The Value Paradox - Understanding the primary hurdle.

 

We are limited by many things,
Talent , Creativity,
Procrastination and Experience,

 

 

But our primary obstacle is the limited range of light available to us.

 

 

Go outdoors on a bright sunny day. Look around. Find the lightest light. Find the darkest dark.

The lightest light might be the upward facing surface of a yellow leaf, gleaming in the sun.

The darkest dark might be the ground partly visible under the porch, which itself is in shadow.


The problem

In the world there is this colossal range of light. It shines from nearly the full power of the sun, all the way down to hardly any light at all.   All we can do is call it "The full range of light to dark." What a pathetic phrase. Its hard to describe of the magnificent spectrum of intensities we see in the landscape.

Let us assign a numerical scale to this colossal range of light. Lets say it goes from 1 = darkest to 1,000 = brightest.

Supposed we took a video of a scene and showed it via TV. Now the brightest bright could be no brighter than the glow of the phosphors in the screen, Nothing like the sun. ( You can look straight at the screen for hours with no problem. Try that with the sun for even a second). The darkest dark is no darker than the screen is when the TV is turned off, (a medium gray).

Yet the TV is still a light source, still potentially bright. Let us assign a numerical scale to this quite broad range of light. Lets say it's value range goes from 1 = darkest to 100 = brightest.

Now lets consider our pathetic situation. Our brightest bright is the white of the paper. The paper is not a light source, it merely reflects the illumination in the room. The dimmest light bulb is brighter than our paper. We make it darker by applying paint. Now the light has to shine through the paint, bounce off the paper, and back through the paint to create our darks. Like the TV screen, our darks are never really blackness, just some dark shade of gray.

So our paper is not even a light source, it's lightest light is pretty dim and its darkest dark is pretty gray. Lets say that the paintings value range goes from 1 = darkest to 10 = brightest


Doing the math is discouraging:



Sunlight    TV   Painting    
1,000 X 100 X 10 =   1,000,000

 

Here, you have a serious disadvantage. A "million to one against you". As an artist, you are going to need some "powerful magic"   You, David, stand alone one side.. On the other side is Goliath, You are armed with only with the white if the paper. Goliath is armed with the Sun.

Is this going to be a fair fight. Of course not. Goliath does not have chance.. Why. Because you have the Captain; of course..

The solution involves planning.

In another lesson I talk about starting a painting with a thumbnail drawing. I often begin by dividing a piece of copy paper into quarters by drawing a cross from top to bottom and side to side. Then make a sketch of what I want to paint. The sketch starts smaller then the space allotted because if it needs something added on any side, there is plenty of room. You can see I am talking about a pretty small sketch. The sketch is kept very simple, I am not concerned with looks, just with shapes, and the overall balance. I will redo that sketch however many times it takes to get it right.

Now comes the critical part. The sketch needs to be shaded in.

First we need to decide on the light source. Then its pretty easy to lay in the shadows. Later, if the shadows create problems for us, be prepared to move the light source.

By placing shadows and dark objects behind light ones, we can create value changes that were not there to begin with. Of course, by placing bright objects behind dark ones work the same way. Be prepared to move trees, houses, even mountains for the sake of contrast.

Also be prepared to change the value of an object just to contrast it with the background.

Be prepared to add irrelevant objects, just for the shadows they cast,

Finally, be prepared to invent shadows in places where they do not exist; or light passages that would really be shadows.

There is another side to this concept. It is simple to create the center of interest using high contrasts within it, And also use contrast to make it stand out from the background. The rest of painting can be less contrasty.

Go to a good art museum, online museums are fine. Look at some of the old masters. You will see how "contrived" the picture is, so as to generate the necessary contrasts

By placing shadows and dark objects behind light one we can create value changes that were not there to begin with. Of course, by placing bright objects behind light ones work the same way. Be prepared to move trees, houses, even mountains for the sake of contrast.

Also be prepared to change the value of an object just to contrast it with the background.

There is another side to this concept. It is simple to create the center of interest using high contrasts within it, And also use contrast to make it stand out from the background. The rest of painting can be less contrasty.

Go to a good art museum, online museums are fine. Look at some of the old masters. You will see how "contrived" the picture is, so as to generate the necessary contrasts

 


In this magnificent watercolor painting by Winslow Homer. The center of interest is obviously the dark skinned man. Ask yourself:

* Why is the whitest part of the boat around him? The detail of the hull mysteriously fades to white; just for this little part of the boat.. Notice too, that he is conveniently connected to the dark, undefined area on the boat. He and the dark area scream at us. WE ARE SPECIAL. WE ARE WHAT THE PAINTING IS ABOUT. LOOK AT ME.

* Why is his dark skin reflecting white in the water while the white boat does not reflect any light at?

This is why Homer paintings go for millions. He tells his story with just a few words, but those words are emphatic and dramatic.

 

Winslow Homer - values establish the center of interest

I think it no accident that Homer chose a black man for the subject. Imagine this painting if it were a white man. The wheelhouse, not the man, would be the center interest. The painting would be boring. Instead, It's worth a fortune.