This subject was addressed a long time ago, but it is so critically important that it bears repeating. Of course, it’s about values because, without a thorough understanding of them, you cannot create significant paintings.
Many teachers assume that we all know what “value” in paintings means, so they don’t really elaborate and tell us HOW to see them. The concept is easy to understand when we’re talking about a greyscale, but extrapolate that to color, especially the various colors juxtaposed together to make a painting, and the values concept becomes murky.
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. Value is simply how dark or how light that color is.
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? Make your own value scale and go around your house placing it next to various objects; squint to make the color disappear so that you can just see the value of the object and not the color. This is a great way to train your eye.
Here is a value scale you can print, showing values 1-9 with the addition of black (which is 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:
When making a painting, values aren’t actual light, of course, but values create the illusion of dark and light in varying degrees (shadows and highlights). Value deals with the lightness or darkness of a color.
Here is part of Bouguereau’s Vendangeuse (The Grape Picker) in color:
And here it is in greyscale, showing just the range of lights and darks (aka “values”):
And here is the pink version:
So, even in pink values, we still see the little girl, instead of a Botox Babe.
When we do a value-scale underpainting, we are separating the problems of seeing values in one hue vs. seeing those values in juxtapositions of many colors (hues). This makes the painting much easier to execute, and more accurate, because now you have a process.
And that’s why I say you must know how to see value 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.
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All the best,