Midtones provide the support for the painting; they help to integrate all the shapes and colors. In many ways, they carry the painting. What are midtones? Let’s first clear up any confusion between “value” and “tone.” “Value” and “tone” mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably. The tonal value of a color is simply how dark or light it appears to be. The value scale runs from darkest dark (black) to brightest light (white); every color has a value equivalent somewhere on that graduated scale.
We perceive light through contrast, but the painting must consist of more than strong contrasts in tonal values. The balance of the painting consists of midtones. Without midtones, the flowers will lack form; they won’t make sense visually and they won’t seem to be reflecting light. The artist who paints light or white flowers has to work subtly, showing both strong and moderate contrasts between light, medium and dark values.
Joe Anna Arnett is the author of Painting Sumptuous Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers in Oil (North Light Books). She’s taught still life and flower painting at the Scottsdale Artists’ School and has conducted workshops across the United States and in Canada, Italy and France.