Focus on Value: Demonstration by M. Katherine Hurley

Focus on Value image A
Barely There (oil, 48×60) by M. Katherine Hurley

The key to Hurley’s color is what she calls “tonal painting,” a phrase that describes paintings exhibiting a very limited range of closely related tones or only one or two colors. Some pastel drawings, in particular, appear to have three or four near-monochromatic gradations of color, but it’s these gradations that make the work concurrently subtle, nuanced and vibrant.

“After the underpainting is dry enough,” she says, “I start layering: pushing and pulling shapes, colors, and values.” She uses a paper towel for oil paintings and an eraser for pastel drawings to create these subtle transitions between intense colors, which, according to Hurley, “create mystery, intrigue and dimensionality.”


Focus on Value image 1
Once I’ve worked on the value sketch to the point that I’m happy with the composition, I underpaint the surface with big shapes of orange (cadmium orange) and/or purple (Daniel Smith quinacridone maroon). These shapes and colors represent the values and structure of the piece.


Focus on Value image 2
The underpainting that will unify the piece because the hues will peek through is dry, so I start to apply local color. I make my own greens, in this case with Prussian blue and different temperatures of yellow. Adding burnt umber will either warm up a color or gray it down.


Focus on Value image 3
I consider burnt umber my magic ingredient. Adding it to purples will warm them up. At this point, I’m negotiating the subtle shifts of hue, temperature and value—the process’s exciting part.


Focus on Value image 4
Adding and subtracting, I work with big brushes to make outlines ambiguous. I’m not only working with complements (for example, green and red) next to each other but also with temperatures (warm and cool) next to each other.


Focus on Value image 5
At this stage, I’m also juxtaposing values (dark and light) and intensities (saturated and light versions of the same color). The result is a subtle shift in atmosphere, an effect of aerial perspective, as the landscape becomes less literal and more abstract.


Focus on Value image 7
After I’d scanned the image in Adobe Photoshop, I started to play with colors and decided to push the chroma toward blue/violet against the warm orange. The painting is more about the relationships between colors, values, temperatures and intensities than about the landscape itself.


Focus on Value image 7
This final image may look like the previous one, but it represents a much later stage, as I continued to refine the edges between colors, temperatures, intensities and values in Barely There (oil, 48×60).

To read more about M. Katherine Hurley’s process in the January/February 2008 issue of The Artist’s Magazine, click here and order your print or digital copy.



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