Color is experienced in three basic ways: hue, intensity and value. Of these three, value is probably the most important in determining whether or not a composition is successful. Research shows that even in tiny infancy we focus on sharply different values – the mother’s hairline and eyebrows – rather than bright or saturated colours. Values are the primary visual shape maker – we see the darks and the lights first. A successful composition, therefore would be one where the light and dark shapes were interestingly arranged and reasonably well balanced
People with experience can differentiate 10 or even more values – from white, through 10, 20 30 (etc) % grey all the way upto black. For myself I find 4 levels of value works sufficiently well.
Once I’ve made some outline sketches of my subject matter, then I like to try out different value patterns – varying the effects of light, medium light, medium dark and dark within the piece. Two aspects are important: first ,mood and second, value relationships. Do I want this to be a low key piece, lots of dark values, giving an evening or night time mood? Like in my pieces about the old city in late November.
Or do I want a very high key – the white landscape of a cold snowy day?
Secondly, I want my value shapes to be interesting and also to relate to each other, intertwining to pull the design together.
If you look at the next two quilts, both in colour and in black/white you can see how I've tried to arrange the very light and very dark values to create an interesting shape - as a whole.
and again in Greenhouses:
squint if you can't see it!!!
Manipulating values is also the way in which a focal point can be created – surrounding an object with a highly contrasting value on 3 or 4 sides will really make it pop: i.e. to make a light shape come forward, surround it on 3 or 4 side with darker values.
Look at Vermeer paintings to see how very beautiful and effective this can be!
You may have to ignore the actual values in the photograph (or whatever source you’re using) to achieve the effect desired. Yes! You are allowed to do this!!!! The value contrast should be high if you want to emphasise the area surrounded. Obviously the same effect can be achieved with a dark focal point surrounded by light….I love this back lit effect!
Plan values in the value sketch, then sort fabric according to value before beginning to cut!
I think it’s difficult to make an exciting quilt with only mid values unless you have some very saturated colours, or some very strong textures or other dynamic design elements to make up for the lack of value contrast.
Don’t worry too much about color initially – add it gradually, but get the values right from the start.
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!!