Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rx 1, Value Remedy in Grey

No workshop or book will instantly turn you into a better painter.  No secrets.  Only through hours on the brush will you come to see, internalize, and be able to apply these principles.  After such practice these concepts will become second nature and you will not have to think about them when you paint.  Just like breathing.   These exercises come from experience, teaching, and mentors.  They are aimed at mastering the fundamentals of painting.  They form a set of problem solving tools to be used when a painting isn't working.

I find in my teaching that the ability to get the values of shapes right is often a problem, a lingering one.  When a painting of mine is not working I look at value first off.  People are fooled by the value of a mass of colour, never mind the basic darkness or lightness of a shape.  Get the value right and everything else that follows has a chance of working.

The Exercise
Find a simple set of 3 or 4 shapes of different values.  In doors use a still life set up, not a photo.  Out doors, use a simple set of shapes, say field, rock, and sky.

Squint at the shapes to determine the relative value of each.

Draw a small thumbnail of the shapes, and shade each at the right value (3 values say - little choice makes it easier).  I use the paper for the lightest value.  Then I "paint" the darkest shape with my pencil first (darks provide the form).  Then paint the mid value shape.  No Detail.  Squinting helps eliminate that.  

Thumbnail - More Complex Than Required
Note: the values are numbered - You can see where this goes...

Go to your painting surface - canvas, board, etc. and using a grey that you mix, do the same as your thumbnail.  Concentrate on getting the right values.  Paint thin.  Check the values.  you can use a value scale for this.

3 Values Mixed - Here, Ultramarine and Red Oxide

You will have to make the values correct for the shapes you observe.  Any grey you like will do, but mix it.  Then you can always get a grey when it is needed.

Looks Like the Thumbnail - Ready to Paint

And here is a reference tool to help calibrate your eye.  I don't use this while painting since I have practiced values for a long time.  But on occasion.....

Value Scale

The value scale becomes very important as you move into colour.  So, learn how to use it.  Line the value scale up with the shape you are trying to check.  When the match is close, squint.  The right match occurs when the scale and the mass fuzz together.  That is they appear the same with no difference in value.  When you add colour this is critical.  Colours are quite often a different value than you think.  Trust what you see using the scale.

Practice this exercise without proceeding to a finished painting.  The more starts the better.  This exercise will also help with;

Judging relative values,
Drawing (thumbnails) - shapes

This is the type of thing that should be taught in a continuing painting class.  No quick fix, practice, practice, practice.  Patience.......


  1. I like that you point out to use a gray that you mix.

    There are certainly some wonderful tubed grays out there but nothing works better at understanding value then mixing up your own grays from a limited palette.

    Great post.

  2. Thanks Jim, the mix it also leads into colour, and painting a very limited palette of the complements. Paint on.

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