Tag Archives: values in painting

Watercolor portraits

Almost like formal portraiture? Not really. While painted somewhat formally, I am mainly experimenting with expressions.

These come from photos I have taken of people on the street. Some look lost in thought, sad, haunted, sometimes expressionless. Commuter robots (comm u-bots). When walking around downtown or places like NY you’ll see them everywhere…

I don’t like photographs of people posing. Especially in portraits you see people pose a lot. They are too aware of the camera. It looks staged. I like the candid photos, where people look more natural, unaware that someone is taking a picture. These portraits are not very big. The face of the girl with the long blond hair is only 3 inches long. The other one is bigger.

As for technique, these take multiple glazes to get the right color and value. Direct painting (alla prima) is, unfortunately, not really possible in watercolor so I normally prefer to do work like this in oil. As in oil painting I only used black, white, cad red, raw sienna and ultramarine blue. That’s it.

It is a nice challenge and these can certainly be improved. Always something to learn! As artists I think it is very important to keep evolving, keep pushing. I am considered a landscape painter in watercolor but I refuse to be put in some drawer. Never be static and predictable. Or known for one thing. It’s too easy to burn out!

The art world is becoming increasingly homogenized. The only way to stand out is to do your own thing, not copy other painters’ styles and subjects. Workshops can help only if you get the guidance to find yourself (your own voice) or at least be helped in that direction. Pick workshops carefully! Ask the venue about the instructor and their teaching style. Don’t fall for reputation. There are some with big names out there but they don’t know how to teach you a thing!

Yes, different colors do have different values. Or: how to make the whole thing more confusing

In my workshops I always have students paint a simple color scale. Yes, you can buy those but that is just pathetic, isn’t it?  You’re a painter, you should be able to paint one.
Inevitable, someone will pick a color like yellow ochre, or worse, a yellow to paint a value scale. Why is it not working?
The short answer is: because the color yellow is too light to paint a scale from 1-10 with.
The strongest yellow is still only a light value..makes sense?
Black, blues, violets, warm and cool greys work.

To determine a color’s own value in it’s strongest application, it helps to make a value/color comparison chart.
Ideally you should know the value of the colors on your palette.
Take a look at the image. The chart is a neutral grey value scale on top (numbered 0=white to 9=strongest), where all the different colors underneath are placed to match the value above. (as good as possible) Every color is applied in it’s strongest value, out of the tube.


From left to right(second row):
perm alizarin, Ultramarine blue,
Quin Rose, Ultramarine violet
Quin red, cobalt blue
Cad red, burnt sienna
Cad orange, raw sienna
Indian yellow (interchangeable with Yellow ochre?)
yellow ochre
cad yellow light
cad yellow medium

It helps to know that, while red is certainly strong, it’s strongest value is maybe a five, if the white of the paper is a 0. Worse with yellow, that’s really only a 1, no matter what you do.

When introducing new colors to your palette, place them in the right spot so you know what value strength it has!
Some painters even make a value scale in neutral on the side of their palette! That way it’s easy to compare your color mix to the scale next to it.

Please take the time and have a look at next year’s workshop schedule for a workshop near you: https://frankeber.wordpress.com/workshops-demos-lectures/

Happy Thanksgiving!

More thoughts on values..

losthillsdesolation_B&W      losthillsdesolation (click to enlarge)

The most misunderstood topic in painting. Value is not color, Color is not value although all colors have value. Think of value in terms of contrast on your tv or computer monitor. You ever take all the contrast out? It turns into a milky soup of nothingness. Then put all the contrast in and it becomes a supernova of darkness! I guess too much and too little is never a good thing, kind of like in real life!

Values only work when they interact with each other. They are mutually dependend. A dark is only dark because there’s something light there. A light section only appears very light because there’s very dark stuff around. If it all had the same intensity..well, refer to the first paragraph.

A good exercise is to do a value study with only three or four different values. The painting I posted has more nuances, but really only two more! The ability to express yourself in a limited value pattern is the most important key to learning to paint well. Check out the b&w version above and count the values!

What you see in front of you when painting outside (or on the photograph) is just the basis for a good composition. Don’t paint what IS there, but what SHOULD BE there or in other words, paint the idea of what’s there!
Combine similar values, avoid having too many darks in the light area, and too many light values in the shade. Limit details to the area in and around the focal point.

Turning a scene into a strong painting requires some thought.
The painter’s job is to manipulate reality to suit his or her purpose by letting values melt together to form a unity. After all, a good painting should be the goal, not an accurate rendering. Read this last one again!
When we merge shapes by unifying values, we achieve an increased abstraction of the overall composition. This makes for a stronger painting that transcends the “pretty, or cute picture”.

You learn only by doing. Someone who only reads cookbooks will never be a good cook. You actually have to cook. A LOT! All this talking about painting is, in the grand scheme of things, baloney – a waste of time – i.e. you and me could be painting right now! But of course, we all have to start somewhere and good guidance is essential and can actually speed up the process of becoming a better painter! It is a tough road to make all the mistakes and work your way through it without any help. I recommend attending the workshop of a professional artist you like. After that, you just paint!
Watercolor technique is not that difficult. It is made difficult by bad teachers.