Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How to identify and assess value and tone quickly

Just lately I've been pondering on needing to get back into practising 'notan' more if I want to have a go at linocutting.

Which in turn has made me think a lot about "two value" drawings (or "two tone" drawings for those who prefer to use the term "tone" rather than "value"). Here's the definitions for those who get confused as to the meaning of value and tone. I'm going to use 'value' in this post.
Value - An element of art that refers to luminance or luminosity — the lightness or darkness of a color. This is important in any polychromatic image, but it can be more apparent when an image is monochromatic, as in many drawings, woodcuts, lithographs, and photographs. This is commonly the case in much sculpture and architecture too.

tone and tonality - A quality of a color, arising from its saturation (purity and impurity), intensity (brilliance and dimness), luminosity (brightness and dullness), and temperature (warm and cool); or to create such a quality in a color. To tone down is to make a color less vivid, harsh, or violent; moderate. To tone up is to make one become brighter or more vigorous. Tonality can refer to the general effect in painting of light, color, and shade, or the relative range of these qualities in color schemes.


Then I saw Sarah Wimperis's fabulous Training Session post yesterday on Watermarks - which shows how she produces simple value sketches in winter using big pens in black, brown, grey and white on cardboard while sitting on a beach staring at the Atlantic in Cornwall.

Which was then followed this morning by Jeanette Jobson's Frozen Sketches - in which she is drawing the sunrise over the coastline of Newfoundland...........

Its -12C with a windchill of -26 and I'm standing on the edge of a cliff at 7:45am watching the sun rise over the Atlantic ocean.
Jeannette Jobson - Watermarks - Frozen Sketches
Yikes!!! Both Sarah and Jeanette made me think about how to get values down fast when sketching outside in winter. You don't hang about when it's cold. I know my local bit of water is not quite so impressive as the Atlantic but I certainly don't hang around for long when sat on the very cold steel seats at the Ecology Park Pond!

So how to get (a) assess values fast and (b) get them down on paper fast?

A Sketching Value Scale

I've got a Scale and Value Finder which is produced by the The Color Wheel Company. You can see mine above - it's a bit battered! To give you a sense of size it's 4" x 6" which means it's big enough to be useful and small enough to just slip inside the back pocket of a Moleskine sketchbook.

It's excellent for being able to assess the value of different colours which a lot of people find very confusing. I know I certainly do at times!

The advantage of having the cut out bits is that you can sort out what value the different 'big shapes' are.
  • hold it up to a view while sketching plein air
  • surround the area you want to assess with a value (ie look at it 'through the keyhole')
  • squint (which loses colour but shows values) and then decide which value seems to be the same value as the colour
While indoors, you can do the same thing if drawing or painting a still life.

If you trust the values seen in a photograph (which frankly I don't - cameras almost always distort values) then you could place it over a photo and assess the value of colour that way.

However if you want to use a photo for drawing from, you can adjust the values you see in a photo if you've used a value scale to make a note of the real values 'on the spot' either just before or just after you take the photograph. You really don't have to get an accurate drawing done to be able to create an annotated sketch which tells you what value the key areas/shapes are.

Training your eye - as Sarah says - is another important way of being able to assess values accurately without a scale!

But you do need to draw a lot from life and/or use value scales a lot to be able to do that well. A good way to work out whether you're making progress is to decide what value you think some object or shape is BEFORE you hold up the value scale to the object only - and then you can see if you're making progress with the accuracy of your visual assessment.

I always find it very useful to find the lightest light - and assess how close to pure white that is - and then do the same thing in relation to the relationship between the darkest dark I can see and pure black.

Using a set of greyscale markers is another way of making yourself think about values when sketching. Lindsay Olson (Non Linear Arts), another member of Watermarks, has a useful post on her blog a while ago about How to use markers.

I'm going to do a further post later in the week (probably Friday) about how to use the cutout tool in PS Elements to produce a guide to seeing two values and producing simple two value 'drawings'. All as a preliminary to my learning how to do lino-cutting!

and finally....... a small toot! I'd very much like to thank all my subscribers and regular readers for visiting this blog. This morning saw the arrival of the visitor who pushed the count to over 400,000 unique visitors to this blog in the last three years. Plus the blog has also notched up more than 1,300 subscribers for the first time.


For those people who weren't following this blog a year ago, you may find
Composition - why tonal values and contrast are important useful in relation to the importance of value to composition and design

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