Monday, December 16, 2019

Plein-Air Tip: Grouping Tonal Values

An essential composition strategy is to organize values or tones into a light group and a dark group.

In this plein-air painting of a house in Sebastopol, California, my main focus is to create a single unbroken mass of dark for the trees, which then connects to the shadowed parts of the structure and the garbage can.



In this 15 minute video (Link to YouTube) I demonstrate my approach, including a little about perspective, painting procedure, brushes, and compositional design. 

I'm using a limited palette that includes M. Graham watercolor in just four colors: yellow ochre and transparent red oxidetitanium white gouache and black gouache.
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Related post: Shape Welding

3 comments:

C.via.SEATTLE said...

Lots of thoughtful artists here so I’ll copy paste my question to this video which Mr. Gurney cross-posted on Instagram:

Me: “Thank you for posting. This relates to the question I’ve been wanting to ask you for weeks - WHY is value massing so important? I’ve read your entire blog, including everything about shape welding, read Arthur Wesley Dow’s book on notan studies, and have generally scoured the internet, so I know HOW to mass values, but still don’t have a deep understanding as to why it is so important and powerful. Can you possibly elaborate? I’d love your insight. Thank you.

Gurney: “The reason value massing is so important is that a simple tonal design has much more impact. You can tell at a glance what is going on. It reads from across the room or when reduced to a tiny size. The parts of the scene that are less important can be relegated to the light-on-light mass or the dark-on-dark mass. The parts that you want the viewer to notice are highly contrasting.”

Me (delighted, and feeling famous): ‘The parts of the scene that are less important can be relegated to the light-on-light mass or the dark-on-dark mass. The parts that you want the viewer to notice are highly contrasting.”’ This makes so much sense, thank you. The convergence of two strategies - having clear values plus that the eye is drawn to the place of most contrast. Some of this still unclear to me so I’ll move the question to your blog. Thanks again.”

Question to everyone here - How do things read clearly from across the room, when we are massing values? Let’s say a dark part of my painting is a sofa and a dog and a shadow and a wall. Massed together, that is just going to look like a dark blob. How does that make the painting more clear? Or is the strategy meant to be used as an extension of establishing the spot of highest contrast, meaning as another way to guide the eye? Thanks so much.

C.via.SEATTLE said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen and Nyree said...

It may sound odd, but this principle is even used in resumes. A scan zone to make the document easier to read and access the information the prospective employer wants. We use this in advertising, textbooks, scientific papers, bank statements etc. Humans like things that are easy to read and then find the highlights. A painting can use the same idea to make it more appealing to the eye and yet quickly readable to the mind.