Simplification and Value in Painting – Short Studies

This week I focussed on studying tonal value (how light and dark different parts of a painting are) and on how to simplify what I paint (something I find quite hard). My inspiration came from this lovely blog post by Ros Jenke.

I decided on three colours for each picture, a dark, a midtone and a light colour. Then I gave myself a limited time to paint each piece.

Although I began to get a feeling for it later on, at the beginning of this exercise I didn’t really know how to approach this task. Many children I work with are mortally afraid of failure and it stifles their learning, especially in art. So I’ve included my failures here as well as some successes.

I began with a landscape study. I worked with watercolour pencils which gave me a free and easy feeling and got me into the mindset of sketching rather than painting a finished piece. I tried to stick to the idea of looking for shapes and keeping to three simple values.

Here’s the first sketch before I fixed the pencils with water…

And here’s the finished study…

I gave myself 20 minutes but still ended up working on details rather than shapes. I even added some black watercolour to “pop out” the foreground. It’s not what I was planning.

Next, I had another go with a shorter time frame (15min total) making a study of some rocks. Here’s the watercolour pencil before fixing…

And here’s the study after fixing the paint with water…

Again, I wandered into details of the splashing surf. Still not what I wanted!

Then I tried painting directly with watercolour, no sketching at all and really thinking about shapes…

This was simpler and I felt like I was getting there, but then I lost my mind in the last few seconds and detailed the little snowy owl on the fallen tree. Merlin’s Pants! 😀 So I gave it up that night as a bad job and went to sleep.

The next day I had another go. I went back to the pencils and really restricted my time frame for the study down to 10 minutes total. This time I chose lovely retriever…

I activated the watercolour pencils and here is the study…

I could see the shapes making up the picture – and I had no details. I was finally working out what to do.

To try to embed this learning I quickly drew and then painted another picture of a face…

…and it worked out again. The secret, I think, was to make time so short that I could only get the basic shapes down. I am going to continue to work on this process from time to time this until it becomes second nature.

In fact, I think this style would look great with gouache – so that will be next week’s adventure! 😀


6 thoughts on “Simplification and Value in Painting – Short Studies

  1. These experiments you did are great exercises to appreciate distinctions in values. I had several art classes where we were given three values–black, white, and gray–and had to do various drawings using only those three. And they were marker pens, so we couldn’t even sketch “lightly” to try to steal some additional variations. The finished pieces were quite interesting to look at as pure patterns.

    Liked by 1 person

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