I’m going to start this post — as I so often do — far afield from the world of art. Yesterday afternoon my husband and I watched an episode of Nova we had recorded earlier. It was about statistics, the science of probabilities, and all the many algorithms in use around us.
Before we went to bed, my husband checked the porch and found an Amazon package there. I was shocked. Not that finding packages from Amazon is unusual. But finding this particular package at that particul time made me do a double take.
“Talk about algorithms,” I explained. “This was obviously the result of one of those.” I said this because the package contained a pad of canvas paper — the kind I’m using for a lot of my oil painting practices. I’d ordered a pad recently, and yesterday, being down to the last sheet, I figured I’d better put in another order.
At the same time, some computer at Amazon was obviously doing a bit of figuring on its own. “Let’s see,” I can imagine it saying. “This woman ordered a pad of canvas paper, and most likely it’s used up now, so she’ll probably be ordering another. We’d better be sure to have it at a warehouse close to her.”
So, yes, indeed. I ordered my new pad of canvas paper yesterday morning and it arrived yesterday evening. Algorithms are mind-boggling, at times.
Now, about that canvas paper. It’s good for practice exercises. When I’m doing color-mixing or practicing specific brush stroke techniques, it’s great. I have to say, however, that it’s not quite so great for “quick study” paintings.
Usually I do my quick studies on canvas panels. Over recent days, however, I’ve been using my canvas pad. The studies I’m doing are a bit more experimental. They’re more like exercises than actual painting.
Here is my most recent “quick study”:
Had I done this on a canvas panel, I’d most likely go back to do a bit of “tweaking”. While it’s “not bad”, it’s not all that it could have been. It’s not even all that it should have been. It was, you see, an attempt at working with values. While I did manage to get most of my dark values in place, my lightest values — highlights from the sun — are nowhere to be seen.
I began with a quick “thumbnail” sketch on which I drew out the basic shapes and marked the darkest areas. I looked next at the lightest areas. Finally, I indicated where the mid-range values would be.
I then repeated my drawing on the canvas page, using a small brush with thinned raw umber paint to delineate the basic shapes and suggest the positions of the trees. I worked next on putting in dark areas. As I did with my initial drawing, I then moved on to the lighter areas, and finally added in the mid-tones.
A problem I have is that as I paint and attempt to “blend” my brushstrokes into a softer form, my lights and darks all converge with those middle-grays. A good way to resolve this issue would be to allow this first “rough draft” of colors to dry, and then go back to lighten up those highlights. I did make a “second pass” to add in some of the shadows that I’d nearly blended away. That improved the painting somewhat.
But then, I got another “shocker”. Just as I was stunned when my new pad of canvas paper arrived only hours after I’d ordered it, I was more than a little dumb-founded when I put this quick study into GIMP — a graphics manipulation program — to look at the values.
This is an excellent method for value studies, and can be done with any photo program that allows you to desaturate and posterize images. That’s exactly what I did with “Late Summer”. I first removed all color from it so that I was left with a black and white — and gray — image. Then I posterized it to show three values.
Here is the result:
Oops! This was not what I was expecting at all, and it shows me how far off my judgment is when it comes to colors and values.
I thought my sky was a lighter value throughout the painting. I see now that it was actually a middle value with only a couple very light streaks on the right. Definitely I had the right idea, but the wrong execution.
It looks like I did get some of the darker values in the right place, but again, my lighter values aren’t anywhere to be seen. Right idea. Wrong execution.
And my trees! Those leafy boughs should have shown three values — light where the sun is hitting, mid-range values, and dark values for the shadowed areas. All I ended up with was a mish-mash of dark and middle values. Right idea. Sadly, the wrong execution.
While looking at this “GIMP-ed” image is a bit disheartening, I understand now how much more work I have to do in creating strong values in my art. Getting the values right means the painting will be believable. Even when we use colors that are a bit out of the ordinary, a painting will still “work” for the viewer as long as those all-important values are correct.
My values are way off. I know I’ll need to spend a little more time mixing not just “colors”, but creating those colors in the right shade or tint. This is one of the most important aspects of landscape painting, and I can clearly see how much more practice I need.
I do have the right idea now. I’ve read enough and studied enough to understand the principles behind values in painting. That’s a good starting point. Now I need to work on the execution. Once I get that right, I know I’ll see a dramatic improvement in all of my art.