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Planning a Painting – The Value Study

July 25, 2010

value-study-for-oil-paintingSo, you have a great idea for a painting. You’ve done some thumbnail sketches and created an interesting, dynamic composition. You know exactly what you want to paint…

Time to jump in? Not quite!

Before you dive into the real thing, it can be extremely helpful to do a value study: a smaller, monochromatic version of your painting.

A value study strips your painting of all colour, letting you work with the lights and darks, which is just as important to your composition as form. This is also your chance to make sure you have a range of lights and darks to create good contrast. If your painting isn’t interesting at this stage, it won’t be interesting when you add colour! Stan Prokopenko does a great job of explaining how a value study can help you create an interesting composition.

Also check out this post where Stapleton Kearns critiques a painting where the artist has confused colour with value. According to Kearns, “Value is more important than color, as it is a part of drawing. Color is a decoration you hang on your drawing.”

If we digitally altered the painting on Kearns’ blog to make it greyscale, we would see a very dark, very flat painting. That’s a hint!

Doing a value study can help you solve these problems before you get to them in your final painting. It’s easier to match the value (not the intensity) of your colour to the study than it is to figure it out on the fly. The intensity of the hue can be very distracting.

When I did my African Sunset painting, I knew that getting the values right was going to be essential in making the sun look like it was shining. Doing a quick value study (above) helped me see just how dark the sky needed to be to make the sun look bright in contrast. This kept me from wasting time and paint on painting a too-light sky. Below is the completed painting converted to greyscale.

greyscale painting - value

If you’re having troubles with the values within a painting, taking a digital picture and converting it to greyscale can really help. This lets you see the lights and darks without that distracting colour. A bright or intense colour doesn’t always make for a dark value. Solve these problems in a value study and you will have a much easier time with your painting!

PS: The month is almost over and the latest edition of the Learn to… Art! newsletter will be going out soon!

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