Simply put, painting in tones with watercolor is shading or changing the tones of the color from light to dark and vice versa. An analogy is a charcoal sketch where the shades changes from white to black to illustrate the depth and differences that light affects the object or the image. In watercolor as in other coloring mediums, this is not so easy to achieve. The main reason is that artists could be distracted by the appeal of colors that often results to imbalance.

But creating tones in watercolor is very important. Sometimes it is even more important than the color itself. To draw an analogy, a pianist for example might be good at reading sheet music and might have perfectly disciplined fingers to run throughout all the keys with ease but if he cannot coordinate his feet on the damper pedal, the resonance of chords will overlap and so will every key pressed that instead of music, all that is produced is a cacophony of noises. Watercolor art works the same way. As Henri Matisse once said, "There (a painting) should be a relationship and a living harmony of all the tones".

Tones could be created with all colors, although lighter colors such as yellow will have less color tone possibilities than the darker colors such as reds and blues. Even so light colors could appear darker when surrounded by darker colors. This is also a tonal variation, a color illusion if you will that artists use and make adjustments but who gained first an understanding of color behavior.

Every good artist has to different degrees, practiced first on a grey value scale. A grey value scale is separated into 10 sections with the topmost color being pure white and the remaining nine is shaded 10% increments darker until the tenth or the bottom color is black. Comparing color tones based on the grey value scale gives the artist a very good idea on how color tones differ and how best to apply it. It also allows the artist uniformity on color tone application.

To achieve a good command at color toning, practice by painting a grey scale using black and white paints. Start with a white block at the opposite end and a black paint at the other and mix them in different range of grey. If you are starting from the darkest color the best way that this is done is to apply water as you go up the scale.

Once you can paint well with grey values, you can apply the same method with the colors that you use frequently. After that you can paint a value scale of all the colors that you have in your palette. These value scales will prove very important when you do actual watercolor work, as these tones are what you will use for color and tone referencing.

While working on the grey scale, you might be tempted to use white as you go to the lighter shades of grey. When painting a color scale however, it is not advisable since the color intensity will be lost. This practice always provided artists a very good working idea on how tones are created. Painting in tones is time well spent.


Man has used pigments that are basically water based since he started to learn to color the images that he has created. The history of watercolor paintings dates so far back that dates and origins has lost its significance in its contextual value. One fact remains; it is the oldest coloring medium that man has made in his struggle for self-expression.

The popularity of watercolor remained to this day. It is the most widely used medium as far as users are concerned and it is the subject of so many studies, development, and enhancements. During the renaissance though, more popular mediums like oils and its derivatives eclipsed the use of watercolor in more exacting art renditions. This is so because watercolor mixes are less stable than its coloring counterparts are. Watercolor tends to fade very fast with time. To top this, pigments especially in the blue hues easily flakes and become powdery and cannot hold its color for very long. The brilliance that are the main beauty of watercolor painting pales easily when exposed to light over a period of time unlike oils and acrylics.

No matter the shortcomings, watercolor was experimented and in fact used by masters too many to mention here. For commercial viability though, watercolor fails and so oils and acrylics were preferred as it commands a higher price. Even in today's art auctions, seldom are watercolor prints sold except maybe when works of Wassily Kandisky, Pol Ledent, and their contemporaries are placed on the block and these are 20th century artists. Nonetheless, watercolor held its own. It did not become passé. It stayed in the background neither relegated to the forgotten category and neither very popular.

When book printing started on a grander scale, watercolor as a tool of illustration was the main, medium used. It is inexpensive, portable, light maintenance and the most practical. In the middle of the 18th century, watercolor use saw its initial revival, a rebirth people say. Its use became popular in the nobility and the bourgeois. Nonetheless, artists and illustrators late into this period still buy and mix their own pigments and the pigments come mostly in primary colors. This was the time that manufacturers and inventors started taking a second notice of its potential and market appeal.

Indeed watercolor pigments were developed. It still retained its basic pigments but a different binder, moist retainer, and plasticizer were included and modified. Today, watercolor has four levels of light fastness to choose from where it has very minimal durability to light compared to before. Paper was also developed. Were an ordinary white paper will suffice previously, there are now papers that are manufactured solely for watercolor purposes from the inexpensive watercolor specialty papers to the lint free papers of different grades. The quality is further enhanced when done on top quality archival paper. Today also, watercolor art can outlast oil and acrylic because of these recent technological developments adopted in its manufacture.

Until recent developments, the history of watercolor paintings has taken a long nap if you will. No matter, it is and remains a very wonderful medium to work on. Different challenges maybe but so are the rewards.