Watercolor: He Hung the Moon for Her (& the DPW Challenge!)

He Hung the Moon for Her 6 x 4.5 graphite and watercolor on Arches paper
This is the Daily Paintworks challenge this coming week: Value Challenge: Black & White to Color (You don’t have to be a member to participate, and it’s free). For this challenge, use the black and white window photo above by clicking on it, and then drag the full size version to your desktop. (It’s grainy, but that’s good, because you won’t be tempted to focus on details over values.) The challenge is to paint a color version of this image – in any color harmonies you’d like, but keep the values accurate.

For folks new to values, we’re referring to the gradation between dark, mid-range, and light shades in a value scale. We’ve all seen and/or practiced values in black and white drawings and monochrome paintings, but translating value from black and white to full color demands a little practice (and a lot of squinting). Many new painters use color in their work, with not enough attention paid to values. For this exercise, use the black and white photo as a value map, and paint a color version of the same scene, squinting frequently to ensure the darkest areas in your painting match the darkest areas of the photo, and your mid-ranges are in sync with the mid-range values the photo, and your lightest lights are where the same bright spots are in the reference photo.

This value exercise gives you lots of room to play – both with your color choices, and loose & painterly vs tightly rendered representation. When you’re almost finished with your painting, snap a photo of your work, and use imaging software to check it in black and white. Compare the monochrome photo of your painting to the reference photo, and this will help you see if your values are accurate. Make adjustments on your painting where necessary, and scan or photograph your finished results to post on the DPW Challenge page. We look forward to seeing the full color posts of your work!

There are some tools to help you see values in your work. You can buy a black & white value scale like this one at Dick Blick. And, years ago, a friend gave me a red acetate val-u viewer (below) made by Murphy Enterprises in Torrance, CA. They don’t appear to be in business any more, but you can buy a single sheet of red acetate to make your own, or simply use the sheet by itself as a value lens to check your paintings. I found these tools (and squinting a lot) enormously helpful when I was trying to get my head around values in color.

Starting to add thin glazes of color to test harmonies and plan my darkest darks, painting around my lightest lights. If you’re working in acrylics or oil paints, you can create an under painting in just three values – dark, mid-tone and light – using one color in various transparencies, similar to what the incredibly talented Karin Jurick has done here, and then start adding colors making sure to stay within those values.

On a plane, headed back to Los Angeles, sketching the window from my reference photo. The graphite is my under painting & value plan, based on the values in the photograph. The darkest parts are the clay pot cactus on the upper sill, the neck of the whiskey bottle, and the leaves & parts of the flowers in the vase. The mid-range values are around the frame of the window, the lower parts of the glass vases, and through out the lost-edges of the marble pattern on the window glass looking outside. The lightest areas are crescents and slivers of light in the suspended crystal hanging in the window, the stopper in the whisky bottle, the sloped crown of the lower window pane, and dots & dashes of light in the flower petals.

Art Quote
Hue is the name given to a color. Value is how dark or light that color is. They are inherently related, and it is vital to be conscious of both. So, val-hue is the term I have coined to describe these combined qualities simultaneously. Together, value and hue – val-hue – create mood, define form, create illusion of space and indicate the source of light. Values in a painting create a two dimensional pictorial design regardless of subject matter. A strong painting is often an arrangement of a few simple shapes of different values. This arrangement of values, if done right, can attract viewers to a painting from across a gallery. If the values in a painting are correct, the color will most likely work, but color cannot save a painting with incorrect values. Painting is a study in relationships. Comparing each value to the others – considering not just hue, but val-hue – is a must. ~Kevin Machpherson, Landscape Painting Inside & Out

6 Responses to Watercolor: He Hung the Moon for Her (& the DPW Challenge!)

  1. Kelley Carey MacDonald August 8, 2011 at 4:57 am #

    Belinda – I tried to find the maker of your value viewfinder and all I can come up with is a lawyer who specializes in DUI. Does he also make these up, do you think? Thanks for sharing your process… Lovely painting!

  2. rosaspicks August 3, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    So romantic! I chose this as my favorite painting today on Rosa’s Picks! I hope you’ll come by and check it out. Thanks, Rosa

  3. Art By Erika July 29, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

    Ok I’m very pleased with myself I see we have the same wc palette and same mechanical pencils HAHAHA! Always happy to be a little bit more associated with my B! I love that painting it’s so sensitive in its delicate state it made my eyes a wee bit misty xox

  4. Carol Blackburn July 29, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    Your painting came out awesome, Belinda. May I ask, when you do your graphite sketch, do you add some sort of fixtive to the sketch before adding the watercolor? I would be afraid the graphite would bleed with the color and look smudgy. It is such a detailed sketch and done so beautifully.

  5. Melanie July 29, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    Love it 😉


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