Sunday, July 7, 2013

Artist Tip #17 - Design Guidelines: Value Patterns

In previous artist tips, we covered the elements and principles of design.  Now, we'll cover some design guidelines: a number of suggestions to help us translate the generic principles of design into very practical approaches to improve our paintings.  The first guideline we'll discuss is perhaps the most important one: the creation and use of value patterns.

To be as successful as possible, a painting needs a wide range of values, from the very lightest to the very darkest.  A value pattern is the pattern of light, mid, and dark values in your painting.  The value pattern is king! It is the first thing we see when we look at a painting... before color, texture, etc.  A "good" value pattern will organize your painting and make it interesting.  A painting with a poor value pattern will be boring.

To be as successful as possible, a painting needs the entire range of values, from the very lightest to the very darkest.

So, how do we create a good value pattern for our painting?  The easiest way to plan our value pattern is to make a small, a quick value sketch (perhaps 3x5" or 4x6") of the major shapes in the planned painting, and fill in those shapes with 3 values of pencil shading or marker.  These 3 values represent the 3 value ranges that we discussed in Artist Tip #9.  This is the most important step you can take in designing your painting for success - most serious artists do this!  By doing several different value sketches for the same painting, you can compare several designs quickly and easily, and choose the value pattern with the most impact.  It can thus free you from slavishly copying your subject.  This is a lot better than painting a complete painting and then discovering that it has a weak value pattern and has to be repainted.

Here's an example of a very quick and simple pencil value sketch that I did to plan a painting:  I chose light values for the sky and water, medium for the city silhouette and sails, and dark for the boat hulls.

The corresponding painting was titled Evening on the Bosphorus, and followed pretty closely the value sketch, with a few small variations and enhancements:

But how does one get started on planning "good" value patterns?  One way to start is by trying some "standard" value patterns, which I'll explain here and in the following artist tip.

To begin, consider the following approach for landscape value patterns.  Almost all landscapes have three major shapes:  foreground, mid-ground, and background.  Simply assigning one of the three values to each of these shapes, and then trying several variations, can give the artist several possible value patterns to consider.

Here are a few sample paintings (both Hawaiian subjects) where these "landscape" patterns can be seen.  First, in Kauai North Beach, a dramatic effect was achieved with a light foreground, a dark mid-ground, and a mid-value background:

Our next example, Keanee Peninsula Maui, has a dark foreground, a light mid-ground, and a mid-value background:

In our next artist tip, we'll consider several more general value patterns that can be applied to all sorts of subjects.  Stay tuned!

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