Posts Tagged ‘value’

Lessons of Value, Part 2

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

To help my students recognize the importance and effectiveness of a good value range in their work, I had them begin a project, as I wrote about last time, with a monochromatic under layer to establish their values. The second stage of the project was to introduce supplemental color.

I limited my students to the use of only two additional colors, of their choice. I opted to use brown madder and raw sienna over my own indigo base in “Stones in Shell Dish” (#110307).

110307 Stones in Shell Dish (final)

I began with a light wash of raw sienna across the entire dish, then glazed more localized areas with one or more of my three colors to achieve the effect I wanted. The more I worked, the more I continued to increase the value range that even the initial monochrome study had not reached. I cannot tell you how many glazes I applied, because I didn’t keep track. Layer after layer after layer went on. I worked on the piece for several weeks, both in class and out of class, until I was finally satisfied with it.

My students weren’t the only ones who learned from that lesson. But that’s part of why I enjoy teaching. There’s always something more to learn. And one of the best ways to learn is by doing the assignments right along with my students.

Lessons of Value, Part 1

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

I thought it would benefit my students this spring to see how to create a good range of value without simultaneously dealing with the complicating factor of variable colors.

There were several previous lessons I wanted to reinforce. But the primary lesson I wanted them to learn was to focus solely on value changes, ignoring color entirely. So the assignment was to create a monochromatic painting in the single hue of their choice to act as a base layer, over which supplemental color would later be glazed. I elected to work in indigo as my underlying shadow color for “Stones in Shell Dish” (#110307).

110307 Stones in Shell Dish (monochromatic study)

I began with a drawing that depicted only the hard edges of the still life. We used gradation to achieve soft lines and lost edges. It was not an easy assignment. But I think it’s safe to say that everyone learned a lot about painting shapes instead of objects, creating graded washes in both large and small areas, achieving smooth transitions from one value to another, reserving highlights and reclaiming light areas that had been lost. They also learned to recognize that visible lines meant there was still work to be done—increasing value on one side or the other of the line until the drawn line disappeared and the value change itself was all that marked the division of elements.

Next time I’ll discuss the finished, full-color version.


Sunday, May 1st, 2011

110302 Ceiling Fan

I recently played with a value study in shades of gray (actually a blend of brown madder and indigo) to capture the push-pull of a white fan against a white ceiling in the dusky half-light of early morning.

What is “push-pull” in art? It is the use of color, value, intensity, and shape to fool the eye into perceiving an object as being farther or nearer than the actual surface on which it is depicted. By extension, we also perceive the object as being farther or nearer than other elements surrounding it.

The artist Hans Hofmann painted in abstracts to explore the concept of push-pull. His idea was that by applying a push-pull technique in non-representational art, visual tension could still be created, providing a sense of depth, movement, and spacial relationships on a flat canvas. He accomplished this through juxtaposition of various colors and shapes, allowing their relationships to provide a satisfying challenge to our senses.

We perceive certain values and intensities of color as being nearer or farther from us in relation to other values and intensities around them. Similarly, because of our life experiences in this multi-dimensional world, we come to perceive one shape as appearing to be in front of or behind another.

Although Hofmann painted in abstracts, the same push-full concept and techniques can be applied to representational work as well, as I have done in “Ceiling Fan” (#110302). My intent in this case was not to explore the push-pull of color or intensity but solely of value.

Next time I’ll show an example of push-pull in a full-color painting.

Approaching the Abstract

Friday, April 1st, 2011

I had intended, this month, to show a painting that digresses from my usual approach. Upon reflection, however, I decided that, because of its radically different character from my usual style, it would be unwise to post it here. Most of my work is figurative; this piece was decidedly abstract. It’s generally not a good move to publicly introduce a radically divergent style to an otherwise consistent body of work.

The photograph upon which it was based was shot in Scotland by Fiona Shearer. She was gracious enough to grant me permission to use it as a painting subject. Instead of posting either the photograph or the abstract painting itself, however, I have chosen to post a figurative interpretation of the scene, entitled “Snowy Dunes” (#110202) and to write about my creative thought process as I reevaluated the scene and “restated” it into the abstract version.

Snowy Dunes

The scene seemed to me to be metaphorical. In order to present the same concept in abstract terms, I elected to simplify and alter the elements in the scene that inspired me, to suit and express my interpretation of the literal image. In other words, to show what the original scene “said” to me.

I conceived, in my mind’s eye, an image of family dynamics. The lowering sky suggested to me a brooding, stormy threat of trouble just beyond the horizon, outside the family unit represented by the land. I saw in the shrub-covered dunes a series of rounded, feminine forms, acting as a defensive barrier stretched between that trouble and the purity and innocence of childhood, as indicated by the unsullied white snow in the lower right. Meanwhile, I recognized in the road, straight and thrusting, arrow-like, into the distance, a dynamic and aggressive image of masculinity, driving into the problem head on, working in partnership with the feminine counterpart to protect the innocent while under-girding and guarding her.

The white of the snow represented to me childhood innocence. In my abstract version, I allowed the white to gradually take on color of the masculine and feminine hues, indicating a growth toward maturity as youth gradually takes on the roles and responsibilities of adulthood. The hue representing femininity reached its greatest intensity where it confronted either threat or the masculine presence. Similarly, the masculine hue, like surges of testosterone, became most intense when juxtaposed with femininity, when challenging the perceived threat, and where reinforcing the protective shield between trouble and innocence. Despite all the parental efforts, a faint reflection of the brooding and troubled sky dimmed some stretches of the unbroken snow. Yet, at the core of both the feminine and masculine forms, remained pristine pockets of child-like innocence.

Every aspect of the painting, including my use of hue, value, hard and soft lines, and juxtaposition of colors and values, has a meaning to me. Yet another viewer might read something entirely different into it. Part of the pleasure and delight of abstract art is its enigmatic character: It is left open to the viewer’s interpretation. Any other explanations, whether or not it coincides with my own, could be legitimate and correct. Abstraction allows the viewer’s imagination free rein, and, because it is based on individual interpretation, no response is wrong. In the same way, I will leave to your imagination my painted, abstract interpretation.

Why not try one of your own?

A color-contrast catastrophe

Monday, March 8th, 2010

In my last entry I wrote about incorporating contrasts to provide dimension and depth. One of the lessons I have learned is that not all contrasts are beneficial. To be truly effective, any contrast should satisfy a definable purpose.

When I first painted the picture of my daughter costumed as a Munchkin for a school production of The Wizard of Oz, I wanted her colorful costume to stand out from a contrasting background. At that time, when I thought of contrast I thought almost exclusively of contrasting colors. I knew that green, being opposite red on the color wheel, would contrast with the red skirt, so I decided to use a green wall as the background. This seemed appropriate for the context, since an off-stage waiting room is traditionally referred to as “the green room.”

"Standing By..." with the original background

The green wall did indeed contrast with the red skirt, but the shocking value of the wall color drew attention away from the focal area rather than enhancing it.


"Standing By..." after background revision

When I realized my mistake, I applied over the entire wall a light wash of the same red that had been used in the skirt. The red wash counteracted the green, muting the overpowering intensity of the background and providing a more effective value contrast that made the wall recede and allowed the child and her costume to take center stage. In this case I discovered that the more effective contrast was one of value than of hue.

You can also find the finished painting, “Standing By in the Green Room” (#081003), in the Faces and Figures section of the Gallery.