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Sunday, October 9, 2011

How to See in Value

Still life value study - 6x6" (demo)

A couple of months ago I put out a challenge to anyone who wanted to take on doing 50 value studies in 30 days, ideally from life. We also set up a challenge over on the Daily Paintworks site for those who wanted to simply take one crack at it. (This challenge is still on if you want to join in.)

The idea is to use only 4 values (white and black included) to portray your subject. What this forces you to do is make decisions about where values must be pushed darker or lighter to stay within the limited range, which has the serendipitous outcome of shapes naturally being linked together into interesting patterns. Result: strong design sneaks in the back door while you're busy thinking about reducing values. Kinda like magic.

Is working from a B&W reference cheating?

One of the painters over at DPW, Gloria Zucaro, wrote to ask: "As I am preparing to do the challenge of the week I am wondering if it is "cheating" to see the values in your color photo by turning them to grayscale?"

A key skill you are working on developing with this kind of exercise is honing your ability to see color as value, one of the most difficult things to learn in our artistic journey.  The more you develop this skill, the stronger your paintings will become as you learn to design great patterns of light and shadow while looking at a subject in color. Printing a B&W photo is not so much cheating as it is taking a short cut that bypasses a valuable learning opportunity.

50 in 30 - the learning:

Jason Gundby was one of the few artists who took my 50 in 30 challenge all the way to the end (super proud of you Jason!) One of his efforts is shown above. I absolutely love the abstract quality of this study. There is a strong, balanced variety of shape size and he has used form and line in a dynamic way to pull the viewer in.

Here's the wisdom Jason reported back after completing the challenge:

"Once I did a few studies I found that my attempts were pretty weak.  At that point (like you said on your blog) I realized that this could be an important opportunity for growth.  In the process of painting these value studies, helped by sheer repetition of the challenge, I rediscovered the value of relaxing and accepting the struggle and whatever my best efforts created.  In doing so I began to enjoy the process of painting more--as in this quote 'artwork is more of a verb than a noun'. "

Great work Jason!


  1. Learning to see a color's value is one of the most important skills to master as a painter. Lately it's something I love to focus on intently because without an accurate depiction the play of light is lost.It's like the dimmer switch is on low and you can't see clearly enough what's really there.

  2. Liz that is one strong value study of the apples!!! When it's done so well it's just beautiful!!! And this one is.

  3. Great challenge. I like how you composed this one. Very nice.