Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Controlling White Values in a Still Life

Many subjects have a range of whites, none of them pure white.

In this diner still life, there's the white paper placemat in shadow, the placemat in light, and the white "PEPSI" lettering painted on the near side of the glass.

And then there are white highlights. The highlights are lighter than the values of the placemat, but even still they aren't pure white.

Highlights are specular reflections of the various light sources. As a consequence, they take on the relative color of the source: cool for the highlights of the window light, and warm for the highlights of the artificial indoor light. That's why I mixed a little yellow into and a little blue into my lightest specular highlights.

Controlling the white values in a painting means keeping even your brightest highlights a little down from pure white, and always comparing one white against another. Mixing accurate values is one of the features in which gouache excels.

This is just one page from my new Living Sketchbook app, "Metro North" Pick up for yourself. Three versions to suit your device:

(Link to video on Facebook)


Mario said...

"Mixing accurate values is one of the features in which gouache excels". This sentence surprised me a bit, I would have expected something like: "Mixing accurate values is one of the tricky tasks with gouache". Gouache changes its value when it dries, mixing accurate values with oil seems easier to me. You certainly excel with gouache as well, but that's another story.
Despite the "tricky values", I do love gouache!

James Gurney said...

Mario, I know what you mean–the value shifting aspect can be a challenge for me too, especially if you didn't mix enough and have to match a flat tone. What I meant was that with gouache you mix a given tone and that tone tends to go on flat.

If it's a relatively transparent pigment of gouache, and you use it transparently (ie without white mixed in, since most gouache doesn't come with opacifiers), then you can use it like watercolor to achieve gradations and variegated values.

Value control is one of the most important things to keep in mind in any kind of painting.