A couple of days ago on Facebook, a friend was talking about her search for a photographer and she said:
“just saw some photography that I LOVED and others I felt were lack-lustre. I’m realizing more and more that i love the high contrasts, basically adding glamour to an everyday shot. beautiful!”
I knew exactly what she was talking about. I might use different words, but a successful painting is all about values.
For example, here are two paintings of mine from a couple of years ago. These were from my views from childhood series. I painted what I remembered seeing from my bedroom window in houses I lived in as a child. Because they were from memory, some were better than others.
Which painting do you like better? If I’m guessing, I bet your eye is drawn to the one on the right more. Why? Because it has more contrast, yes? Another way to say that would be that it has stronger values. I’m not making a moral judgement here, I’m simply saying that the darks are darker and the lights are lighter. There’s a good range of lights and darks. That’s what you want in a painting, right?
Another example. Let’s say you were going to paint this pink ball.
How many different shades of pink do you see? Light pink and dark pink? Any more?The problem is that your brain says, “That’s a pink ball,” even if your eye sees many different values there. So we have to find a way to overrule the brain and get rid of the idea of color for the time being.
But if we were to reduce it to a black and white image, how many shades of gray would you see? More than two or three, right?
I know what you’re thinking. “But, Jolie, I can’t take the digital camera and Photoshop everything in to black and white for every painting, especially if I want to learn to paint outside.” And that’s true. But– you can use this:
What is it? It’s a piece of red cellophane film fitted in to a slide frame. You can see that mine is covered in paint, because I’ve used it so much. I keep this near my easel and whenever I need to simplify an image, I pull it out. It’s the manual equivalent of using Photoshop to make a black and white picture. See?
I just held this over the camera lens in the same way that I’d place it in front of my eyes. Now, I don’t have the color to confuse me and I can look only at the values. Do you see more values this way?
So if we apply this same idea to a landscape painting, we might start with this.
So your brain thinks, “Blue sky, brown building, green trees.” And you start to get out the blue, brown and green tubes of paint. But there’s a problem. If you listen to your brain here, you’ll get a very different image on your painting than the one you see. Look through the cellophane and see what I mean.
Okay, so there's a bit of paint on the cellophane-- that's why it's blurry.
When you look at the same image through the red cellophane, you notice that regardless of color the building is one of the lightest objects in the image. So if you listen to your brain and pull out the brown tube of paint, the building would be one of the darkest objects in the painting. That’s why the cellophane helps.
Paintings with a wider range of values are more fun to look at. And more fun to paint. Try it. You’ll see.