Monday, October 25, 2010

Tonal Key and Value Meaning in Paintings

To see examples of my paintings expressing tonal key and values visit

Artists are born with a natural talent of energy. When this talent of energy is harnessed and artistic skills are crafted to control and master the use of this force, artistic works can be produced. It is inspiration that kindles an artist to be motivated to do something with this power, and begin their search.

Artists seek to view an object in ordinary life different than non-artists. This alternative perspective is often just the choice of selecting one reality filter over another. As the following question outlines, is the glass half empty or half full - poses an example of different reality filters. Artists often spend a life time learning the skills required to see various filters within reality.

Reality filters are emotions projected onto three-dimensional objects or situations. They are the result of how we interpret what we do or see. These results are also recorded in our memory as experiences. Some recordings in memory or real-time events can be happy or sad. However touching an experience may seem, it is this experience that the artist wishes to express to the world. It is this process that makes the artist a true artist who is left to be vulnerable and open for criticism against his or her soul.  I use the term soul in this context, because I feel a piece of an artist dies with each painting being produced. It is the death of this energy that creates a bond between this world and the afterlife that is recorded within each painting.

The combination of talent, inspiration, reality filters, and experiences typically define an artist’s chosen tonal values for a given work of art that is in the making.

Tonal key is a term that describes overall tones within a picture. It’s the story of the pictures connection between lightness and darkness. This relationship determines the pictures mood and emotional impact, and is usually defined by the artist while staring at the initial blank canvas. However, impressionists focus on capturing this relationship produced by natural light during the painting processes being executed in plain air.

Consciously defining the relationship between light and dark tones and values typically reflect the artists’ process in how he or she struggles with expressing the complexities around their reality filters. It is the relationship between this complexity and the tonal key of a work of art that makes the finished product a personal and spiritual asset.

This asset is often rewarding only to the viewer of the work of art that vicariously experiences what the artist is feeling with his or her struggle. The work of art is really a liability for the artist. He or she is able to replay experiences one may not wish to revisit over and over again when looking at the work of art.

Tone or value is simply how light or dark an area is. It is independent of color or hue. However, some colors reflect more light than others, and produce a paler effect for that hue. For example, navy blue is perceived as a darker value than sky blue, because of how the light reflects off the color. Objects tend to influence how we interpret light reflected off color as well. For example, a person’s blue shirt may be viewed as lighter in the lights direct path, while darker in the indirect path of light.

The best way to initially understand value or tone and how it works is to view a picture in black and white. Every colors value can be reflected through a black to white scale. When studying black and white pictures to better understand and see values, you will see the importance of a colors weight and how every color within the picture needs to balance with the overall picture’s harmony.

When an artist is finished painting a picture, he or she often says it “works”. A picture “works” when its energy is expressed outward reflecting a harmonious nature of power, and is balanced with the energy from its environment.

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