Watercolor Class – Values: Black, White and Shades of Gray
Simply put, value is the light and the dark in you painting and all the shades of gray in between. Value and Composition are the two most important aspects of a painting especially when you are trying to create realistic and/or dramatic paintings. This holds true no matter what form of 2 dimensional art you do and whether you are working in color or black and white, painting, drawing or even photography, if you can get dark darks and light highlights with at least 5 shades of gray in your art, you will see how much more exciting your finished piece will be then if you only have middle tones. It isn’t as easy as that sounds and some of us really have to work at getting the darks in our art.
One of the main reasons we have trouble getting to very dark darks is because our eyes lie to us. When we are learning to draw or paint, for some reason we are afraid of the paper or canvas and many times when I go around looking at students’ work I will hear that they know that something is wrong but they keep fixing things that are okay and ignoring the elephant in the room which is usually they need to get some darker darks. This is why I had us create a value scale.
The first thing we needed to do is learn how to make a dark, almost black color. The reason I don’t use black is because it can kill other colors when you add black but by using a very dark color that we mix, if we use it with other colors the colors will still be lively though grayed in value.
Please burn these three colors into your head because they make my go to, universal dark color: Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna and Dioxizine Purple. More of the blue than the sienna with just a touch of the purple make a deep rich, dark, gray color. A variation of this combination is to substitute Burnt Umber for the Burnt Sienna but in the same combination. If you want to see what the true color is take a little bit and add a touch of water to it, you want a neutral gray color (optimal) or a cool gray color (to the blue side). If the color looks too brown, add more blue and a tiny amount of purple and test it again. It is worth the time to get your mix right before you start so you don’t have to stop and start over again, you will also want to mix a enough paint so you don’t have to keep remixing, we used this dark color for the entire class.
You can use a strip of paper to make your value scale. You will need enough room for at least 10 squares using the white of the paper as your white. If you need to, mark them off, I just used the width of my brush for each square.
Take the black color that you mixed and add lots of water to it, you want a very light gray, remember to skip a space for the paper white then paint THE ENTIRE REST OF THE STRIP
with the light gray color, that is step one. Watercolor is
transparent, which means that when you put one color on top of another, the
color underneath will influence the color you just put down. The white of the
paper is making the color you just put down look gray because it is so thin,
pay attention to what happens each time you put down a new strip of color. Let
the paper dry completely before skipping a section next to the white paper,
WITH THE SAME LIGHT GRAY, PAINT THE REMAING STRIP WITH THE SAME VALUE. Let this
dry completely (use a hairdryer if you are impatient), skip a new segment and
paint the same value down what is left of the strip. Do this until you get to
the last segment, if you have to get a very dark value, you may have to mix the
colors again to get a dark, just don’t add a lot of water. We use water to
change the value of watercolors, we don’t use white. You should be able to see
a distinct difference between the values when the strip has dried going from
black on one end to white on the other, you can punch holes in each segment if
you want when it is dried.
|Use a similar value to the above for the entire strip.|
Many artists will do a value study of a project before they start a major project, even plein air painters will try to capture the values of a scene so they can see where the light and shadows were when they started their painting because light changes when you are outside. A value study can be a quick painting sketch with little detail, or a pencil or charcoal drawing just to get the “feel” of the scene you want to paint, while it is not an absolute necessity, it is good practice and habit if you want to improve your painting.
With that in mind the rest of the class was devoted to doing quick studies of things around you using only the dark color you mixed and white to change the value.
We will be going over basic color mixing in our next class so be sure to have all your colors with you next time. See you in class.