Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Value of Black & White

I'm very excited to be a part of this exhibit that opens November 13th at the Peninsula Art School's 'Guenzel Gallery' in Fish Creek, WI. The artists have been selected because of the 'value' they see in using black and white in their art either as a final statement or as a means to a better understanding of their subject... or both I suppose.

I first began to use value as most art students do during art school; where black and white work is mainly seen in drawing class, or as a preparatory step towards a more complicated full palette painting. Had I gone to an Atelier', there would have been even more time spent in black and white before even being allowed to venture into color.

In my case, as an illustration major at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, my pivotal moment came when I was given a class instructed by Dan McCaw... Painting I. In Dan's class we painted the model and still life in a full value palette, I think it was a mix of Thalo or Prussian blue and Raw Umber or something like that. In other classes we used black and white to do prelim's and design considerations, not to mention all of the drawing from the model that went on. I'll admit to wanting to 'get to color' back then, but now know how important that was for me to have gone through.

I didn't fully realize the 'value' in those early instructive moments until I began to teach students myself. Once faced with the issues that students bring to a class, I began to go back in time and search for the most important lessons that I had learned during my own schooling so that I could bring that to my own classes and students. I quickly realized that the most valuable training that I had in school was centered around understanding value and it's relationship to color. This is the basis for what most people seem to want to know and understand more about than any one thing in a class... COLOR!

The understanding of value relationships and how they translate to color relationships in and around the subject, and consequently onto the painting, is key to using color in a more effective way in painting.

Now in my own workshops and classes, there are at least two days of value work before we move onto color theory and practice. Consistently I get feedback saying that those couple of days are the most valued segments of the class time. Most of us don't think to head outside and paint, the landscape for instance, in black and white. Why would you with all of that color out there? But I think that once we find out that what we're doing a lot of the time outside is trying to 'understand' nature, to look for the truth to what we are seeing, it becomes obvious that understanding value structure is as important to the mood of the painting as is color.

Here's a blog that some of my students started after a workshop to encourage each other to continue to work in value. They've added color but still continue to use the value studies to enhance and boost their knowledge.
"Black & White Painting Challenge 5.26.09'

In the exhibit I'll be showing plein air work. Possibly one large studio piece. If you're in the area, I hope that you will stop into the gallery before the end of the year to take a peak at the show.

Thanks... Marc


John D. Wooldridge said...

I guess these types of exercises are something I should give a shot. I feel that one of my biggest deficiencies is value. It certainly wouldn't hurt!

John Baker said...

You keep inspiring me. I went out this morning hoping for two and came back with one. I got tripped up by a half lit bridge over water with dark and light stones. Local color versus basic value. As I cleaned my brushes and admitted it was time for lunch, I promised myself I would return soon and do it in black and white. Thanks for all the great teaching.

Kitty Wallis said...

Thank you for writing this Marc.
This piece about value is so needed.

Most students that come to me have no idea about how the black and white value scale relates to color. As a result they are making paintings that miss the richness of accurate value readings in their color.

They lose the light structure and/or punch holes in their shadows, or even resort for contrast and drama to all the darks and lights of their palette, missing the middle values, resulting in a truncated painting, devoid of the full perception of value and color.

I've admired your command of value in your paintings and I am very glad you teach it.

Judie Stang said...

We're bringing the family up from KC for Christmas in Door County this year! Thanks for the info, I'll be sure to stop by and see the show!

Marc R. Hanson said...

Exactly Kitty!!! I think it's the most important thing to teach. So many things about being an artist simply take time to mature and develop. But instructing in the importance of value to one's painting is a concrete exercise and it does open eyes. There are more 'Aha' moments when working in the area of value with a class than in any other area of teaching, I've found.
Thanks for the post...