Tonal Harmony in Oil Painting

In the past tonal harmony has been a common practice amongst master artists. This practice however, has spanned and extended into an extent much more difficult to comprehend today. The techniques in the past had been to aim for the harmony of tones, for example gaining a pleasing pattern in balancing light and dark. Some have added a yellowing varnish to paintings which spoiled many effects applied in painting that led most people to prefer livelier colours. Nevertheless the value of tones still remains crucial and is essential in the majority of paintings. If an artist observes and studies past master works containing tonal harmony, the artist trains the eyes to properly appreciate many artworks.

There are modern and traditional artists, both working in different and distinct ways that achieved great effects in their paintings. The implication of the source of light and portraying how objects appear to be under the source of light were inescapable in the traditional way of painting. In the traditional way of art, all depictions had to convince the eyes of viewers and make sense to them. Apart from that, the presence of tones in paintings meant a painting automatically assumed its own distinct aesthetic dimension. This is to say that tones are an imperative element in composition. Modern artworks however set themselves on high tones, and have a much smaller range of tones compared to the traditional way of painting.

Some general principles about tonal harmony are the light and shadow of a painting, and the use of colours to achieve harmony in oil painting. Light and shadows are present in the world, and same it is in painting, these entities exist in all paintings since paintings are a reflection of life and the world. The concept of light and shadows are encapsulated in the highlights in a painting. The brighter surface where the source of light hits an object is known as a highlight, and highlights appear when there is a change of direction of a plane. Artists should observe and imagine what is happening and paint highlights according to what is observed or imagined. Another factor that relates directly to the lighting in paintings is that viewers always centre their interest on the light so artists should consider shaping highlights to lead the eyes of viewers as the artist desires. Controlling tones is much more abstruse and difficult as compared to colours, so artists should try to keep tones simple and work tones out beforehand. As for using colours to achieve tonal harmony in an oil painting, there are several things artists need to consider in applying colours to their paintings, for example artists should try using more colours to achieve brightness rather than merely using white, and artists should be careful while picking on transitional colours as the selected colours should not be noticeable. These general principles, if worked out properly can have a great effect on an artist’s oil painting.

Beyond the basic principles are practical experience and observations of the artworks of past master artists. Artists will pick up more experience as they venture into the oil painting world since a sense for tonal harmony comes through experience and by observing the works of past master artists.


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