Studio Fu: Check Tone with Your Phone | Jen Dixon | Skillshare

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Studio Fu: Check Tone with Your Phone

teacher avatar Jen Dixon, Abstract & figurative artist, educator

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Studio Fu: Intro and Materials Needed


    • 2.

      Studio Fu: The Technique


    • 3.

      Studio Fu: How to Use in Your Art


    • 4.

      Other Classes: There's More to Do Than Fu


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About This Class


Studio Fu is a new series of classes designed to quickly introduce you to tips and tricks I've picked up or made up in my art practice.

Studio Fu is my take on Kung Fu, which literally means “time spent at skilful work.”
Studio Fu classes are short, and will help you make the most of your time, tools, and techniques as an artist.

In this episode of Studio Fu, I'll show you how to check tone in your art using your smartphone or tablet.


My iPhone is a crucial tool in my studio. I use it to document my progress on works, update my followers on social media, and to troubleshoot tone. In fact, making phone calls is the rarest thing I do with it!

In this quick class, I'll show you how critical tone is for creating paintings with depth and "pop," how to see it using your smart devices, and how it translates with real world examples of my own work. Although I show abstract art in this class, I use this same technique in figurative work too.

In this seven minute Studio Fu, I'll change the way you look at colour in your work. Get your phones charged, we have work skilful fu to do.


Meet Your Teacher

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Jen Dixon

Abstract & figurative artist, educator

Top Teacher

Whether you want to learn new skills or brush up on rusty ones, I would love to help. I have been a selling artist for around 35 years. In my own practice I use pen & ink, pastels, oils, acrylics, and watercolours regularly. My work hangs in private collections around the world.
I love what I do, and I teach what I love. We can do good things together here, so let's get started...

About me:
I’m an Ameri-Brit (dual citizen), living on the North Cornwall coast of the UK. I’ve been here nearly two decades, but have lived in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Berkshire (UK). I am studying Spanish daily with an aim for becoming bilingual. Hola, artistas.

My work covers everything from graffiti-influenced illustration & mixed m... See full profile

