Which is More Important: Value or Color?

Michael Reardon’s new book, Watercolor Techniques: Painting Light & Color in Landscapes & Cityscapes, teaches you how to make the most of both values and color, as well as capturing light, understanding perspective, and more. Discover step-by-step watercolor painting demonstrations that will help you make the most of your watercolor.

“The overriding theme of my artwork is the interaction between architecture and nature,” Michael says. “I’m ceaselessly fascinated by the interplay of architectural subjects in their natural milieu, be it city or countryside. In this book, I tap into my architectural background to give you tips, tricks and ideas for how to imbue your architectural watercolors with light and color.”

Scroll down for an exclusive excerpt that addresses color and value.

From “Watercolor Techniques”

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Gray scale version of ‘Bay Bridge Demolition’ by Michael Reardon, who says, “It can sometimes be useful to convert an image to gray scale to better discern the values independent of the color.” Pin this excerpt!

Value Versus Color by Michael Reardon

There’s an ongoing debate regarding the relative importance of value versus color in representational painting. Many artists feel that a value plan is all that’s necessary. For them, color is subsidiary to value. Colorists, on the other hand, feel that color is most critical and that patterns of color make a successful painting and that the value scale is intrinsic in the colors.

I’m not going to take sides in this debate, although I lean toward the values argument. The more I paint and teach, the more I believe a strong value plan is imperative. Even after decades of painting, I continue to do a pencil value study prior to every painting. With my values determined, I can then select the colors that I need to yield these values.

Many students, who are often reluctant to do a value study, get lost somewhere in the middle of a painting or have to go over previously painted areas because they didn’t know the values they wanted in advance. While color is crucial, following a solid value plan is a sure road map to a successful painting.

Value and light fit hand in glove. They are inseparable. Through the deft use of values, a painting can evince a strong sense of light, depicting a range of effects from harsh midday sun or soft and misty light. Value manipulation defines the atmosphere and feeling of light.

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Bay Bridge Demolition (watercolor, 18×11) by Michael Reardon

Bay Bridge Demolition (above; watercolor, 18×11) is composed almost entirely of areas of value, with a very limited color palette.

A sense of distance is created by the mid-values as the bridge recedes, transitioning to the lighter values of the distant bridge. When depicting three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional piece of paper, it is often necessary to exaggerate the depth. Values can help you do this.

Color plays a supporting role in the painting. For example, the muted color scheme evokes the feeling of early morning light. Changing the colors would change the feeling of the painting. Color modifies the mood, while values establish the composition.~Michael

Pre-order your copy of Watercolor Techniques: Painting Light & Color in Landscapes & Cityscapes today so that you can be among the first to learn Michael’s methods. As always, you’re invited to join the conversation and share your thoughts about value and color in the comments section below.

With warm regards,
Cherie

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