You must have a thorough understanding of the critical role values play in order to create significant paintings. I think back to the days when the concept of values was enigmatic to me. I read about it in books and heard teachers refer to it, but somehow the true “value” of this eluded me, partly because I didn’t want to stop and take the time to learn it–I would rather play with all the beautiful colors. So at first, the idea that values of gray would make up much of most of my paintings did not excite my visual sense—boring is the word springing to mind.
But once my thorough, process-oriented teacher, Frank Covino, explained it, the light came on in my head and I understood–then I was able to do it, kind of like riding a bike. This may seem to be an odd comparison, but this was how it felt to me. Once I understand something, many related things make more sense, thus giving me that aha moment when I can finally experience the ride, rather than falling off the bike because I’m still searching to find my balance.
Anyway, it was when the “aha” happened that values became real to me then, and I started actually seeing instead of just looking. I went around squinting at everything, internalizing and honing my newfound ability. My husband told me that people were staring at me. He used to tease me and say, “your eyes will get wrinkly doing that.” And then he started doing it himself just to see what the fuss was all about.
People all learn in different ways, and I am one of those who needs a process—I have a hard time with things when people put something in front of me and say, “Do this,” without explaining how. That’s what a process provides for me. You can make an entire painting a monochromatic green or even pink and, as long as those pinks have correct values, your painting will “read” and make sense to the viewer no matter what color you make it.
And that’s why I say you must know your values because value analysis and then value duplication is the basis of all perception. It is the common denominator for the replication of all things, whether landscapes, still lifes, or portraits.
Yes, but so what? Where’s the “how?” Well, first you have to learn to squint enough at something until the color disappears and you are left with a percentage of light. What amount do you see? Keep your eyes squinted and go look at the world in a new way, and we will talk about values more in-depth in later posts.
Here is a value scale showing values 1-9 with the addition of black (the absence of light) and white. The lowest value is 1, or 10 % light; the next is 2, or 20% light and so on, up to value 9 at 90%, with white being 100% light: