Bright Sail Cozy Harbor, finished and what's under the color
What makes a painting good? What makes it grab your attention and hold it? Color can catch your eye from across the room, but when you get closer to the painting, it’s the pattern of different shapes, their values, and how they fit together that creates the design/composition of the painting. And that’s what makes the work compelling.
Teddy, finished and what's underneath the finished painting
So what is this thing called value? Value is the relative lightness or darkness of those shapes. It’s what makes black and white photography and monochromatic artwork so compelling.
Buoy 10, finished and what's underneath
There's a saying “value does the work and color gets the credit”. And it’s very true. We love color, it speaks to us. We choose our clothes based on the color. Likewise the fabrics and wall coverings in our homes. Value is actually one of the components of color, along with hue (the named color), intensity/chroma (how bright or dull the color is), and transparency (whether the color is opaque or transparent).
Tangerine demo to show students how to use the value under painting
In creating a painting, value is the component of color that is most important in the overall design. And it can be a great help to have the values laid out on the canvas before adding the color. I do that by making a “value underpainting”, also called a value map. I then paint over the value underpainting with color, using it as a guide to create the desired color with the appropriate value. What makes this work is that if we close one eye and squint with the other, the view before us looses its color and becomes monochromatic. So we can place a dab of the proposed color on the underpainting, squint, and determine if its too light, too dark, or just right.
The images above show an exercise students always enjoy in my painting classes. We start with two printouts of the photo on the left. In the middle, we've matched our black and white paint to the values in the photo, and painted over it. In the image on the right, we've done it again, but this time using color. (And adding some reflections just for fun.) I think there are a couple of reasons why this exercise is popular: first it's easy because there's no drawing, and more importantly, it makes the concept of values concrete.
To answer my original question, color gets the credit, but value does the work.
Bobbi - Painter. Sketcher. Teacher. Boat and Dog Lover.