Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Value studies

I am a lover of detail and process in some ways and have learned that the best way to avoid mistakes is to plan ahead.  One way to do this in painting is through value studies.  I know, I hear the groans as people want to jump onto the bright white canvas and slap on paint instantly.  That often leads to frustration as the canvas isn't toned, the composition not clearly thought out and the values as boring as waiting in a line of traffic, leading to endless fixes and fiddling, trying to match the vision in your head.

A hour (or three) of painting value studies really helps work out all the problems ahead of time. And often studies can go on to become detailed monochromatic paintings of beauty or small paintings in their own right.  Or in many cases, they become the map on which to base the painting that you originally had in your head.

As the study isn't precious, often being rendered on cheap canvas paper, changes can be made, colours altered and values adjusted long before you get to the point of frustration on a large canvas.  Or the value study can be done in acrylics then switch to oils for the main painting.

These are my principle elements for a value sketch, very similar to the beginning of a colour painting in fact..

1.  Forget detail -look only for shapes
2.  Squint to see overall values and to reduce colour distraction
3.  Tone your canvas with a neutral colour - raw or burnt umber work well and use the same colour to create your study. Shades of grey are a classic value study hue, but any colour will work in fact as long as you can go from dark to light using anywhere from 2 to 5 values.
4.  Sketch in your broadest shapes with your brush and pull out lighter areas with a rag while the paint is still wet. 
5.  Start with your darkest values and work your way up to the lightest.  Your values will make or break your painting so make sure your range and contrast are there.
6.  Keep sizes small, you're working out ideas, not creating masterpieces.  5 x 7 or smaller work well.
6.  Once you're happy with the result, start your colour journey!

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