Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Why Should I Mass Values?

After yesterday's postCa.Via.seattle asks: "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?"

Howard Pyle
Good question. The reason value massing is so important is that a simple tonal design has much more impact. You can tell at a glance what's going on, and 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.
Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret
Here the wedding dress connects to the tablecloth and the female figures behind, while the people dressed in dark clothes join together to make a simple shape. 

Here's the YouTube video demonstrating value grouping. (Link to YouTube)
Previously: Shape Welding
Plein-Air Tip: Grouping Tonal Values
Books: Composition: Understanding Line, Notan and Color
Composition tips in: Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist


Meera Rao said...

Thanks so much for clear explanations and your generosity! Also loved seeing Jeanette’s painting and hearing her advice :) thanks again !

Rubysboy said...

The readability and impact explanations make sense for magazine covers or book illustrations, or billboards or paintings that must compete with other sights in a visually busy environment, but I wonder if value massing is so important for paintings intended for the home. Viewers there will be seeing the painting repeatedly, in various lights, in various moods, over a long time period. So there is less need for the picture to grab the viewer and get its message across instantly and forcefully. In fact, the brute force of value massing may interfere with the exploration and appreciation of other aspects of the painting. I have a similar question about the injunction to have a strong center of interest. Joseph Raffael's paintings come to mind as examples that reward long and repeated viewing.

C.via.SEATTLE said...

This made everything click into place. It’s just controlling values so you can control the eye.

From a previous blog post: “Pyle told his students: ‘Put your white against white, middle tones (groups) against grays, black against black, then black and white where you want the center of interest. This sounds simple, but it is difficult to do.’”

Drake Gomez said...

It might also be worth considering this issue from an opposing view--what happens when values are not massed? The answer, I think, is that the composition may seem spotty and haphazard. Massing of values is another way the artist instills order and shows intent, opposed to creating chaos or allowing randomness to run amok.

A Colonel of Truth said...

Painting is simple. Until you (truly) understand what you are doing. [Great stuff you offer, James. Thank you. Merry Christmas!)

eugubino said...

Great Post as usual , so true but so hard to do ,easy to see but hard to carry out in practice

C.via.SEATTLE said...

Drake and others, how do you decide on your values in landscapes? I’ve been doing still lifes and figures for 20 years, and it’s easy to identify and then control the lighting for the most interesting element in those (the fruit, the face, etc.). But unless there is one defining feature (ie a waterfall) in a landscape, what do you consider when assigning value - literally and figuratively - for a more featureless scene?

Stephen Berry made four different notans of the same ocean beach scene:


These all seem similar to me. What would be your process for picking one of these over the other?

A lot of what I read on notans says it comes down to picking “interesting shapes,” which seems pretty vague ( I do know the standard rules of composition). Virtual Art Academy has a book on notan design, but I haven’t paid the $70 to unlock the whole thing, although what is available for free has been useful:


Drake Gomez said...

CA.via.SEATTLE, I'm not a landscape painter per se, but if I hazard an answer to your first question, even a featureless scene is likely to have one or more areas of interest, aka focal points. They might not be as obvious as a waterfall, but without some hierarchy of interest, that featureless scene is likely to be pretty bland. So it would be the areas of interest that would inform how I assign value.

As for Berry's four notans, I don't think it's a matter of having a process for picking one over another--each one offers different artistic possibilities, so it's about what I want to achieve/communicate/express. Perhaps that is a kind of process, but it's a more fluid process rather than a formulaic one.

Thanks for the link to the Virtual Art Academy book, BTW...that looks interesting.

Unknown said...

Hey, Do you ever use a spray fixative on your work? Are there alternatives?

C.via.SEATTLE said...

Thank you, Drake. That was my guess - whatever it was that first drew you to the scene, plus whatever natural hierarchy of value is already presenting. Perhaps a lot of it is just experience.

Yesterday I was able to track down a copy of Edgar Payne’s Composition in Outdoor Painting, and I am looking forward to seeing what that genius has to share about this subject.

Unknown said...

Mass is important because your eye doesn't perceive the "lines" we draw. They perceive things in contrast to their surroundings.

Barry John Raybould said...

I wrote a description of the mass notan procedure here: (together with a video showing how I use it to plan a plein air painting). You might find this useful: https://www.virtualartacademy.com/notan/