Thursday, February 17, 2011

About Lady Hamilton's values

Here's that nice Mrs. Hamilton again with her dog. I am going to deconstruct this picture a little more. Tonight I will talk about values. Values are the relationships of the light and darks in a painting. They are not it's color, they operate independently of color. Values show up in a black and white photo of a painting, color does not. Below is a version of the painting with the shadows darkened in Photoshop. This exaggerates the contrast in the values. Squinting at a painting does about the same thing. I squint at paintings a lot.

As you can see, the figure is set against a big dark shape which serves as a foil. Everything behind Lady Ham is in darkness, other than her hair which is simplified. There is no reason for the viewer to go back there, so all detail is suppressed. In the lower left hand corner is a little spiky yew tree. The lower left hand corner is darkened and the yew tree shape points you back up into the picture again. There's no reason for the viewer to hang out there either. However there is a light passage behind that tree. so there is a value contrast down in that area that helps the painting's balance. The eye is captured by contrasting areas, and moves unstopped through blank, dark or undetailed areas. Romney is always thinking about the emphasis created by contrast between his areas of light and shadow.

Here is another version dropped in value and presented in black and white (only values). I have numbered and drawn arrows to each of the lights. I came up with four although you could count five if you wanted by including the hair ribbon. Each of these light shapes is as different as can be from each of the other light shapes. This is important. Each one covers a different amount of area, has a different geometric shape. The great difference in shapes was carefully designed into the painting to make it interesting. A painting full of repeated shapes is visually uninteresting., The most interesting painting has the most varied shapes. Noticed how Romney made the dogs head an extension of the light shape of her breast tissue area. This makes an even more interesting shape here, and adding the mutt to the bottom of the larger shape reduces the number of shapes he has made in the light. These few shapes are arranged into a pattern with one another. It is a mistake to scatter little tiny repetitive shapes all over the canvas. It looks busy and chopped up, jerky.
Notice that the painting is not evenly divided between dark areas and light areas. Doing that makes a painting static. Either the darks or the lights should predominate. An unequal distribution is more artistic. If you look for this in paintings you will see this a lot. The lights are more commanding but the darks are larger. hence there is a balance of sorts. An artful balance of unequal parts. This can be done the opposite way to, A painting might be designed to have a large area(or areas) of light covering a larger portion of the canvas and a smaller grouping of darks that cover a smaller area of the canvas.

I believe I will return tomorrow and deconstruct our patient temptress a little more.


Marian Fortunati said...

Really interesting post. I always need to reinforce and reinforce until someday I "get it".

I will say that when I read your title I didn't take the word "value" in the artistic sense... .... which I'm sure you did intentionally. Another reason I enjoy reading what you have to say!!

Philip Koch said...

In his comments following yesterday's post, mighty Stapleton labeled those of us who teach in art schools "vile crustaceans." He has a point.

I was going to go in to school today to teach my Life Drawing class, but instead I think it may be more appropriate to just fall on my sword.

Robert J. Simone said...

Variety and balance in the big value shapes seems central to the making of a picture yet it is often taken lightly (nice pun, huh?). Guess it's hard enough for developing artists to paint good forms that design issues like this are often left unattended to. Stretches the imagination, too. Good that you are keeping this on the radar screen. Thanks.

billspaintingmn said...

Ha! Philip! Don't fall on your sword, you'll look like a shish-kabob.
Teaching art is as important as raising kids. Folks with artistic integrety are to be admired.

Stape! I have to say I am drawen to paintings that reflect the old masters concepts/ applications.
Some of the more contemperary stuff
is fun, if it isn't all ego.

I like my crustations dipped in a butter sauce:)

Mark Heng said...

Thanks, Stape! It's great to get insights that go beyond the surface. Looking forward to tomorrow's post.

Unknown said...

"An artful balance of unequal parts." That sounds like a core truth that can be applied to life as much as a painting. Another post-it tacked to my wall!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Get up off your sword! I was joining in the trashing of those teachers who pooh-pooh art history. Something I am sure you don't do.I think you are one of the good guy's.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am going to go to a new radar screen tomorrow.I think perhaps I am beating this to death.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Teaching art to kids is even better.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks tomorrows post is up and is more Romney dissection.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Perhaps. But it is true in design for sure.