Yesterday, I presented a “High-Key” study — a lake scene done using the lightest values from our traditional value scale. Today, for comparison, I repeated the study using the lowest values. Here is the result:
Repeating this study using different values was a bit of challenge in itself. At the time, I was tired, having just spent nearly an hour cleaning my palette and brushes. I’ve never cared much for painting the same scene over a second time, and as you can tell, I didn’t put a lot of effort into this.
My biggest accomplishment for the day — other than all the cleaning — was mixing grays on my palette and trying to match them to my value card as closely as possible. For each value gray I created, I used a careful mix of raw umber, Payne’s gray, and white. The umber warmed up the coolness of the Payne’s gray, and the white allowed me to create shades ranging from a dark gray to a mid-tone. I then used those grays as guides for my color mixing.
Low key paintings are often associated with dark, stormy, and gloomy scenes. Where “high-key” paintings might be compared to bright, happy major keys in music, the low-key value range is definitely a minor key. And just as I love music written in minor keys, I’m naturally more drawn to low-key art.
Two of the best known “low-key” paintings are these works.
First, by Claude Monet, there’s “Seascape”.
And J. M. W. Turner’s “Moonlight – A Study at Millbank” is a beautiful example of low-key painting. Here, Turner has used a trick many artists have since borrowed: adding small bright bursts of light for contrast.
These two studies have been interesting to do, and I’ve definitely learned a lot about the “relative values” in painting. I’ve discovered for myself that it doesn’t matter which end of the value scale predominates. We can stay within a limited range and create interesting art.
Overall, I know that my “light” values in the high-key study were a bit too dark; in a similar way, I see my “dark” values in today’s low-key study as a bit too light. As I’m learning, it seems I tend to move toward the middle in my values. Now, I have a better understanding of what I need to work on and why.
All of this information is very helpful for me as I move toward creating a greater sense of mood and atmosphere in my landscape paintings.