Delbert Gish: Six Steps for Covering Your Bases

Bougainvilla on a Street in San Antonio, Belize, California (oil, 20×24)

On a sunlit day, colors in the light will have varying amounts of red or yellow, while shadows will appear cool, requiring the addition of blue, purple and gray. To get a better understanding of how colors influence each other, try this simple test. Place two one-inch patches of neutral gray on your palette, then surround one of these with bright blue and the other with bright yellow. Next, squint at each gray area. Notice how the same gray takes on an orange cast when next to the blue, then looks purple when next to yellow. You can use this method of comparison to determine color relationships in any setting. With all of this in mind, I observe my subject and ask myself these three questions before mixing any color:

  • What color family does this color belong to?
  • How light or dark is it?
  • How bright or dull is it?

All of these properties are relative. A color may appear dull when seen alone, but look more intense when placed next to its complement. Remember that the first few colors you use will affect the look of all subsequent colors. So take care to get correct color comparisons at the outset, and your paintings will go more smoothly.

When a subject is lit by a single light source-?such as the sun-?it will have a clear value pattern. To find this pattern in its simplest form, I simply squint at my subject. This helps me see fewer details and simpler masses.

On sunny days, values will be either part of the light areas or part of the shadow. There will be smaller value changes within areas of light and shadow, but I usually try to minimize small differences in favor of larger masses. Added detail often carries with it the risk that the value will lose some of its distinction. For example, a light area broken up with too many details tends to look darker. To avoid this potential problem, I find it best to add only those details that are absolutely necessary. When I need to show changes of form, I preserve the simplicity of my larger masses by making a color change rather than a value change.

Farm Buildings (Idaho) (oil, 20×26)

An infinite number of values exists between white and black, and it would be impossible to put in all of the nuances. To reduce value plans to the simplest of terms, try thinking of either light against dark or dark against light. In practice, you see numerous variations of light and dark, but in each example of a subject in light, a value will fall either in light or in shadow. A light dark is related to the shadow value, while a dark light is related to the light values. So to maintain a clear pattern of shadow and light, you may have to push some of the halftones up to the light or down to the dark.

The light falling on an object plays a greater role in the value we see than the local color of the object. For example, a white paper in shadow looks darker than a black paper in strong light. It?s important that you remain unbiased when looking at values?paint what you see, not what you think you should see.

“I don’t believe talent is all that it takes to be an artist. In fact, I believe than anyone can learn to draw and paint?as long as he puts his mind to it. It?s part physical labor and part mental exercise,” says Cyd LaBonte. Although she has painted since childhood, LaBonte didn?t take watercolor seriously until she was in her mid-30s. A first prize award in the international Arches Watercolor Competition in 1992 was the impetus for launching her professional career. A “land of Lincoln” native, LaBonte lives with her husband, woodworking artist Robert LaBonte, in the countryside outside Springfield, Illinois.

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