How to teach tone in art

Updated November 21, 2016

Tone describes the depth of a colour in a drawing or a painting. The tone, not the colour itself, is what gives the picture light and dark qualities. Tone ranges from very light and subtle to a dark and vivid imprint. Tone can be created by shading a picture with different values of a colour. Tone helps artists create dimension on a flat surface. Lightly shading an area makes the area seem closer, and darker spots seem further away.

Show students black and white photographs, and point out how the colour values range from pure white to black, with many shades of grey in between.

Tell the students that "tone," is what gives these pictures the contrast, explain that the different shades of white, grey and black are a range of colour used to create depth in the picture.

Give students one colour crayon, pencil or pastel, and a white sheet of paper.

Allow students to practice shading, seeing how light and dark they can get their colour to appear.

Practice shading with your students by having them create a value scale. Instruct students to draw five adjacent squares on a piece of white paper.

Instruct the students to leave square one white.

Instruct the students to colour in square five as dark as they can.

Instruct students to colour in square three using medium pressure, so the shading is not too light, but not as dark as square five.

Instruct students to colour in square two very lightly, lighter than square three.

Instruct students to colour in square four darker than square three but lighter than square five.

Allow students to play around with shading light and dark areas, and using light and dark shading to create depth.

Assign a still life drawing project to assess what they have learnt about tone and shading.


Show students paintings and still life drawings that use tone well, creating dimension and light and dark qualities.

Things You'll Need

  • Black and white photos
  • Pastels, coloured pencils or chalk
  • White paper
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About the Author

Melissa Gagnon began writing professionally in 2010. Her expertise in education, research and literature allows her to write knowledgeably for various websites. Gagnon graduated from Gordon College with a Bachelor of Science in English and education. She then attended Salem State College and completed a master's degree in teaching English as a second language.