Of all the basic fundamental principles of art, value is the most important in my opinion. But, the principles are interdependent as well.
You cannot have more than one value unless you also have shapes. The arrangement of the shapes, each with a specific value makes up your design or composition - which is another fundamental principle of art.
Every color - all gazillion of them - has an associated value. If you took a black and white photo, each color is represented somewhere along the value scale - either black, white, or one of the numerous grays in between.
Drawing is simply arranging the shapes of color in a way that allows you to perceive the illusion of three dimensions. This is achieved through perspective and proportions - in other words the shapes need to be the right shape and size relative to the other shapes.
Edges is how abrupt or subtle the transition is between the shapes. You can have a very sharp edge, soft edge, lost edge, or any of the varying degrees in between.
This is a lot to think about when creating a painting. As said, they are so interdependent, that you cannot make a change to one without effecting each of the others.
So, where do you start, though, when you want to create a strong painting? The answer is in the values.
I'll be teaching a workshop in September which will explore this topic in-depth. But first, here are a few examples.
Morning on the Loing at Moret , by William Lamb Picknell (1853-1897)
Look at the painting above by William Picknell. This is a great example of each of the fundamentals working in unison. But the strength of the design lies in the values. Despite all of the detail, and number of individual object within the scene, the underlying value shapes - or abstract design - are quite simple.
Look at the images below and compare the black and white version with the simplified value shapes.
Also, notice how the value of the boat on the right is the same value as the water. The two shapes merge together to create one value shape - James Gurney calls this 'shape welding'.
This also happens with the boat on the left. It and the grass become one value shape. As the grass recedes into the distance the value shape also merges with the distant hill and some of the buildings and reflections on the far shore.
Color temperature and saturation, scale, overlapping of objects, and level of detail all contribute to a great sense of depth.
But the underlying abstract design is very simple. 4 or 5 values and respective shapes - arranged into an interesting and strong design.
Let's look at another example.
Malibu , by Hanson Duvall Puthuff
Do you see the basic value shapes in this painting? I see 5 basic values including the sky. Notice the shape welding that is going on to organize elements of the same value into one value shape.
The green grass of the foreground is welded into the trees of the middle/distant ground on the left side, which shape is welded into the shadow side of the mountain on the left side of the painting. Notice that this same green grass in the foreground is the same value as the water in the lower center of the middle ground.
This is all one large shape with one assigned value. It is the variation in color that separates the 'objects' and gives it depth. But the values are the same.
Let's find another value shape. The sunlit portions of the mountain are part of the same value shape as the sunlit trees and grass in the middle ground - creating one abstract shape. Again, color temperature creates depth.
Do you see the other value shapes in the painting?
The sky is the same value as the rocks along the banks of the water, though they are not merged into one shape.
The darkest darks in the foreground along with the darkest trees in the foreground are one value. Notice how the shapes are connected with little ribbons of dark.
Lastly, the mid-values on the right side of the painting - the shadow side of the mountain and trees all merge into one shape.
5 values. That's it. Again, it is the variation in color temperature and saturation along with drawing that gives it depth.
The Open Sea , by Frederick Judd Waugh
You should see the value shapes by now. But, also notice the great variety of color within each shape. The foam has a tremendous variety of color. So do the clouds. The water...
I count only 4 basic values in this painting. But there is a tremendous amount of variety in color.
Below are a few more examples, but first...
Upcoming Workshop I will be teaching a plein air workshop this fall specifically designed to address this very topic. We will learn to see the values in nature and organize them into a simplified abstract design.
Workshop will be held in beautiful Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Sept 15 - 19, 2014. Click here for details ...
Now, for the remaining examples. See if you can find the value shapes. There is a lot of great examples of shape welding going on here...
Bathing Time, by Juaquin Sorolla
A Hopeless Dawn, by Frank Bramley
The Burial, by Carl Heinrich Bloch
Wasatch Aspen, by Keith Bond
If you want to strengthen your paintings by seeing and arranging shapes of value, then join me for my plein air workshop in September in Steamboat Springs.