Tones & Values in Painting

I’ve realized recently that one of the areas I need to work on the most in painting is tone and value. Color value is the lightness or darkness of a color and is relative, depending on what colors surround it.

It’s easier to deal with value in color as opposed to black and white, because there is a larger range of values to work with. When doing a black and white painting or drawing, value becomes much more important since all you’re working with are shades of white and black. The painting below was the second painting I did at school and was extremely tough to get through. The mix of textures in the still life set up for us, ranging from smooth to rough, fuzzy to shiny and everything in between, provided an interesting challenge.

Greyscale Still Life by Jess Lingley

Greyscale Still Life by Jess Lingley

Just FYI, yes, the statue head’s eyes were crooked! It was trolling me the entire time. D:

I enjoyed painting the different textures and choosing a composition. However, when it came to putting tones down, I really struggled.  With acrylics, we were told not to paint a light color over a mid-tone or dark color because the lighter color would lose its luminosity, something I’d never considered before. This would lessen the overall contrast of the painting and flatten it. Since I’m used to laying it on a bit thick, I had to be a lot more careful and it made the process more tedious. We also had to mix a particular tone and apply it all over the painting, rather than working on one item at a time. This helps unify the painting and keeps things from popping out and looking strange.

The worst part of the painting was mixing a grey on my palette, and having it look completely different on the canvas because of the shades of white and black surrounding it. To show you what I mean, take a look at this greyscale from an About.com article on Tone & Value. This article explains tone and value quite well, definitely worth a read.

Tone Is Relative to Other Tones

Tone Is Relative to Other Tones

The first vertical stripe in the above picture appears to get lighter as it goes down the image; it doesn’t. It’s all the same color, but depending on where you look at it on the picture, it’s lighter or darker because of the surrounding shades of grey. The second stripe is the same, appearing to get lighter as it descends the page but is in fact the same shade the entire way down.

One of the things I’d like to do to get better at tone-matching is to paint a tone-map of all my acrylic colors. It’d be nice to have some swatches of paint to hold up to whatever I’m painting, and then put them on the canvas without trying to second-guess things.

The other tricky thing with acrylics, especially when using just black & white, is that sometimes they dry darker than what they look like when wet. Since that project, I’ve taken to mixing colors a bit lighter than what I think I’ll need. I’ve also started painting from light to dark, because it’s easier to paint over light colors than paint light over darker colors.

I learned a lot from this exercise. If you paint thickly (but not impasto) and study tones really carefully, when you move far away from the painting the tones will blend together to give the illusion of depth. Almost all the paintings in my class looked much better from far away. This is one of the reasons it’s so important to get up and away from your work!

I would like to give black & white still life painting another try. I’ve also seen examples where artists will add a tinge of color to the mix, and it produces some really interesting effects. In fact, even the different between Titanium White and Zinc White (first is a cooler white than the second) makes for a distinctive look.

Still Lifes & Perspective Drawing

That one busy week quickly turned into two! Most of my nights have been occupied with homework until quite recently. I’ve got a bit of a break for the Thanksgiving weekend, and by that I mean I have less homework than normal. It’s worth pointing out that this is not a complaint! If I’m going to put my energy into something, art is better than almost anything else I can think of. It’s been exhausting trying to complete all my work on time and to a level I feel good about, but so so rewarding.

So far my drawing class has been the most challenging because it’s so technical, but I think I’m getting a lot out of it because I have to work harder at it. On Thursday I got some of the work back that I’ve done over the past few weeks, so I’m going to share my “greatest hits” since there is a pile of work to go through (at least 15 drawings in all).

2 1/2 Hour Still Life by Jess Lingley

2 1/2 Hour Still Life by Jess Lingley

This is one of the pieces from my first homework assignment. I was given roughly 2 and a half hours to do it, and was very careful about shading and blending the graphite to look smooth. The point of the assignment was for us to pay attention to how we use our time, which would set the tone for the rest of the semester. I’m still very bad at judging how long something will take, which has led to most of my late nights. I’m just now starting to get wise and start things really early. If this drawing looks a little warped, it’s because I used fixative (ie hair spray lol) on the paper to set the graphite so it wouldn’t smudge as much. After using nicer Mayfair paper, the drawbacks of sketchbook paper are becoming more clear to me.

Contour Drawing of Toys by Jess Lingley

Contour Drawing of Toys by Jess Lingley

We weren’t allowed to use any shading in this assignment and had to fill the frame (19″ x 19″ in this case) the best we could. I’ve started becoming more aware of planes and space in my drawings, using dark lines to bring objects forward and lighter lines to push them back. I find myself using a lot more of the pencils in my case (6F-6B range) than I’ve used before. It gives the drawings dimension and depth. I knew as soon as I saw the description that I wanted to use toys from my studio in the drawing, which ended up being a lot of fun.

