The Importance of Value Studies for Watercolor Paintings

One of the newest kits from North Light Shop is the Watercolorist’s Guide to Painting Water, and it has plenty of resources to get you going, including Ron Hazell’s new book, The Artist’s Guide to Painting Water in Watercolor.  It includes more than 30 techniques, as well as a chapter on the importance of creating a value study for your watercolor paintings. Here’s what Hazell has to say.

Night Shift by Ron Hazell. Tips for painting water at ArtistsNetwork.com.

Night Shift (watercolor on cold-press Arches, 15×22) by Ron Hazell. Private collection. (Click here to pin this painting on your Pinterest art board.)

Value Studies by Ron Hazell

Before I start a painting, I do a value study first. A value study is not only a drawing showing the shapes that will make up the painting (composition), but also assigns a value to every shape from 1 (the white paper) to 5 (the darkest dark). I usually use a soft pencil such as a 4B to produce the values. The medium of pencil is a close cousin to transparent watercolor because pencil is a transparent medium as well. So the step-by-step order in which you generate the value study is identical to the order in which you will carry out the painting. Value studies for painting water at ArtistsNetwork.com.

Pencil is also similar to watercolor in the sense that you can lift pencil (by erasing) as you can lift nonstaining watercolor pigments after the painting is dry. So once I’m happy with the value study, I’m intimately familiar with the subject matter and can concentrate on mixing colors when it comes time to start the painting. Sometimes I’ll do several thumbnail sketches with different lighting directions before deciding on a final composition. Then I’ll do a value study of the most interesting thumbnail sketch. Some examples of value studies are shown to the right. The arrows indicate the lighting direction.

A question I am often asked in my workshops is “How do you transfer the sketch to the watercolor paper?” If the painting doesn’t contain complicated shapes, such as a street scene, I don’t draw on the paper at all. The reason for this is that I prefer a “loose” painting to a tight, carefully painted work. I find the more pencil drawing I do, the tighter the painting becomes. If the composition is complicated, I will place some light pencil lines on the paper to indicate where the big shapes start and stop. However, here too I try to keep the pencil lines to a minimum.

If you have to draw on the paper, a transfer technique from sketch to paper is quite simple. Before you draw the value study, decide on the size of the painting. Then make the value sketch one-quarter or one-half the area of the painting. For example, if the sketch is one-quarter the area of the painting, take the measurements of the sketch and simply double them when transferring them to the watercolor paper. That will make the painting four times the area of the sketch. For example, if the value study is 8×10, doubling the dimensions gives a painting 16×20, four times the area of the value study. R. H.

Hazell’s book is included in North Light’s exclusive kit,Watercolorist’s Guide to Painting Water. The collection also features three photo reference downloads for landscapes, nautical scenes, water and skies, plus a block of Fluid watercolor paper, and it’s only available at North Light Shop.

Yours in art,
Cherie

Cherie Haas, online editor
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