It applies to both viewer and artist. If you can’t understand tonal value you can’t appreciate art. In this blog we are only covering how this concept applies to the artists. It is very easy to identify those who don’t understand tonal values; to be able to express tonal value effectively is to master it applies not only to two-dim painting or to three-dim sculpture. This is the case of when “what you don’t know you don’t know” becomes the chasm between your vision and your ability to effectively communicate that vision to your viewer (without them understanding how t v contributed to that.
When I started writing this blog, I first thought that this statement (Einstein’s) was reflection on me. But it also applies to you as artist. You have to understand the t v to the point that you can explain it to your viewer without the viewer understanding the concept the value of that. T v is the only the thing that matters. This is what Picasso meant when he said: when I run out of red I paint it blue. The statement above, Everybody thinks that he meant color; no, he meant the tonal value.
In my current series of classes I will be covering how tonal value is used to express in 2-d art volume, shape, distance, create rhythm and balance.
Now I understand why. By substituting boxes for the human form, I simplified all the facets to the maximum of three surfaces for each segment of the body: the head, the shoulders, the arms, the torso, the hips, the legs.
Understanding of the tonal value by making it as simple as possible through use of cubistic shapes. thereby simplifying expression of form to a manageable number of tonal values. I took a complex concept and make it simple. I simplified it by using cubes.
Curvaceous form, such as live reclining model, has a limitless number of “facets” (surfaces are referred to as “facets”), whereas a square or rectangular box has only three that can be seen by the viewer at any one time.
It made me realize how brilliant the Einstein‘s statement is of taking a concept and make it simple to explain a complex concept. in how the great masters had this tremendous understanding of how simplifying the form
My point was to simplify and it worked and the 8-year old student Masha, just learning English, all the way up to my most experienced students who painted in access of 20 years – everyone found this exercise interesting, challenging and enlightening, coming out with a deeper appreciation of tonal value.
This is the technique used by the 15-century masters to train their apprentices.
The objective was to use cubistic shapes and understanding how tonal value is used to shape the human form.
Artists anticipated a contemporary approach in the style of Picasso [cubist image], but I introduced them to the old-masters’ approach, in the style of the classic XV – XVI-century art training.
I intended to demonstrate how the Great Masters taught their apprentices. The concept of drawing rounded forms as “facets” was invented long before Cubists. Artists observed that an object appears three-dimensional due to light and shadow. To express the form, they drew a faceted version of any curvaceous shape, simplifying the body to basic geometry [Einstein]: with this approach, a sphere, for example, would be drawn as a cube. To depict how the light changes the tone, and the tone would express the volume.
Human head initially sketched through a cube provided a very important tonal expression of the form. These simplified, dark-and-light facets also were a means to a rhythm in a composition.
A cube, with its top surface lit from above, sides – in semi-shade, and the darkened bottom expresses. [real object in the spot-light, or video of me drawing it]
To teach his pupils, German artist Albrecht Durer (15th-16th century) produced cubistic-looking studies of faces and figures, that resembled the 20th-century art by Braque or Picasso! [Durrer]
It is the light that reveals the dimensionality of the objects around us, visually “sculpting” them; it is the tone (darker or lighter) that creates the same 3-D illusion on paper or canvas. [students art from the class]
The value of replacing a live model with boxes [the positive result from drawing the boxes] will be especially appreciated in the following class, when the students will begin to see the facets on a live model’s body, as she will be reclining on black velvet in the same pose illuminated by a spot-light.
Having connected in their mind, how the slant of a facet relates to the light, thus acquiring a particular tonality, the student will gain the most important skill (the hardest skill to grasp and the one that is related to mastery of painting), students will be able to see the tonality, simplify the form and express its volume.
Structure, especially in a voluptuous body, is not very obvious. It’s easy to forget about the tone: the eye is overwhelmed by the amount of visual information. Busy with painting a pretty picture, artists often replace tonal expression of volume with “rounding”.
This exercise brings into focus: A. composing; B. awareness of the structure, form and tone; C. eliminates the distractions like color, anatomy, details and texture.
You can try this at home – gather several boxes, one large for the bottom, one medium for the torso, 8 elongated boxes for the legs and arms, small box for the head, and, with the light from above, you can practice the Old-Masters or the Cubist’s style.
Understanding Tonal Value – Simplified Version. [Drawing from an Arrangement of Boxes Shaped as a Reclining Figure].
Fig. 1. Old Master’s drawing.
Study by Luca Cambiaso, 1527-1585
How a seemingly disastrous situation: my model calling in sick(!) 30 minutes before the start of the class last Saturday, turned into one of the most successful classes on tonal value ever.
Imagine the surprise of my art students coming to the figure drawing class, expecting to see a live model and to discover a mattress covered with cardboard boxes, arranged to resemble a “cubistic” reclining female figure on a deep-black cloth.
As my students will tell you, I stress or mention tonal value in almost every class, I’ve taught tonal values for years, but results were always hit-or-miss. Every art student learns tonal value at their own pace – that’s what I thought based on the results I consistently saw. Some picked it up faster than others, but all took some time to finally understand it and apply it in their paintings. What surprised me about this class was how the ‘light went off’ in every student as to how important tonal value is to defining shape.
The concept of tonal value is very elusive to someone who does not see it. But once you understand it and recognize it, you can’t help but see it in all things. It is the most important of the painter’s skills: stronger than the line, stronger than the shape and stronger than the color. Master this, and regardless of how bizarre the shape, how poorly you draw or what colors you use in your palette – the painting will be impressive. Failure to express tonal value results in flat, lifeless, boring art.
Reclining figure made of boxes.
Next week I will be covering how the Old Masters taught tonal value to their apprentices.
Please feel free to post comments or ask any questions.
Drawing is multi-tasking. There are many issues that the artist should deliberately address in drawing. With practice, this awareness turns into the ability to see. I have been asked a lot to publish a list of these issues. I recommend to all my students (and other artists) to print it out and use it as a guide.
Your painting style depends on many things: your temperament, speed, intention, inspiration, skill, even how much paint you squeeze on your palette! One rarely considered factor is the way you hold your brush. It effects the character of your painting. You can change or acquire a new style by adopting a new grip. Continue reading
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