Value and Color
I can remember my difficulty with both of these concepts. The books I read are the same ones you’re reading. A lot of words I didn’t understand and ideas I didn’t know how to implement. So, let’s demystify these terms. VALUE: think of nine boxes. Label them 1 to 9. Put white at one end and black at the other end. Now add all the shades of gray leading from black to white in the appropriate boxes. Value is the relative lightness or darkness of a color. HUE is simply another word for a color family name, for example BLUE. CHROMA; is the relative brightness or intensity of color. I suggest that you go to your art supply store and purchase a value index card (if you order paint from Daniel Smith ask them to send you one. It’s free and it is 4” X 6”, small enough to carry around) and a color wheel.
I’m gong to tell you what I did to implement these concepts. Go into your closet. Take out a shirt, pants any clothing item (not black or white). Take the item to the nearest window with light from the sky (no overhanging green branches or patio covers to change the quality of the light). Now really look at your item. My pick is a green shirt. Ask; what color is it? – Green, what value is it? – Middle, like 5 or 6, how intense is the color? – Very bright green, what temperature? – Toward the blue (cool). Put your shirt back in the closet. Go to your easel and mix up that color. Now, go back and get that shirt and take to your easel and compare your mixture to the shirt. Now mix up the color till you get it right. If it’s too yellow add blue, (add these modifying colors a little at a time – sneak up on it) too blue add yellow. If the color is too intense add it’s opposite. In this case, the opposite of green is red. If you will do this every day for at least five days a week, by months end you will be very good at it and you will understand color. You will also learn how to mix color, what works and what doesn’t.
Now let’s take each color on your palette, learn how to mix it with all the other colors and what the results might be. I say, “might” because you are going to have to do the mixing. My little camera just doesn’t have the capacity to show you all the possibilities.
Besides, you would not learn a thing if I did all the mixing.
We will start with yellow. Take a half-dollar sized pile of lemon yellow. With your palette knife, separate that pile into 17 smaller piles. Now take ultramarine blue and permanent red (a small amount of each, say, a pea sized amount) and mix them together. Do the same with cerulean blue and permanent red. Notice the difference? Do the same with ultra blue and cad red, then with cerulean blue and cad red. To see the difference more clearly, add a little white in the corner of each pile of purples. What’s this? You ask, I thought we were going to play with yellow. We are. Purple is the opposite of yellow and we need these colors to modify yellow. So – you should have a group of small piles of yellow spread out on your glass palette and 4 smaller piles of various colors of purple.
We begin. With your first pile of yellow add a small amount (pea size) of cad yellow. Notice how much warmer that cool lemon has become. Now add a small amount of cad red to the second pile of yellow. We now have a cool orange. Add a small amount of permanent red to the third pile of yellow. We now have a totally different orange. Continue down the colors, mixing a small amount of each of your palette of colors into your piles of yellow (one color to each pile of yellow). We will end with lemon yellow by adding white to one pile of yellow and black to the last two piles of yellow. (We do not include black in this palette because it’s just too easy to make. The same is true of browns; I include the browns for convenience. When we get into portraiture you will understand why.) To make black (again black comes in cool and warm) take a pea size each of ultra blue and burnt sienna and mix them. Your black should be warm. Do the same with ultra blue and burnt umber. This should be much cooler. Now add a small amount of each of the black colors to the last two piles of yellow. What you should have are two very interesting colors of spring green. (I view black as a “blue” for this reason.) Look at the array of beautiful colors you have created! Compare all these beautiful colors to your value card, especially your two oranges. Note the difference in value You’re on your way to becoming a “colorist”.
Do this same exercise with all of your palette colors. You will learn a great deal about your paints. When I buy a new color or buy paint from a manufacturer that I haven’t used before, you can bet I will do this exercise with all my other colors before I use it. The time spent doing this will save much time and tears, believe me.
You are probably thinking – what good is the value card? Take your value card in hand and match the living room rug, your daughter’s dress, your son’s hair, the coffee pot, the tree outside your window, and the orange lily in your garden. Do this exercise often, at least once a day, until you can match the object with a patch on the card effortlessly. Look outside – you will find a lot of different values in the scene you are observing. Light against dark, dark against light, contrast, warm against cool. These are concepts you will be implementing in your paintings. You need to see these concepts before you can implement them. I keep my value card underneath the glass on top of the table beside my easel. I refer to it often to get my values right.
One more thing before we close this post. Most of my beginning students put out tiny dabs of color when they are laying out their paints. They are so aware that their new paints cost money. Then, half way through their painting, they run out of paint and it’s almost impossible to mix up the exact matching color. So, you wind up repainting a good bit of what you’ve already painted so it will match. No cost saving there. So, set out at least a nickel sized amount.
Next time we will talk about chroma.