Sunday, October 28, 2012

Which is More Important? Color or Value?

It's almost like the chicken and the egg.

In abstract art, the relationship between color and value is not as important as it is in representational or realistic art.  In non-representational art, the whole idea is to excite the senses and create a visual feast about texture, color, shape and other principles of design. In abstract art, an artist can head in any direction he pleases! Any of the art principles such as color or value can be the priority. It all depends on what you want to emphasize.

In an abstract painting, a ball might look like this:

However, in realistic art, the viewer must take his clues from the values depicted in the painting in order to understand the form of the subject. For example, we believe that the ball below is round because we can see the value changes from the light side to the shadow side. In this case, value is more important.

 In a realistic painting, a ball might look more like this:

Another funny thing about value is that even If you use strange colors in your painting, as long as the values are correct, your representational work will still read accurately. So, in the case of realistic work, I believe that value is more important than color!

When when you are trying to capture the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional canvas, your values must be portrayed accurately. 

A common error for most painters is to put too many details in a painting at the beginning of the block-in process. Another area that can weaken a painting is to select values that are too light for the shadow side or too dark for the light side. When the values get scrambled, the painting becomes confusing for the viewer. 

So, how to you learn to see the values and paint them accurately? 

Here's a great exercise. 

Using the four values below, paint a simple black and white study of your subject. Observe your subject closely. Even though you can see 10 or 12 different shades of gray, try limiting yourself to only these four values.
  • white
  • light gray
  • dark gray
  • black
Use your eyelashes as a filter by squinting your eyes.  This will help you to mass together areas of similar value and help you to eliminate unimportant detail.  This is what the ball might look like in this value exercise:

Now apply this concept to your painting.  Before you begin painting with color, try painting using the four values. Remember to simplify! Give it a go and see what happens. 

Of course color and value are both important in your painting - but if you are trying to get a good likeness of a scene, simplify your view and make sure you get your values correct before you paint the details into your painting!


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