Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Value of Value First!

Jack's Barn    9 x 12    oil

This is the field study I mentioned in my last post.  I had started to say a bit about the importance of getting the values right as the basis for getting harmonious color relationships.  The first colors that I usually put down on the canvas are those that make up the dark shapes.  When I placed the color for the roof and rock walls in the shade they appeared to be very dark mud.  When I went through again, painting the light shapes, their colors in relationship to the shade colors gave the impression of luminous shadows.  Fun!

For those wrestling with understanding color, remember, we have to deal with its three properties: value (relative lightness or darkness), hue (its identity and position on the color wheel) and saturation (how strong or intense the color is).  We can't match the colors we see in nature, because of the limitations of paint pigments and the fact that the light/dark spectrum in nature is vastly larger than the light reflected off our paintings.  The brightest white doesn't approach the brilliance of the sun, and the darkest black doesn't come close to the absolute lack of light.  Painter's light is a representation of the relative difference of values we see in nature.  For the greatest part, our paintings are more or less "realistic" based on the accuracy of their value relationships. That is the relative separation of steps on the value scale between white and black.

It makes sense, then, to begin mixing a color with respect to it's perceived value.  Selecting the tube color from your palette that most closely approximates the hue you're after allows you to begin with the greatest saturation of that hue. As you add another pigment to move its hue identity toward the color you're after (warmer or cooler), you're also going to begin affecting the value.  The trick is to adjust the value up or down while attempting to match the hue temperature and saturation of the intended color.  We can talk more in detail about the available options for doing that at another time.

If you can get the values accurately, the exact hue is not of primary importance.  In fact, the saturation of the color in its proper value is more telling in its overall effect in the composition and the resulting harmony, or lack of it. Color harmony is totally dependent on the context of surrounding hues.  If the value is right, almost any hue can work.  This fact allows for great latitude in personal expression!  If the value is wrong, the colors will appear muddy in their relationship. Best approach, get the values rightly related first, then you begin to have more effective control over temperature and saturation.

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