Wednesday, 10 July 2013


After the success of the colour wheel project and to continue exploring colour as a theme, this session looked at creating an educational workshop to explore tone.

A simple exercise that is suitable for Key Stage 2 and older learners is to build a tonal wash: Pick a colour and squeeze into your paint tray, with a wide brush paint a strip across the top of your paper, add a little water and paint another strip that slightly overlaps the first one, keep adding a little water at a time and painting strips until the paper is filled and you have a graduated tonal range. The above image shows this tonal range which has been cut up and rearranged on a background. It demonstrates the contrast between the tones really well.

Play around with different colours and techniques.

I introduced a tone workshop to the children in my after-school art and craft club who are mostly Key Stage 1 by showing them pictures from Picasso's blue period and explained that we can make many different types of blue or any other colour by making it lighter or darker.

We tried a tactile approach with some home-made balls of black and white playdough ( the recipe for this is 2 posts down in Colour Theory) and asked the children to make as many different tones inbetween as they could. Although they were able, they did this without much enthusiasm and became bored quite quickly.

So with further explanantion, a finished sample and a pre-prepared blank exercise sheet we started painting. Some children showed a natural understanding and appreciation of tone and subtle differences whilst others did as they were instructed but didn't really understand what they were doing or why.

Tone is quite a sophisticated subject for children to understand and didn't excite this group anywhere near the way that bright colours do. Without research I couldn't say if their visual abilities havn't developed enough at this stage in their development but this could be the reason why. However it is still interesting to observe what engages particular age groups and what does not in art education.

It was also interesting to watch a particular 5 year old's progress when she was left to her own devices. She did a very good job for her age with her exercise sheet and following instruction without much additional help. She was then allowed to continue exploring tone with a colouring-in sheet, you can see below (middle picture) that working with 1 colour was way too limiting for her and when she had become bored of that the hands came out! A 2 hour session with one 15 minute break is a very long time for someone of her age to engage in one activity so I think she did a fantastic job and had a lot of fun too.

In summary, when teaching about tone, because it is a complex subject I would definitely advise thinking carefully about the age group that the session was being aimed at and how best to present the information. With young children I would now prefer to approach the subject as a whole class game activity e.g. ask everyone to paint or choose a colour sample and then holding that colour see if the class can arrange themselves in a lighter-or-darker order and see how they negotiate the task. You could also prompt them with open questions such as "Where's the middle?"

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