Sunday, March 20, 2011

The many values of value in design

I’ve always loved the amazing difference in mood you can create by changing the values in a quilt.  With the help of Photoshop – take a look at the following possibilities:

tree value landscape light

tree value landscape dark





The landscape on the left suggests a fairly bright summer’s day with a cheerful mood; simply reversing the values gives a much more mysterious scene…the illuminated trees against the distant dark hills!  And of course with 4 values there are 4 x 3 x 2 = 24 possible arrangements just of value alone in this little sketch.  (Try it if you don’t believe me!!).  And that’s just using each value once.

Here’s a little cityscape with the same two sequences of value:

cityscape value landscape dark cityscape value landscape light





Again, the arrangement of values alone creates a very different mood and sense of place.

I looked back at some of the quilts I’ve made to see what happens when I reverse the values (and the colours) – this is a lot of fun!!!  (in Photoshop: Ctrl-I is the magic word).


bartonheavy metal 72 reverse values








On the left Heavy Metal as it exists; I’ve slightly romanticized the colors and the silvery reflections on the lake; on the right the manipulated version betrays the reality of the nasty acid effects that power stations can have on our environment.  The image looks so much starker but I love the bold harshness of those colours.

bartonheavy metal


Now look how much more menacing this image looks if I desaturate the colour and increase the reversed value contrast.







But what happens if I simply reverse those values?

We’re back to a rather magical scene!  It’s the values that count.





What’s so fascinating about values is that it’s not only the top to bottom arrangement (as it were) but the use of higher contrast in values in some areas (the focal area) versus low contrast in supporting areas.   As human beings we’re prewired to be attracted by high contrast, so it’s always a good idea to save the highest contrast in a piece for the area you wish to bring out in a piece. 



In the quilt on the left Chimneytops (now happily in the Thomas Contemporary Quilt Collection) notice where I’ve used the greatest contrast?     Yes! That little window…when I photographed this scene from Whitby in Yorkshire I was thinking about how neat it would be to live in that house and have a studio in the little attic room with the dormer window looking out over all the activity in the old fishing town!!!

This is just really describing the tip of the proverbial iceberg (alas probably melting!) in terms of what you can do with value.  That’s why I think it’s so important to know what you want to convey with your art quilt and to have a firm grasp of how you can do that!  It’s not by chance that value is valued!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!!   Elizabeth
PS I’d love to know what you’d like me to discourse (i.e. witter on about!) upon!!  All comments received as rain showers on a hot summer’s day!


Lynn said...

I'd love to hear your thoughts on art quilts made with commercial fabrics.

Several months ago I was showing some friends an art quilt I had made when an acquaintance commented negatively on the fact that I had used "regular fabric" for my art. I asked for clarification and according this person, "art quilts are made with unique fabrics," she meant hand-dyed by the artist. Personally, I think this person is just wrong, but I'm curious if others feel the same.

Elizabeth Barton said...

That's a good question, Lynn. I think it's a lot harder to bring out your personal voice when you're working with someone else's fabric. if people take my workshops and don't like to dye fabric, or can't for one reason or another, I suggest bringing fabrics that don't have loud voices!! Having said that there are a few people who do make wonderful quilts with commercial fabric.Ruth McDowell comes to mind. and Edrith Huws. and Paula Nadelstern. Carol Taylor also uses commercial fabric. I think the important thing is to make the fabric work for you and not use it too literally i.e. don't use woodgrain fabric for wood, but it might work well for a face.

June said...

I was just reading Thomas Hart Benton about Cezanne. Benton notes that Cezanne was one of the early painters to use color as value (as you do). That got me to thinking about color and "saturation" -- which in some sense you've combined for a more notable focal point.

Just interested to see the intersections between the painting masters and the quilted art master (or should that be "mistress?"