Thursday, April 2, 2009

Controlling your values

Here is a painting by Sorolla, the upper figures display the same lowered values of which I spoke yesterday. Sorolla has left himself lots of room above the value on those boys backs, to place that bright highlight and have it really ring. Look how dark he has made that wet sand reflecting the sky. I suspect that he dropped the value of that to get the boys to tell against it.

Its hard for me to imagine the two together, but in 1914 Hibbard actually visited Sorolla in his studio in Spain. Sorolla told him a studio was a good place to smoke, and the museum was a good place to take a walk. I no longer get to smoke. I can still walk.

Below is another Hibbard, also of his beloved Vermont. I would like to point out several things about this painting. The first is that it has very little atmospheric perspective. Now it's got some, I admit, but look at how dark that distant hill is.

There are lots of paintings out there where the distance dissolves into a high key blur. That's fine, but it's not the only way, and it gets to be repetitive if every painting in a show does that. This picture has a crispness and an authority, and keeping the "punch" in the distance is part of the reason why. It also allows Hibbard to give you a greater area of the canvas in saturated color, rather than stepping on his color with white or gray blue to get recession into the distance. I will bet if I had not pointed this out, you would not have noticed it, because it works just fine. Its absolutely amazing the liberties you can take with nature that will go unnoticed by the viewer.

Hibbard gains another advantage with that ploy. Because he has kept the value of those distant hills low, he can paint the yellow trees in front of them so they are bright by comparison, but low enough in value so that he can fill them with lots of color. If he painted them all full of white they would not have that rich color. Remember white will kill your color if you aren't very sparing in its use. Also the color of those hills behind them is pretty much the compliment of the yellow orange foliage so it really looks sweet in front of them.

Where I am going with all of this is;

although you worked hard to learn to state your values accurately, there are times, particularly in landscape painting when you will want to state them artistically. They are subject to the decision making process and are a tool of design like any other.

It took me just a minute to type that. It took me a long time to figure it out. Always be looking, thinking and CHOOSING.

Below is a detail of the brushstroke in the foreground of the painting. Notice how besides being a sort of exciting shorthand for what they represent, they also show the form of the land that they describe.

They pretty much all run away from the viewer and into the painting, but they are all at somewhat different angles. They are all different colors but they are all close enough together in value to stay as a whole. He has thrown accents and a shadow into this big area of light. Notice also that big pyramid shape at the bottom pointing us up and into the rest of the painting. None of this stuff just happened. It was all put there deliberately.

Try to do more than stand in front of the landscape and ask "what does it look like?" ask yourself. " what can I do to it?"

"Aldro Hibbard,N.A. Artist Inn Two Worlds" by John Cooley, only available through the Rockport Art Association in Rockport Massachusetts.


Unknown said...

Good insights....thanks

Bob Carter said...

Terrific blog! Your comments are always spot on. I'm struck by how many of your painting heroes are mine, too. Sorolla blows me away (no one should be that good!). This painting is not one I have seen before, but I am very struck by the controlled use of value to focus our attention more on the first figure and successively less on the two further figures. Reminds me of "The White Boat", in which the body of the boy in the water receeds with depth through successive shifts in value (darker) and color (more green).
Looking forward to meeting you at the CCAA workshop this summer.
-Bob Carter

armandcabrera said...

Two things you said in your post caught my attention

1)They are subject to the decision making process and are a tool of design like any other.

2)None of this stuff just happened. It was all put there deliberately.

Wow! Advocating thinking while painting and being deliberate about paint application.
Great post and good advice as usual.


Stapleton Kearns said...

Frank; Thanx, good to know you are out there. Where can I get an official apron and hat?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Bob; Thanx for the compliment. I am so ready for painting on the Cape.What could be more like summer than that. See you there!

It is amazing how artists like Sorolla are now receiving the attention they have deserved, after so long. Hows about Seago and Shiskin? Hows about Otis Spann?

Stapleton Kearns said...


You should have seen this post before it was edited down. I removed a lot of statements that were too edgy. I would have liked to have said them but I need to find less aggressive ways. None of them would have surprised or upset you. Its odd but ideas about painting that were commonplace a few generations ago are now radical enough that I need to find ways to soft pedal them or introduce them incrementally and in as tightly reasoned manner as I can. Its been fun doing this art tutorial blog, I seem to have found my little niche. I am used, therefore I am useful. See Armands fine blog at;

JAMES A. COOK said...

After reading this post , I just finished studying my book on "THE TEN AMERICAN PAINTERS" IMPRESSIONISM IN AMERICA. Now I could see how many of the paintings by these artist have dropped there values so that there highlights will stand out that much more. This was absolutely fantastic for me to feel.
Thanks again STAP

Stapleton Kearns said...


I think the importanat thing to learn from this dropping values thing is that they chose to do it. They adjusted their values to get a certain effect. The ability to "nail" those values is key, but there is more beyond that....Stape