Value, Color and Texture

To develop an understanding of value, color and mark making we're going to take an image apart and put it back together again.  Pat Steir has famously based much of her work in her desire to better understand her chosen art materials.  In the example below, "A Vanitas of Style" she recreated a 17th Century still life painting by Jan Brueghel the Elder as a gridded group of panels, each panel painted in a different historical style.  By the end of it she had learned quite a bit about the craft of painting.  We're going to do something similar.  

Pat Steir - A Vanitas of Style
You're going to need your black and white acrylic, brush, water, mixing cups with lids, paper towels, mixed media board, your hobby knife, ruler, your double stick tape and a pencil.  Make sure your mixing cups are fairly small and have lids.

To begin with, on your 18"x24" paper create a series of 6" squares.  Start with a 1" margin all around and make a 1" space between your squares.  You should be able to get six squares with some space left over on the bottom.  Repeat this on a second sheet to give yourself a total of twelve squares.  

Each time you take a tile from the master write on the back what number you've taken.  Top left is number one, like so: 

Using your 9H pencil sketch the image from that square lightly into one of your 6" squares.  Label it on the back with the proper number as well.  

From this point each of the assignments below will give you instructions for recreating each panel from the image we will be using.  


Value is the degree of lightness or darkness in a color.  An easy way to think of value is to think about converting everything you see into greyscale, like an old black and white movie.  In that case the only way to describe color would be that some things black, some white and some grey.  Each of these is lighter or darker than others.  That's value.

Print out this grey value scale as large as you can get it on a standard sized sheet of paper.  Number it from one to ten.  One is white ten is black.
Remember the egg drawing with the highlights, quarter tones, half tones, etc from Drawing One?  This is essentially a painted version of that drawing.  But, you're not going to be able to build up the value like you did with the graphite.  You have to have it mixed right when you lay it down.  So, the first thing we need to do is get control over your ability to accurately mix a value.  Most people will start by trying to make gray by adding white to black.  That's not the way to do it.  You'll use a whole tube of white before you know it.  Instead, add black to your white and get your values that way.  Be careful to add very small amounts of black at a time, a little bit goes a long way.

Start by filling in the lightest areas of your sketch, the white areas.  Be careful and critical, make sure it's actually white and not a very light grey.  Then add a tiny amount of black.  Once it's mixed paint a little area in the extra space at the bottom of your 18"x24" paper.  Let it dry a bit and compare it to your greyscale.  Does it match your number two value?  Modify it until it does.  Paint in the areas that require that value.  Then add some more black and make the next value and so on.

The problem that you're going to run into is that in some places you'll have areas of darker value that have little details in lighter values.  It's easier to fill in the larger area and then come back to add the details later.  Just remember to go back and add them.



Color is easily the most sophisticated and variable technical aspect that an artist or designer will deal with. There is an encyclopedia worth of information on color and multiple sophisticated systems have been created in order to attempt to understand it.  And color theory didn't always refer to the science of color.  There are actual colors that used to exist only as theoretical possibilities  We're only going to get a start into it.

For the purposes of this class you need to be able to accurately mix a exactly the right color to make your composition work.  Because otherwise it won't work and then where will you be?

Don't get caught with a bad composition.

Below is a color wheel.  Isaac Newton developed the first color wheel in 1666 and this is still the dominant model used in the visual arts. However, any color wheel or system presenting a logically arranged sequence of pure hues is valid. (A pure hue contains no white, black, or gray.)  There several versions of the color wheel. Look around the internet and see what you can find. The most commonly used ones are the Itten (12 color) and Munsel (10 color) systems. If you prefer another one then use that one. Just make sure it has primary, secondary, and tertiary colors clearly indicated.
I like this one because it's simple and makes sense with the way I think, it has 12 colors and is easily divided into sections.

The secondary colors, green, orange and purple, are formed by mixing the primary colors and are located between the primary colors on the color wheel.

The tertiary colors are the colors formed by mixing a primary and a secondary color and are again located between these colors on the color wheel.  This is why the tertiary colors have two word names; yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green and yellow-green.

