But painters have to work at creating contrast. If we don’t, our paintings get the “middle-value-mumbles,” the tendency to paint everything in the middle of the tonal range.
Here’s a good exercise to cure yourself of the middle value mumbles. Do a sketch where everything in the light is rendered in white and everything in shadow is stated in black.
I’ll show you the idea executed in several different media. The medium or technique doesn’t matter; the idea does. In this picture I used a brushpen with no pencil layin. The faces are people in an audience listening to Irish music. They were lit by a single light bulb overhead.
For this to work, you need to have a subject lit by one light source, or by the sun. Try to ignore the actual local color. Push everything to dramatic extremes. The effect will resemble an old photo or a painting that has been photocopied a million times. Try not to use any lines. Define everything with shapes. For the picture below of the library, that meant leaving off the vertical lines on the right of the columns and the horizontal lines defining the stairs.
I laid in the drawing in pencil, and used a fine Micron pen and a marker for the shadows. I drew it in daytime from across the street. I had a hard time deciding whether to make the sky white or black.
If you evaluate the library image in “Image/Adjust Levels” in Photoshop, the histogram looks like a wide flat valley (no middle tones) with tall peaks in the black and the white.
Here's the idea carried out in oil at a sketch group. I used pure titanium white and ivory black, each with its own brush, working over a dark gray ground.
It takes supreme determination to avoid the temptation to blend the colors into greys. Don’t give in! Let edges disappear! The viewer of your picture will not mind seeking out or imagining the edges that you have to leave out.
For more on a related subject, visit the earlier posts on shapewelding and high contrast shapewelding.
Tomorrow: Lit Graphic at the Rockwell