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1. Studio Fu: Intro and Materials Needed: Hi, I'm Jen Dixon, artist and tutor, and I've been selling my work for over 30 years. In that time, I've picked up and made up a bunch of tips and tricks for making the most of my art space and practice. Studio Fu is my take on kung fu, which literally means time spent at skillful work. Studio Fu classes are short and will help you to make the most of your time, tools and techniques as an artist. Thank you for joining me and let's get started. In this installment of Studio Fu, we're focusing on seeing and correcting tonal values in your art by using your iPad, tablet, iPhone, or other smart phone. You can also use this technique with a common digital camera. Though the results will likely then require a computer, whereas a smart device won't need other equipment. I'll be going over the interpretation of tonal values by using vibrantly pigmented soft pastels first, then showing how color translates to tone using example artworks. Follow along with your own pastels, watercolor, or other paints, and if you have a Pantone swatch book, you can use that to easily compare color swatches. I'd love to see your before and after tonal corrections in your art. So upload your projects and let's discuss your solutions. 2. Studio Fu: The Technique: Tone is the value or shade created by the amount of light an object reflects or emits. When you hear me talk about light, medium, and dark, that's me talking about tone. Let's have a quick look at the basic tone exercise taught to most beginning drawing students. I'll draw a sphere which shows light, medium, and dark tones in basic soft pastel. Although not specifically part of this class, this tonal exercise is great practice for artists. Go ahead and make your own if you'd like. I start with a rough circle, a crescent of the darkest tone, then ground the developing sphere with a horizon line to imply a surface. Build your tones, your shadow, and a little of the reflected light between the shadow and the sphere. This quick example isn't exactly my finest work, but you get the idea. Plus, it's what I'm going to reveal that's most important. This was done in three colors. Three colors, but only one tone in pastel. The brown, purple, and dark blue I chose are basically identical when stripped of saturation. You can now begin to see why color choice is so crucial to your work. I've recreated a series of swatches sampled from an art supply catalog. Now, lets step and repeat the group. It seems a wide variety because when we look at the colors first, we see brightness, but when stripped of saturation, you can see how many colors share tone. Compare the tones of burnt sienna and emerald green, and check out how closely matched process magenta and cerulean blue are. Sap green and emerald are close, but if you chose to use them next to each other, neither will pop. What does that mean pop, and what does this have to do with your smartphone? Well, I take pictures of my work as I paint. Not only do I learn from the stages, but I color correct using the photos as reference. I've admitted in another class that I'm a color junkie. If I'm not careful, I create flat looking work that has a lot of color, but no pop. Think of pop as depth. Here's me checking the sphere I drew a few minutes ago. In this case, I'm using an iPad mini 2, standard camera app that came with it. Shoot the photo, and click on its "Preview", then get into edit mode. On the iPad, it's the sliders icon. The three overlapping circles are where you can access the filters. But we're only going to use one, and that's Mono. Mono is essentially removing all color saturation and leaving only tone. If your colors are too similar in tone, they'll blend into larger fields of gray in a basic black and white. That's fine for this sphere as I designed it to do just that, to illustrate the point. But in your art, this can have a flattening effect on your work. 3. Studio Fu: How to Use in Your Art: Now let's take the technique into real examples from my own studio. We're looking for differences in tone, just like what we see in these watches of grayscale. In this abstract piece, I wanted the layered look using a fairly neutral background, then blocks of color and finally detail lines popping out in the foreground. Checking this in mono was crucial to getting the balance right. So now in black and white, you can clearly see the areas of light, medium and dark, and I'm pretty happy with the balance of space each takes up. If you're working with a photo that isn't on your phone or maybe it was taken with a digital camera, pop it into a basic photo manipulator. In this example, it's preview on the Mac, and run the saturation slider all the way down to create mono. Here side-by-side, you can compare the translation of color to tone. In another project, I started with an earthy pastel palette and I knew it felt flat. I snapped it with my phone, change to mono and confirmed that the tones were far too similar to pop. This changed my creative direction, and after I added dark and light tones to the base medium that was already there, I actually created something pleasing that works tonally. Another example of using the technique while working was during the frustrating beginnings of this painting. Everything seemed muddy and I wasn't getting the punch I needed despite adding bright turquoise. The tonal balance was on the right track though. So with a little work, punching up the contrast using blacks, white, more turquoise, and maybe a focal hit of red, I have the tonal balance I craved and a painting I love. That's it for Studio Fu. Check your tone with your phone to help bring contrast, depth and balance to your work. Thank you for watching and if you found this tip useful, show me your examples, leave a review and have a great day. 4. Other Classes: There's More to Do Than Fu: Hey, you're still here. Awesome. Thank you for watching. If this is your first class with me, let me tell you about the other things I can help you with. My classes stem from decades of teaching privately for individuals and groups of all ages, and I can help you tackle tough subjects with tips and logic that stick. I have classes ranging from 15 minutes to over an hour, and they're packed full of useful techniques for improving your art. My classes have full demonstrations and projects, ranging from controlled pen and ink to wildly expressive brushwork in color. So if you haven't taken my longer classes yet, checkout, improve your ink drawing with hatching techniques, where you build up your drawing strength with carefully designed exercises and increase your knowledge and control of your pens and their unique marks. With a little practice, you will then be ready to integrate in catching into your sketches and illustrations. Expressive Brushwork, bring your marks to life, where we'll explore what you can do with a range of brushes and use both controlled and wild marks to create exciting work, learning first how to use Indian ink and then introducing watercolor to the techniques. This expressive class is great for pushing what you know about your brush marks to a whole new level. Draw your world, sketch with pen and brush expressively. This might be my favorite class yet, but that's because this builds on the skills you sharpened in my brushwork class by showing you how to capture the tone and color around you. We'll work again in Indian ink and watercolor in a loose, expressive way, but also bring in sketching and hatching. Think of it as a primer to urban sketching. Finally, Quiet or Riot, color communication in your art, which will help you understand the mood and message of color palettes. Decipher the masters, and create your own palettes using both digital and analog tools. So if studio foo has been your appetizer, let this be your creative invitation to dinner. I've got so much to share with you. So don't forget to follow me to be the first to know of new classes. Thank you for watching, and have a great day.