Charcoal Still Life by Jess Lingley

Charcoal Still Life by Jess Lingley

I just completed this one last Thursday in class. We started by filling the sheet with charcoal and using erasers to sculpt out the shapes, darkening with charcoal and lightening with chalk as needed. I really like this method of working and will go back to it again. I did chalk/charcoal exercises in middle school as well, and really liked that you were able to shade as well as lighten, instead of just simply shading on white paper. My prof said that as soon as he set up the skull, he knew I’d be drawing it. Not sure what to make of that… 🙂

sneak peak at perspective assignment

sneak peak at perspective assignment

Here’s a sneak peak at what I’ll be working on over the rest of this weekend: the dreaded perspective assignment! My heart sank a bit when we got the original assignment last week, as I have little experience with perspective and was never very good at making the rules work for me. I could get the lines down and draw the shapes okay, but once I tried making them into believable structures they looked like rectangles with doors and windows in strange places, hardly believable.

I started the assignment 6 different times in my sketchbook before settling on a nice one-point-perspective backdrop. There was a lot of frustration in getting things going, but I was able to realize something very important about why perspective is so difficult for me. It’s not the rules; I’m familiar with them and I’m able to get my horizon line and vanishing points in, no problem. It’s not difficult to add shapes as placeholders for buildings, either. It’s when I go to put detail in them that things get all screwy. My sense of scale isn’t great and for all the houses I’ve seen, when trying to draw one, my brain simply empties.

The solution to that is to study and draw as many houses/offices as I can until I get more comfortable with them. After I got the building blocks completed for the above drawing I started researching what kind of buildings I wanted to populate my town with and carefully began adding windows, doors and details. I can honestly say that as of now, I’m having fun with it! I’ve got this whole town at my disposal and can add as many people, cats and signs as I want. Having gotten over the fear of not being able to draw a city, I’m ready to put some imagination and life into it.

I’m not sure how my post schedule is going to hold up over the next few weeks, as I’ve got more projects looming on the horizon. I’m also thinking that my content may become more art-related (as opposed to design) since that’s where I’m more immersed right now, but nothing is for sure. I do want to keep this blog up, because it’s important for me to have a voice outside of studies.

In the mean time, have a happy Thanksgiving weekend everyone! This year I’m thankful for the chance to finally realize my passions and pursue art school (on top of being thankful for the wonderful friends and family I have of course). It’s been amazing so far and every week brings new challenges. It’s been a long while since I’ve felt this good about where I am in my life. Cheers!

En Garde!

Tim was away for the weekend, so I decided to make the best use of the long stretch of uninterrupted time by starting and completing a painting all in one day. Before that, I worked away some more on the models painting.

more progress on models painting

more progress on models painting

Even though I spent a handful of hours on this painting over Friday and Saturday, the progress isn’t really that apparent. I lightened the skin tones and will have to go in with some shadows once they’ve dried a bit. I spent most of Saturday working on the dress on the left; defining the pattern, darkening some colors, lightening others… I can’t decide whether I should lighten everything on it individually or try a white glaze. I’ve tried white glazes in the past and they can look foggy and inconsistent, so I may just paint everything individually… again… I also painted over the red eyes because they were beginning to creep me out.

I hadn’t done one-day painting since last year and wanted to see if my still life skills had improved at all. With citrus fruits and cocktail goodies in hand, I went to work.

En Garde, acrylic on 8"x8" canvas, by Jess Lingley

En Garde, acrylic on 8″x8″ canvas, by Jess Lingley

I figured it would take a few hours, but it ended up taking the better part of the day (time well spent!). I started with a sketch, then a burnt sienna under-painting and then laid out colors over top with acrylics. I’ve been itching to do something with bright colorful fruit for awhile, so this was a lot of fun. It also had the bonus effect of making the room smell like lemons and limes, instead of turpentine and oils.

January 2011 vs June 2012

January 2011 vs June 2012

The still life on the right was done back in January 2011; it was the first portfolio piece I completed in anticipation of applying to art school! Fortunately, I kept up with painting and had enough pieces that I could leave it out. It’s alright for a first try, but lacks depth and detail. Though it was done in oils, the blending isn’t  so great, either. Looking at the piece on the right I’m relieved; it does look like I’ve improved! 🙂

Even with acrylics and fast dry times, if you’re diligent you can get some pretty nice blending by using a dry-brush technique. This involves laying some paint down with a wet brush and quickly smudging it with a dry one. The shadows on the table cloth were a challenge and I’m not sure I’m satisfied with them, but I am happy with the shading on the fruit itself. Using complementary colors for shadows really makes the colors pop, almost glow.

Throughout the week I’ll continue to work away on the models painting, which really needs a better name (suggestions?). Pretty soon it’ll be time to block in the hair, and then the entire under-painting will be covered. Exciting!