Basic color theory relates color mixing and the use of color combinations.  We will primarily be concerned with color mixing.  We may get into color combinations later in the semester.  

Hue:  This is what we mean when we ask what color is that?  The property of color that we are actually asking about is "hue".  Hue is most easily thought of as pure color with no shade, tint or admixture of any other color. (This is not technically accurate, but that's beyond the scope of this class.)  Different hues are caused by different wavelengths of light.  According to the Munsell color system, the hues are red, yellow, green, blue, and purple.  Although there are multiple color systems and they don't all agree with each other on this, there is an argument for thinking of the hues as the primary and secondary colors on the color wheel.  At least, that's the easiest way to think of them.

Contrast of Hue Hue Contrast - strikingly different hues 
Hue Constancy Hue Constant - different colors, same hue (blue)

Hue and value make big differences in compositions.  In the following work by Al Held bright, pure hues of yellow and lighter values of purple and blue feel closer to the viewer.  The darker values of red, blue and black feel farther away.  So value contrast contributes to a sense of depth just as proportion.  If you want to make something feel closer, give it a lighter value.  If you want to make it feel farther away, give it a darker value.

Held also uses color relationships to add visual interest to his compositions by putting elements with dark values on top of elements with lighter values unexpectedly.  If you look on the right of the composition there is a crinkled yellow shape behind a darker purple hue.  Traditionally we would expect the darker value to be behind the lighter value.  By putting the dark value on top, Held disrupts our expectations and creates visual interest.


Mark Tansey - "Leonardo Wheel"
The above painting, by Mark Tansey, is a monochromatic work using only tints, tones and shades of blue.  It is a value painting like the greyscale one you made previously except that he adds a color.  There are no areas in this piece that are not blue.  At first glance it may seem like there's white and black.  But, it's really a range of blues from very light to very dark, say from values 2 to 9 on your scale.    

For this assignment you'll use the same method as in the greyscale painting.  Choose any one primary or secondary color you like.  It would be a good idea to look at more of Tansey's work to get an idea of the colors that will work best for this.  Colors that he does not use are probably not good choices for this assignment.  

Monochrome simply means one hue.  Mono means One and Chroma means Hue.  

A Tint is a hue with white added to it.  
A Tone is a hue with grey added to it.  
A Shade is a hue with black added to it.  

That grayscale painting was fairly straightforward.  Adding a color can suddenly make mixing your tones a source of confusion and frustration if you're not keeping an eye on the ratios.  My advice is to make your grays by adding a tiny amount of black as before.  Make them slightly lighter than you need and then add a small amount of color.  The color will either lighten or darken your color depending on where you're working on the scale.


In traditional analog color theory the primary colors, red, yellow, and blue can not be mixed or formed by any combination of other colors. All other colors are derived from mixtures of these three hues.

You will be painting two squares using the primary colors.  

#1:  Use the colors as they come out of the tube.  Use yellow for your brightest values, red for the middle values and blue for the darks.  You are not allowed to mix them or create any tints, tones or shades.  

#2: Make use of Tints, Tones and Shades.  Again, you must use all three primary colors and you may not mix them.  However, you may create tints tones and shades of each one as needed.  


Analogous colors are adjacent to each other on the color wheel.
Any set of adjacent colors will easily work together as they are all made of each other.  Sometimes it's helpful to think of working with analogous colors an expanded version of working with one color.  

Make one square using analogous colors.  Choose any three adjacent colors.  Make tints, tones and shades from them as needed.  


Complimentary Colors are direct opposites, directly across from each other on the color wheel.  For example, red and green are compliments.
On a color wheel every color has an opposite.  For example, Yellow and violet are compliments.  You can more or less imagine what would happen to a pure yellow if you added violet to it.  Mixing a color's compliment into it will mute the color and create a range of browns.  

You will be painting two squares using complimentary colors.

#1: Choose a pair of compliments and use them in their pure form.  You may not mix them or create tints tones or shades.  Lay them in next to each other carefully so that you don't mix them.  

#2: Choose a different pair of compliments and use them as you would use black and white in a value study.  Nominate one color to use in the place of the lightest value and use the other in the place of the darkest value.  Mix them together to create a range of browns in-between.

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