I finally get the value of value studies

value studies in a Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Journal by Amy Lamp

I’m obsessed with artist Carol Marine‘s book, Daily Painting: Paint Small and Often to Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Artist (read my review here). One of the things she mentions in it is that getting values right is the biggest thing she has to help her students with. It’s one of the things I’m focusing on right now, and her lessons are helping me a lot. My drawings and paintings often end up without enough contrast — too much of the page hanging out in the middle value range.

I also keep painting over highlights in my watercolor sketches, too, and I think concentrating on some value studies will help me keep those highlight areas white.

Another great resource for watercolor values is a video by Laurel Hart where she explains how she uses a greyscale card and creates a value sketch before beginning her painting:

Value study thumbnail sketches

To start my value study, I opened a photo I took of a plate of blueberries, cropped it down, converted it to black and white, and increased the contrast. My intention was to strip the image down into just a few values: white, black, light grey, and dark grey. (I also added a viewfinder overlay that I made on my tablet to help me with composition and drawing the subject in my sketchbook, but more on that later.)

high contrast blueberries photo with viewfinder tool for my value study - by Amy Lamp
value study thumbnail sketches - by Amy Lamp
The thumbnail on the left is made with a water soluble Stabilo All Colored Marking Pencil in black and a wet brush to smooth out the darkest areas. The one on the right is made with a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, giving me just two values: black and white.
I did the same thing with a snapshot of some onions:
high contrast onion photo with viewfinder tool for my value study - by Amy Lamp
value study thumbnail sketch - by Amy Lamp
This thumbnail is made with the water soluble Stabilo pencil and wet brush.

Once I was happy with my thumbnails, I drew a 6 x 6 square in my sketchbook and drew in the blueberries. I also penciled in the highlight areas to make sure I didn’t paint over them (like I tend to do!). Instead of black, I used indigo watercolor. I love the monochromatic look of this sketch! My brushstrokes could use some improvement, but if I stand back from the sketch a little bit I don’t notice that so much and focus instead on the value contrast.

4-value study using Daniel Smith Indigo watercolor in Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Journal - by Amy Lamp

I think this study was successful for a few reasons:

  • using only 1 paint color let me focus on the values and not on painting a bunch of interesting colors
  • stripping the photo down to just 4 values let me feel like I had a lot more control over where I put the paint down
  • the subject is simple, with just one basic shape repeated several times
  • I intentionally composed the image so that there would be an interesting value composition of dominant (lights), secondary (darks), and smidge (mids) amounts — an approach I learned from reading Daily Painting

With such a positive experience during this value study exercise my hope is that I’ll remember to take the time to do more of them!

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