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The value of values

      "Light is everything in the visual arts. Without it these arts could not exist. The artist controls light intensity with values, changes its color with pigments, and thereby creates his effects. 
   Like all animals, we are extremely sensitive to light, and any change in its intensity affects us strongly. Sunlight stimulates, twilight calms and makes pensive, and darkness depresses with fear and mystery. These are universal reactions to light and are as ancient as Adam."   

               Maitland Graves, The Art of Color and Design, 1951

"The artist is born to pick, and choose, and group with science, these elements, that the result may be beautiful- as the musician gathers his notes, and forms his chords, until he bring forth from chaos glorious harmony"    
                                                                                                                     James A McNeill Whistler

      When my youngest son Jesse was in high school, I offered a summer painting class in our studio. Jesse was one of my students, which thrilled my heart. Also in the class was one of his team mates from the swim team.
      I taught a method of painting where you do a value study using one color only. Start by applying a thin wash of color to the canvas. This is your medium value. Now "erase" everywhere the values are lightest. Just take a damp rag and go in while the paint is still wet. Next go in with a darker, but still transparent, value and establish the darks. It is a discipline to make yourself see the lightness or darkness of a color without adding color. You have to keep asking yourself "how dark is this area compared to this area?" It is a great exercise in seeing what is there without the distraction of color. 
Once the values are established, you add color. Keep the paint translucent so the values show through. The painting will have a beautiful depth and richness to it because you have first recorded the values. 

So my other student listened nonchalantly but then went straight ahead with his painting without any reference to value. It didn't really matter what I taught, he was going to do his painting.

Without first establishing the values, all the colors have the same flatness, and the overall effect is bland. 

Here's Jesse's first finished painting.

This is Jesse's second painting, which earned him first place in the Latin Club art exhibit. He used the same technique of establishing values first, then adding color. The values show through the color, giving the painting a richness and interest.

So there is the value of values!


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