Adam Atkinson, Creative, Art Director
Adam Atkinson, Creative, Art Director

A comparison and reflection on the different styles of tonal art produced throughout history, mainly focusing on two individual artists s, Georgio Morandi and Ewan Uglow.

I am going to introduce a comparison between the different styles of tonal art in relation to two individual artists, Georgio Morandi, and Ewan Uglow. With tonal art being such a vast area I will keep my discussion focused on the styles of the two artists, as I find each style to be different and unique to the other. I will briefly introduce tonal art, the different techniques, approaches and the major influences that certain artists have had on tonal artwork throughout history before going on to discuss the different styles between my selected artists. Tonal art can be produced in colour or black and white, line or shading, block or gradient. It can take many forms and deceive the eye to create illusions or textures. Tonal art can be produced on almost any media and with digital media advances can be achieved at any scale on any object. Tone is described as ‘A quality of colour with reference to the degree of absorption or reflection of light; a tint or shade; value.’ ( A style of tonal art may be only using pencil strokes thick and thin or hard and soft. An artist named John Sargent ‘sought only to stress the detail that he thought important’ (Norman Laliberte and Alex Mogelon, Drawing with pencils, History and Modern Techniques 1969.) The image below is a portrait of a woman by John Sargent and is achieved using hard and heavy pencil strokes.

Portrait of a woman by John Sargent. (Norman Laliberte and Alex Mogelon, Drawing with pencils, History and Modern Techniques 1969)

Notice how when first glanced at the picture looks smooth and flat, however when observed close up it can be seen that the tonal work is built up through strokes of pencil at different thicknesses. Another great example of tonal work using line was produced by Saul Lambert and was called ‘Simon and Grafunkel’ notice how much white space is allowed and the forms of the nose and eyes are created only by cross contour lines at different weights.

Simon and Garfunkel by Saul Lambert. (Norman Laliberte and Alex Mogelon, Drawing with pencils, History and Modern Techniques 1969)

A different style to that was capsulated by ‘Cezanne’ whose genius was actually only realized by the turn of the twentieth century. ‘Cezanne’ attempted to prove that colour and tone values were a single element. Below are two pictures by ‘Cezanne’ which show a completely different style of shading, the outline of the figures are very bold but the shading is very subtle and smooth even when observed close up. Again ‘Cezanne’ has choose only to incorporate a slight bit of tonal on the parts he feels necessary. The drawings are two from a number of graphite preliminaries to major works that would emphasise his point on tone and colour value.

Study after Houdons Ecorche by Paul Cezanne (Norman Laliberte and Alex Mogelon, Drawing with pencils, History and Modern Techniques 1969)

There are no black outlines in nature in reality the edges are not the most major parts of an object, they are the places where the positive surface stops. When you look at nature or natural objects more precisely you see them as wholes without running your eye around the edge of the object. Looking at somebody face to face there are no black outlines you just simply take in the persons face as a whole and it is the deception of light and dark or tone that create the forms.As above it is the deception of the way the lines are contoured on the page and the thickness of them in certain places that create the form. Below is a chalk drawing that defines distance towards the contour by darkness of tone. The artist has created the impression of an outline using tone in the dark areas of the body and has also depicted the curves of the model using light and dark. The tonal work differs from the previous example because it is shaded very smoothly creating a gradient on the forms of the body, I believe this is a much more successful form of tonal art as it depicts more of a real life feel in my opinion similar to the artist Georgio Morandi which I will discuss further on.

Aristide Maillol. Reclining Nude. (Philip Rawson, The art of Drawing, 1983)

Moving further towards the scale of reducing lines in tonal art I came across a piece of art produced by Georges-Pierre Seurat of a seated women, it is produced using black crayon and in my opinion shows an excellent example of a use of just pure shading to create shape and form. I think that the use of deep dark tone to create an almost pure black gives the artwork such deepness.

Georges-Pierre Seurat. Seated Women. (Philip Rawson, The art of Drawing, 1983)

I find Italian art to be the most powerful tonal art, the way the Italian artists use tone to create shapes and forms and depict out the light and dark to deceive the eye and create such a realism compared to line and abstract forms of tone which in my opinion stray away from what the eye naturally see s and thus I believe don’t create such a depth or form about them. Such work as below by Michelangelo and Battista Franco of still life using shading to create the forms of the body create an illusion and also a perspective to the viewer that can also be achieved using line tone or block/abstract tone but again I don’t believe to the same realism degree as the tonal examples below.

