As you probably know, I’m a big believer in the power of thumbnails. I create three-value thumbnails in black, grey, and white, namely, I use the extreme ends and mid-point of the value scale. In this way, I produce a very clear, high-contrast map of what I’m going to paint.
Students, however, are often confused at the correlation between thumbnail and painting. They wonder since they have created a black and white in the thumbnail, should they then use such extremes of value in their painting. For example, should they use a very dark blue in the dark areas and almost white in the light areas even though they are painting a very brightly lit scene?
Just because your thumbnail includes both ends of the value scale doesn’t mean you have to paint a painting with those extremes of value i.e. from black to white. You can create a painting that’s very very light (for example a snow scene) or one that’s very very dark (a night scene for instance) or even one that sits somewhere in the middle (an overcast day might fit this) using your thumbnail.
In each of these instances, you would still follow a three-value system but would shift up or down the value scale as the subject dictated. In each case, you would still create an overall map showing what areas are darkest, what areas are lightest, and what areas fall between the two. (You can read another blog that touches on this topic here.)
To show you what I mean, let’s take a look at a thumbnail and painting I did at the Villa Nobile in Tuscany where I recently taught a 10-day workshop.
You can see how the thumbnail and the painting – as seen in black and white – correlate in value. Each has similar areas of dark, middle, and light values. The thing is that as you look at the painting, you’ll notice that my darkest darks aren’t that dark.
Have a look at the pastels I used. I’ve arranged them in dark, middle, and light colours. You can see that my dark pastels aren’t that dark. To see how not-dark they are, take a look at the image at the end of the blog post!
Let me take you through the progression of this plein air pastel.
I showed the workshop students this painting to help them understand this concept of moving up and down the value scale. I think it helped.
Now have a look at the pastels I used PLUS three pastels from the dark value section of my box. A big difference huh?
Have a look at the pastels in black and white. This really shows you how far up the value scale I’m working.
And here’s the scene I painted. As you can see, the sun came and went!
As an aside, the students asked me to critique my own painting (that’s always a toughie!). They then added their own thoughts. I plan on making a few changes to the painting but haven’t had a chance to do yet as I only arrived home from Italy a couple of days ago. And now I’m off to a workshop for a week. This one’s for me!
I’d love to know if this post was helpful so please do leave a comment. Also, please ask me any questions if it’s not clear. As always, I look forward to hearing from you.
Until next time,
PS. I had an AMAZING time with my students in Tuscany, Italy. Here’s a group photo of us at the end of our 10-day adventure together.
I was very moved when they gave me these beautiful Italian-made earrings as a thank-you gift!! (They also gave me some funky joke earrings but you’ll have to come to a workshop with me to see them!)