Values & the "big idea"-- Pt 1

Spring Workshop 2018--Part One


Values & the "big idea"

Recently I was invited to teach a 4-day workshop. We gathered once a week --brush in hand-- at the plastic covered dining room tables of various participants. 

We discussed the importance of simplifying values into large masses-- as a means of establishing the "big idea" or major value pattern in a composition.

We explored the work of Van Gogh, Cezanne and Matisse-- as a way of improving our perceptions and advancing our understanding of how each artist used elements of line, shape and value to direct the eye through a painting.

I demonstrated different methods of using ink wash, bigger brushes and shared ideas about the art of visual thinking. 

Simplifying Value Shapes

Van Gogh, Still Life: Blue Enamel Coffeepot, Earthenware and Fruit, 

Van Gogh, Still Life: Blue Enamel Coffeepot, Earthenware and Fruit, 

At the core of this workshop was the idea that we're not painting "things" in terms of objects, rather we're painting things as shapes of value in relationship to each other. Each painting is a record of individual student responses to the value pattern perceived in the work of a master painter.  We focused on establishing the "big idea", or major theme in a painting by limiting ourselves to the use of 2-3 values. This helped students simplify smaller value areas into larger shapes. 

Throughout the workshop students studied the work of various master artists. Although the actual paintings contained five or six values, they were reduced to two or three basic values. To do this, students were asked to group halftones (values between lightest and darkest areas) with either extreme. 

The definition of Value in art is the lightness or darkness of tones or colors. 

Seeing Color as Value

Above: A student studies the work of Van Gogh, Vase with Irises, 1890

Sometimes people have trouble seeing certain colors as specific values, particularly the lighter and more intense colors. When painting a scene it's important to be able to identify each color as a specific value. Often people confuse value with intensity--remember each color has a specific hue, value and intensity. Charles Reid, Painting What You Want To See

In the example above--box#1 was used to practice adjusting values--we were looking for an even "jump" between one value and the next. Each exercise consisted of creating a value scale followed by two-three small sketches. Student's worked within a three-value range (two values plus white of paper).

Looking at a master copy, students grouped different areas of the painting into shapes based on the value of the color (not the name of the object). This is not as easy as it sounds-- reacting to color and value rather than to objects is difficult to do.

Starting with the darkest value (box#2) students painted the value shape(s) of all "objects" grouped together at the darker end of the spectrum. In box#3 they started by using a middle value to paint everything except the shapes they wanted to leave white. In box#4 students combine all 3 values.


Up Next Week-- Part Two: Values & the "big idea"

A student studies the work of Cezanne,  Still Life with pitcher and plate of apples. 

A student studies the work of Cezanne, Still Life with pitcher and plate of apples. 

At the beginning of this exercise students were asked a series of questions such as:"What seems important--Why?" or "How does your eye move around the painting?" and "Describe the essence of that particular scene."