Understanding Grayscale in Painting

 

I have a student who complains that she never makes her darks dark enough in a painting. It’s a fair complaint. Without intense lights and darks, a painting can look very flat. With this in mind, I created this lesson.

Almost any art store will have a copy of this tool. An artist can place this gadget on top of their artwork and see if they have high contrast which is created by using colors at opposite sides of the value scale.

When we placed the grayscale/value finder on my students work, her work fell in the value 5,6,7,8. Pretty much there was no contrast.

This photo is perfect for studying value and grayscale. Do you notice the intense lights in the center of the image and the intense darks towards the edges? Do you notice that each leaf goes from light to dark but in different ranges?

Every leaf in this image provides a valuable lesson.

Doing this project in only black and white is a terrific way to understand the range of lights and darks in an image. The next level is to try to provide the same range of lights and darks using colors. Icey pink is going to present on the lighter range of the spectrum while eggplant purple will be on the dark. Greens with yellow in them will present lighter than a green with brown in it. It takes a bit of practice and observation, but like blacks and whites, artists need to consider the value of colors.

For this painting demo I created an under painting. If you look at the unfinished painting above, you can see what looks like a blended bulls-eye with yellows towards the center and purples towards the edges. Already, I am setting up my painting to incorporate lights and darks. In the same painting demo you can see particular leaves. Each leaf has darks toward the stem and lights toward the leaf’s edges. Because of the under-painting, the lights and darks of the outside of the painting will not be the same as the lights and darks of the center of the painting.

Towards the end of the class we started to play even more. Using warm colors like yellow, orange and red will make the area come forward while using cool colors like blues and purples will visually make that area of the image recede back. Ever so slightly we added a bit of warm colors to the center of the succulent and put the cool colors towards the outskirts.

Adding warm and cool colors to an image that you might not have attributed to the subject matter is great way to create visual interest.

Ah, there is so much to think about while painting. I hope I’ve shed a little light on the subject (and darks too! :)

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