Basic Values

And we're NOT talkin' politics! Here's a thought to include on your "easel checklist."

Most artists have been known to struggle with a painting and have to figure out why it isn't working.

How and what you paint really doesn't matter either works or it doesn't.

If all the obvious reasons fail to resolve the problem, then compare the overall volume of your three basic values:

Dark Values
Medium Values and
Light Values

None of these values ought to be of equal volume in a painting.

Vermeer did it right. I removed the color above so that you could compare his basic values more easily.

Here are some examples in verrrry simplistic terms to illustrate this concept:

The above example "works" in that medium, light and dark values are unequal. Thus it creates an interesting tension (compared to the examples below that are completely boring).

All three (light, medium and dark) values are equal in this example...a no-no in painting.

This "doesn't work" either in that both the light and dark values are boringly equal. (However, it could be made unequal and "fixed" by adding a spot of dark into the light or light into dark.)

Vermeer's paintings "work" (of course) and his distribution of values is a factor.

The subject doesn't matter - unequal value distribution works the same way.

So when a painting doesn't "look right" and you cannot figure it out...

...consider how you have handled your values.

I'm a big believer in copying the Old Masters if you wish to learn how to paint in a classical manner.

They have so many lessons to teach us that are hiding in plain sight.


Mary Bullock said...

Thanks for the visuals - it really helps to understand what you are talking about. Great tip about the unequal values.

My Painting Studio said...

It's tough to "guesstimate" the volumes of the three values but well worth the effort.

A small adjustment can save your painting if this is the problem.

Susan said...

Well I'll be darn. I am more of an impressionist painter than a classical painter, but I find that this is excellent information to study the masters, and an excellent resource in which to study our own paintings going forward. Thank you Karin! You are truly a master artist and a master teacher.

Over at "RaisinToast"

My Painting Studio said...


My mother would have loved your comment - she always wanted me to be a teacher. And I guess that a part of me does love to teach.

It is so darn hard to have to "rediscover the wheel" every time we pick up a brush....

It's better to paint smart, eh?

Morgen said...

Thank you for your free art tutorials. I've learned more from you than 4 years in art school. I've become a MUCH better painter because of you. Keep up the good work!

My Painting Studio said...

Wow Morgen - you made my day! Thanks for the kind words...I really do want to pass this knowledge on.

Painting isn't that complicated.

First it is a craft - and after that is mastered - it becomes an art.

Linda said...

What a happy accident it is to have discovered your work and your blog. I'm reading this morning for the first time and plan to be a regular visitor.

Thank you so much.


My Painting Studio said...

What a nice thing to say - I'm glad you're here and you made my day today.