Oil Painting Without Drawing™
The Art of Tonal Impressionism by Dominic Vignola
Stop Drawing and Start Painting!™

The tonal painting method is one which uses a totally non-linear, mass approach to painting values of light and dark (chiaroscuro). Forms and shapes come about naturally as a net result of correct tonal contrasts.
Lines do not exist in nature so beginning a painting by drawing outlines is starting with a falsehood.  Great tonalists such as Titian, Velázquez, Rembrandt, Corot, Chardin, Raeburn, and many others abandoned drawing on the canvas in favor of a purely visual, tonal painting approach.

SEEING AND PAINTING: Though the subject may be the same for all observers, how the artist interprets what is seen varies greatly.  In tonal impressionism a shift in thinking occurs whereby the artist stops seeing reality as shapes separated by lines and begins to see the world in a purely visual way. Visual reality is made up simply of areas of light and darks tones.  In linear (drawn) painting, lines are places on the canvas to represent the shape and boundaries of the subject.  These drawn shapes are later filled in with tones to represent the subject.  In tonal impressionism, loosely defined light and dark tones are placed on the canvas. These rough light and dark shapes are then refined and adjusted, made bigger or smaller, lighter or darker, until the images becomes defined enough to represent the subject.

SQUINTING is essential, but you need to squint not only at the subject, but also at your painting.  You should see both the subject and the painting under the same set of conditions.  Assessing your work from a distant viewpoint (of at least 10 feet) is also important in order to pick up errors in shape and placement, and also to see whether the tonal relationships are accurate.  See in the demos that step one is like seeing out of focus.  Here one value is given to each area in the painting.  Squint less at each subsequent step, adding two values at step 2, three values and then four values, each time opening your eyes a little wider and taking in more detail.  Step four could be considered finished if you desire a looser style, or go to all five values, with the edges sharpened on the light side, and small shapes and details added.


1. LOOK - Observation involves looking at the subject without any preconceived notions as to its meaning.

2. THINK - Analysis means taking these observations and determining the TONE (how light or dark), the COLOR (green, blue, red, etc.) and the INTENSITY (bright or dull color) of a given area.  These elements are translated into paint, mixing on the palette.

3. PAINT - Expression involves placing the paint mixture on the canvas in the proper shape and size and in the correct place.  When all of these elements are repeated correctly, the painting will eventually match the subject and the work will be completed.

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