For abstract painters especially, it's easy to overlook value because we're so enamored with color. We get lost in all the textures and mixtures, while the unassuming powerhouse of value waits for us to notice what it has to offer.
"Value does all the work and color gets all the credit."
- Brilliant anonymous artist
Value - the grayscale - reveals the foundation of our painting's composition.
Squint often while painting to notice what's happening in black and white.
First, are we even using the full range of values? Excitement is waiting to be had when we pursue the missing values.
Second, does the composition hold up in black and white? Ideally, our eye is just as intrigued to travel through the painting with or without color. If something is lost, this tells us we have an opportunity to vastly improve our painting by attending to the flow of lights and darks.
Third, how is our painting's value composition when turned other directions? Grayscale can starkly reveal whether the balance needs to be tweaked.
Fourth, are the beautiful parts still visible in black-and-white? Sometimes whole swaths of a painting disappear because the values aren't differentiated.
In this older painting, Seduction Bouquet, notice the whole top third is undifferentiated when viewed in grayscale.
These details show sweet passages that are lost in black and white.
Once we see the problem, it's easy to dramatically enhance our painting by slightly upping the value contrast.
Value is our secret key to successful painting, if only we remember to use it!
If you love abstraction, it would be wonderful to see you at one of my upcoming workshops, held conveniently over Zoom! Info below.