While it takes a trained eye to detect 10% values in an image (from 0% black (i.e. white) through 10%, 20% etc upto 100% black (dead black!), most of us should be working with 4 values: light, medium light, medium dark and dark.
Here is a nice value scale from Toad Hollow
One of the first steps in improving composition and increasing the elegant simplicity of a piece is to consider value. As you arrange the pieces of cloth on the wall, look at how the different values are arranged. Just as in a living room you don’t want all the chairs in a clump in one corner and the lamps in a clump in another, so should you integrate and balance the value blocks. If you squint up your eyes when you look at great paintings you’ll see how the artist does this. We tend to see the lightest values and the darkest values most readily.
After you have blocked out the design on the wall, you can take a photo and desaturate the colour in Photoshop to check on the value pattern. It’s important to get the largest value shapes balanced and in an interesting pattern before you worry about the highlights (like building a house – get the main structure right first). The big elements are the light, medium light, medium dark, and dark masses (shapes).
Here is a picture of a quilt I made called “Where Bong Trees Grow” (from the Owl and the Pussy cat, by the way – I don’t manufacture equipment for the smoking of funny tobacco!).
Now here it is desaturated: You can see how the lightest values form a kind of loose S shape through the quilt which helped to give a strong and interesting basis to the composition. The dark values also join up to make an intriguing shape.
If your Main Idea is about Light or Atmosphere then it is very helpful to consider the direction of the light and how it affects the value of the objects upon which it falls.
John Carlson in his book Carlson’s Guide to Landscape painting (from your public library) describes a clear way to record values in the landscape. Look to see how perpendicular the object is to the sky. Those objects that are at right angles (90°) to the source of light will tend to be the darkest, and those that completely face and reflect the sky (180°) will be the lightest. A good way to see this is to take a piece of white card and look at it with a strong overhead light …if you stand the card up it reflects far less overhead light than if you lay it down flat where it reflects the most.
I don’t know that I was altogether that literal in following this guide in A New Day, but when I desaturate it, I can see I was fairly close:
And here it is in full colour:
So – in considering values, consider the light source and also think about the pattern the values make. You don’t have to be completely realistic – but, if you want people to stop and stare, you do have to be interesting!
And , if you have been, thanks for reading!