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Color As Value

One of my favorite challenges in my Advanced Pastel Techniques class (next session is at Dunedin Fine Art Center Winter 1, Thursday 1-4pm) is to get artists to look at color as value. This is challenging because we are all dazzled by color and often have a hard time differentiating the values from the colors.

Here's an example, both colors are the same value:

Differentiating values of different colors is a learned ability-you get it by doing it, over and over again. I start people off with value sketching for this reason. It trains you to see colors as values and make decisions accordingly.

Let's put this into action. Here's a photo of one of my favorite subjects:

photo by Randy Johnson

If you take a value sketch or even a black and white photo reference, you can number the values from 1-5 (at least 5 values to create realism, more if you can see them).

Notice that the values are numbered on the photo so that I can easily see where my darks are incrementally to the lights. Now if I were going to paint this bird using natural colors, I'd probably do something like this...

Natural is pretty, but isn't much different from the original photo. Instead, I'd rather interpret the photo by substituting color as value.

Once the values are numbered, I can convert those values to colors. I made a chart showing colors as values, but this is only a small section of my pastels. Once you train your eyes, you can differentiate different values of colors by sight and won't need a chart like this. Until then, it's pretty handy to have around:

Then I look at the chart and choose a color based on it's value, so for the darks, I may choose purple instead of blue, and so on. This gives me a looser interpretation of the photo and a more colorful composition.

Here's another version of that photo using my system:

You still get the idea of the Heron, but this version is my own unique interpretation of Randy's photo. You can do the same thing with a landscape, pet, person or other photo.

If you would like to learn this process, I'm teaching a fun pet portrait workshop at Beach Art Center using this method on Fri. Oct. 7th from 6-9pm. You can see details here:

This is the same concept, using a landscape reference photo:

Hope this is helpful and happy painting!

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1 Comment

For some reason, I understand this colour value chart better than the other one! Can’t wait to get my pastels out and experiment, once I come down to FL in November! See you soon 🥹

Ali 💜

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