10 Ways to Kickstart Your Art – #1: Value is King!
In five weeks I will be holding my 5-Day "Kickstart Your Art: Oil Painting Bootcamp" here in Bozeman Montana and I will soon be launching an online version, so to lead up to both workshops I'm starting a 10-part blog series! These are ten of the things that have helped my own work the most, and that I see make the biggest improvements to my students' work. The actual workshops will cover a lot more than these ten things of course, so join us in August or sign up for my workshop newsletter to learn more about my online class.
First Up This Week: Value is King!
What is Value?For the purpose of this blog, value is the lightness or darkness of any color on a scale from pure white to pure black. Some people will refer to it as tone, and you may see light and dark versions of a color referred to as tint and shade respectively, but we will simplify everything under the heading of value.
Value is StructureIt's so easy to get distracted by all of the colors and think that's what's holding the painting together, but they're just the frosting on the cake. If we took away our ability to see value and left only the ability to see color, the world would be a meaningless (and jarring) swirl of hues. On the flip side, colorblind people navigate the world just fine, and photography and film were art forms long before the introduction of color!
Color Has ValueEvery tube of paint and every mixture on your palette has a value. This is a quality apart from its intensity or neutrality (saturation), or where it falls on the color wheel (hue), and it's the most important quality for establishing depth and volume. Learn to see every color for its value first, and you'll be on your way to fixing flat compositions! Placing the right value is often more important than the right color. This is why when Van Gogh painted himself in greens you still saw it as a face, not a head of lettuce.
How to Tackle ValueTry tackling value in isolation from color first:
- Do a charcoal drawing or use a neutral paint plus white to do a black and white study of your composition.
- Paint a tonal underpainting as your first layer, and then place colors on top.
- Start with a black and white version of your photo reference, or if you're painting from life use your phone or camera on a greyscale setting to study at your scene.