly trickier. If you choose an odd number of mid-tone values, there is always a mid-tone precisely between the very light and very dark shade. This makes it easy to find two more tones between the middle value and the brightest/darkest tone. Try squinting your eyes or looking at the reference photograph without your reading glasses. That way, less light hits the retina and you will see similar tonal values as one.
You can use the determined tonal value range to create watercolor sketches and experiment a little. In order to find out how to create a tonal value range, I have provided one which can be downloaded from my “Free Painter’s Library”. It could be a good idea to practice by creating a couple of monochrome studies. By this, I mean the painting of a picture using these gray values of one shade. After that, try using different colors. This method lets you learn to correctly interpret and paint tonal values. Try and take it easy, as this is supposed to be fun!
In my “Free Painter’s Library” you will find a video which shows how I expressively paint a Venice canal using tonal values.