Values in Painting
By Jonathon Williams
In the four fundamentals of representational painting, values stand out as one of the most important parts. In a nutshell, values describe the gradation on a black-and-white chart, going from black to white. In painting, we are talking about the areas from the dark paint or color to the lightest. On a color chip, we usually have nine values; however, most painters limit their paintings to five or less.
The Old Masters worked out a lot of their value decisions painting first their entire work in various “shades” or values of grey. When it was dry, they would then paint the colors over these greys, matching the values. The Impressionists used many values, and some of them seem too high in value because of the breaking up of brushstrokes. To compensate, a palette of limited-values color can broaden the appeal of the painting, as long as the values are correct.
Painting simple values from the darkest area to the lightest is best achieved by “squinting down.” Partially closing your eyes shows you the darkest and lightest parts of a painting and drops away all the busy parts. It shows the broad areas to paint and the “edges” that make up important focal points. Squinting cannot be used enough; it will really break down the most complicated scene.
Painting a monochromatic painting is a great way to study and work with values, not worrying about color mixing. Then, later, you can lay your color on, having already worked out the value changes. The paintings shown here are examples of me teaching at Juárez Park. The monochromatic painting on the left uses three values; the one on the right is when we came back and put color in to match the values. By working this way, your mind thinks of shapes, lights, and darks. Later, when you are working on mixing color and matching values, try a monochromatic palette and remember to “always squint down.”
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