Michelangelo. Christ at the column                            Batisa Franco. Seated Nude Youth.

(The contribution of Philip Pouncey. The study of Italian Drawings. 1994)

No artist in my mind in the twentieth century captured as much drama in their work as Georgio Morandi did in his small paintings of still life, flowers and landscapes. Again he was an Italian artist who grew up in small town named Bologna, his work shows relation to ‘Cezanne’ and cubism. ‘One of the few Italian artists of his generation to have escaped the taint of Fascism, and to have evolved a style of pure pictorial values congenial to modernist abstraction. Through his simple and repetitive motifs and economical use of colour, value and surface’ (Ambramowicz Giorgio Morandi: The art of silence. Janet Abramowicz 2004.) I find the way ‘Morandi’ uses the value of tones to create his work fascinating if you look closely you can see how the deep black tone gradually lightens or darkens as forms are being created and this slight on value gives the work its edge and realism, notice the picture below how the swirled vase seems to go from light to dark but still maintain its form of swirls.

Giorgio Morandi Ntura Morta still life. (Arts right society New York)

A shadow can also be seen but it is very gentle and does not over power the painting, Morandi somehow still manages to keep the texture of the surface but also adds a lower tonal value to create the shadow this again in my opinion is a great example of how the human eye would also observe it. The same can be seen in the examples below.

Morandi. Still Life



You can see where cubism and Cezanne have played and influence on Morandi in these pieces or art, however Cezanne to me tended to stray away from the subtle shading and go for a more enhanced way of depicting light and darks even by completely using a different colour such as a secondary or tertiary colour. When comparing Morandi to the artist Ewan Uglow whose style of tone is different it is interesting to see how Uglow depicts out the light and dark of the forms and the huge colour differences he uses to display this a lot more like Cezanne. Uglow is a British artist who often painted the human figure and still life his work uses block tone to differentiate the differences between the light and dark areas. Notice below how compared to Morandi the way Uglow uses block s of colour to create the shading on the pear rather than a smooth gradient like Morandi. In my opinion it is not as effective as to me it creates a block like structure because the eye cannot gradually move round a gradient it has to see one bock of colour then skip to the next to perceive the form.

Ewan Uglow. Pears still life.


I still think the way Uglow achieves the tonal value of the green colour is very effective however I feel Morandi s way of smoothly allowing the eye to see his forms is more effective. I can see the Uglows way could be more perceived as abstract although he does keep a certain distinction of reality in his work the way it is blocked on to me just isn’t realism in still life, although I am open to other forms of realism and appreciate there technique my favourite is the approaches of Morandi and other Italian Artists such as Michelangelo. Another example of Uglows block tonal work can be seen in this still life painting of a figure where the body seems to be made up of segments of tone, this can be a lot like line tonal art as that is a collective of lines in places to create the form where as this is a collective of certain tonal colour values grouped together to create the form.

Ewan Uglow. Still Life figure.  (

In conclusion there are many types of tonal art on all kinds media and the way each distinctive artist uses tone to create there work gives the viewer a different experience, to me when I look at smooth deep tonal work with slight values of colour to create form such as Morandi, I see depth and a certain link to real life viewing compared to when I see work such as Uglows I see blocks of different colour that relate flat shapes but each viewer is to there own and there is no right or wrong way it is just an expression of the Artists perception.



Nicholas Turner, 1994. The study of Italian Drawings, The contribution of Philip Pouncey, Great Britian BAS Printers Limited Over Wallop Hampshire.

ISBN: 0714126020

Janet Abramowicz, 2004. Georgio Morandi: The art of silence, Yale University Press New Haven and London.

ISBN: 0-300-10036-I

Norman Laliberte, Alex Mogelon 1969. Drawing with pencils, History and Modern Techniques. Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 450 west 33rd street New York.

Philip Rawson 1983. The Art of Drawing An instructional guide, John Calmann and cooper ltd, London

ISBN: 0 356 095002 2

Hazel Harrison 2004. The Encyclopaedia of Drawing Teachniques, Simon and Schuster pty limited 20 Baracoo Street East Roseville NSW 2069,

ISBN 0 7318 1222 0







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *