View Full Version : Color in General

02-24-2009, 07:03 PM
please dont laugh at me. ive been wanting to ask these questions for a while.

1. What exactly is a midtone? Can you give some examples and usage?

2. How do you know when you see a midtone?

3. How do midtones apply to portraiture, still life, plein air, landscape?

4. When you "squint", what exactly are you looking for and how does one know when they see it?

i have way more questions. dont want to get booed out of wet canvas so ill hold back for now.

02-24-2009, 07:14 PM

I got some links :


As for squinting, one tries to define values better.
When you squint, the perception of hue (colour) reduces and the differences between values (darks and lights) are enhanced (unless you only had 4 hours sleeping :-) )

Kind regards,


I search for the word on the freedictionary and wasn't found...

02-24-2009, 08:33 PM
1. What exactly is a midtone? Can you give some examples and usage?

A midtone is not the darkest nor the lightest color; it's in the middle. Midtones, though, can range from darker to lighter. An example would be an apple in bright light. The highlight would be your lightest and the shadow side would be your darkest. Everything else would be a midtone, though there would be lighter to darker colors, just not the extreme light and dark. A true midtone would be in the middle between lightest and darkest.

You could have dark - midtone - light, or
dark - darker midtone - midtone - lighter midtone - light, or
any number of breakdowns.

2. How do you know when you see a midtone?

Compare it to the lightest and darkest colors. If you are comparing several reds, you can hold them next to one another to find the lighter and darker colors.

3. How do midtones apply to portraiture, still life, plein air, landscape?

In a landscape under an overcast sky, the grass is a midtone, the sky is your lightest, tree trunks in shadow are your darkest. That's a very simple description. Lighting, strong to dim and direct to diffused, affects what are the darkest and the lightest points and the distance between them.

When doing a portrait, a mid-brown might be your darkest color with a pale cream or grey your lightest color. No, eyes and teeth are not pure white. If a mid-brown were your darkest color, then a cream could be your midtone.

4. When you "squint", what exactly are you looking for and how does one know when they see it?

When you squint, you no longer see the true chroma of the colors. They grey somewhat. Also, you lose the distinct edges of objects. You are looking for light, middle, and dark areas.

When you are using your pastels, you are not locked into what you see. You can lessen contrast and dim your colors in the distance and increase the contrast and colors around your center of interest. Squinting is a guide.

Deborah Secor
02-24-2009, 08:42 PM
A midtone isn't a color, it's a value range. If you turn the color photo to grayscale, the dark and light pattern is the value or tone of the color.

In a painting, depending on the darkest dark and the lightest light used in the piece, the middle tone (or value) falls roughly at the halfway point. Midtones help to create volume. For instance, in this painting of a rose hip there's a strip of medium turquoise and cobalt blue where the spherical shape turns. That's the midtone that makes the volume.



You can see that this would apply to still life, portraits, and landscapes in many different ways. In my opinion, the halftone area is often the most colorful. Look at it this way--the lightest plane gets sort of bleached out by the direct sun; the darkest plane is mostly lost in shadows; but the midtone area is colorful because it isn't bleached or shadowed.

As for squinting, I tell my students to squint until they're virtually seeing the image through crossed eyelashes (with one eye only), in order to remove the distraction of color and details. That helps to show you the underlying value patterns in the painting, and then you can compare the values. Like values blur into each other, becoming one shape. If your mountains are too dark, let's say, when you squint you can't tell them from the the pine trees. Obviously it's time to lighten up those mountains!


02-25-2009, 07:04 AM
Perfect questions! Terms people use and take for granted are usually not that obvious to newbies, so it is great of you to ask. Besides, it is really good for those who have used them to try to explain them, as one often discovers that it is not so clear and easy...

You've gotten some great answers, so I'd just like to add some personal observations.

Midtone: If we simplify things a bit, and use only three values, then the midtone becomes obvious: a light, a midtone, and a dark. What complicates things is that the terms are relative to each other. A white, a grey, and a black are the unambiguous clear ones, but what happens when we have a white, a cream, and a beige? We get a high key (=light) painting where the cream is the midtone.

OK, 3 values dealt with. What happens when there are 7 values, then? Often they would be called something like this, going from light to dark: Highlight, light, mid-light, midtone, mid-dark, dark, darkest dark/accent.

Colours do have their intrinsic values. A pure yellow is usually of the highlight, light, or mid-light value, never darker. While an ultramarine blue can have the whole range, depending on how much white is added to it. A pure ultramarine would be dark, but if it is *the* darkest in a painting, it would function as darkest dark.

Squinting: Just let the eylids droop, about as much as would make a text in a book into a grayer mass with a lighter border in the margins. (Don't wrinkle up your whole face, that will make your muscles tire.) It makes values group together, so you can choose one value for blocking in a group of trees, or a lawn, or something, that has a myriad of values. You do it to simplify and to find the common denominator value of a mass. You know you see it when what you're looking at is so simplified that you can give one value/colour to the group of trees, the lawn, etc.

Then, you can also use squinting to see the underlying colour of the light, which is good for blocking in masses too.

Blocking in: The first colour and value statements you put down on paper.

Midtones applied: This also varies (seems like *everything* in painting is relative!). It can function as the bridge between light and dark, and take up relatively little space on the painting, as in the borderlands between lighted side and shadow side on a portrait. It can also make up most of the painting, say a landscape on an overcast day, where values are evened out, and you may have just one little dark accent (open door in barn) and one light or highlight (single ray of sun hitting corner of roof of barn).