Color: How to Create a Strong Value Pattern

Sunset Glow From the Boulders by David Schwindt
Sunset Glow From the Boulders (oil, 30×40) by David Schwindt

To determine your values, start by identifying three dominant colors for your painting, one light, one in a middle value and one dark. Then paint a value scale at the bottom of a white panel and divide the rest of the panel vertically into three equal areas. Next paint each area with one of the three colors you’ve chosen. I like to leave a white border (which I’ll later paint with any neutral color) to make it obvious how far from white my colors are; indeed, you’ll find that the colors of most paintings are condensed toward the middle values.

Color Corner 1

To set the mood for an evening sky in Sunset Glow From the Boulders (top image; oil, 30×40), my middle-value color in Step 1 (above) is on the dark side of true middle and my dark color is close to black. Both of these colors represent shadow in the painting, while the light of the sky and setting sun are depicted by the light value. In Step 2 (below), I painted over the white border with a neutral color (it’s easy to see in Step 1 how white can destroy the luminosity of a light color) and then established the colors of the painting to match the original three values. You can see on the value scale at the bottom where I tested many of the colors to see exactly where on the scale they lie.

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Color Corner 2

I began the painting by blocking in the three main value areas with the three original colors, covering the whole canvas, and then I proceeded to add the additional colors from whichever value group was needed. The more I do this exercise, the more I understand the opportunities for changing values in half-steps and letting color and temperature work for me in describing plane changes and atmospheric perspective. When I mix colors on the palette, I’m thinking of this procedure, and I have a clear direction and value adjustment in mind when I reach for the tube colors.

Read more about Value Judgements
in the November 2010 issue of The Artist’s Magazine

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