In my classes at the TexArt Workshop I’m going to show you how to rapidly improve the visual impact of your watercolors by focusing your attention on the middle values in any subject. And by doing so… you will unlock the most sublime secrets of Watercolor.
Study this painting on the left. Look for just two features in this painting. First of all… can you see the darkest dark brushwork? Of course you can. That’s easy in this painting. Now… can you see where the whitest, lightest, brightest areas of the subject are? Again… Easy!
Well now that you’ve identified just these two distinctions… understand that everything else in the painting… about 75% of the painting… consists of middle value colors.
OK… so next… study this Gray Study of the moon rising over the Ganges River, in North India. Follow the same procedures. First off… identify the darkest darks! Then… ask yourself where are the lightest lights? And in this case… both questions are easily answered. You’ve got these very dark trees… and the moonlight at opposite ends of the value spectrum. And here you can easily see how I actually developed the whole painting using mostly the middle value grays. The whitest, lightest, brightest areas of any painting… coupled with the darkest darks… are the main features of any painting. They are the stars in the play. They get most of the attention. In fact, it’s the sheer contrast of these 2 visual elements that draws our attention, rivets our focus, and ultimately creates the drama in any painting. Without these two contrasting features… the major actors on the stage… the play would be flat and lifeless.
However… as important as the strongest contrasts are in a painting… it’s really the middle values that set the stage and provide the main actors with the whole context in any painting. Notice in this gray study… how very little darkest dark brushwork there is? It’s only a tiny fraction of the painting. And the moon and reflection are simply cut out shapes that I created by painting around them with the middle values… leaving them as white paper.
Can you see in this painting of the lighthouse that in fact… there is no real darkest dark?
It’s created using only middle value colors. And in this case… that middle value blue gray is the darkest dark. And even though there is not any actual dark brushwork in the painting… the illusion of the subject still works. You still see a lighthouse with bright sunlight on the sea behind it.
Now the elephant at the Amber Fort in Jaipur, India. Once again… where is the very darkest brushwork? And then… where are the whitest, lightest, brightest, areas of the subject? Once you identify those two areas… you can clearly see that 80% of this painting is created with middle-value brushwork.
The magical skill in transparent watercolor is in learning how to initially identify these darkest darks and lightest light areas of any subject… first.
And the reason this is so important… is because we’re going to paint around all those areas that are whitest, lightest, brightest. And we’re going to paint right over… all these areas that are going to end up as darkest darks!
Once you begin to recognize the procedure’s first & second steps… images begin to reveal their secrets.
Around & Over
As you study this painting… understand that once I had identified where these very white and light colored blossoms of my wife’s Peace Roses were in the design… and sketched in their shapes lightly… I painted around all of the blossoms. And I painted right over… all these areas where the darkest dark stems & leaves were added later.
It’s about seeing subjects differently
I’ve chosen all of these paintings to illustrate this idea about the middle values. And the goal of this workshop is to re-orient your working procedures so that you have an actual Working Method that helps you paint better. And the proof of the effectiveness of this method is in the visual results that appear right in front of your own eyes.
This painting of the church, lit from within, and bathed in the last light of day, is actually 90% middle values. It’s the middle value brushwork that I used… to paint around all of the lightest brightest features. And the Darkest Dark brushwork is only in those few trees in the middle. Other than those trees… it’s all middle-valued colors. And it’s the careful development of these middle values that then creates the full range of light & mood in the painting. The darkest darks are then the crescendo.
So let’s look just at this Darkest Dark brushwork in a few paintings.
Look at how little dark brushwork it took to establish the full value range in this painting. It’s all middle values with the exception of these few areas of darkest dark brushwork. This is one of the ways to keep the colors in your paintings from going too dull… by not over working them.
And this one is quite dramatic. I love to paint the unique features you see at low tide. This was at Lincoln City on the coast of Oregon in late afternoon. But the point is… how very little darkest dark brushwork it takes to establish the full illusion of spatial depth and mood.
With just this addition of this dark brushwork… the whole mood of the painting is established.
However… it’s the development of all these middle values in the painting… with their lovely blends and their edges that define the lightest areas of the subject… that provide the magic. If it were left up to just the darkest brushwork… this wouldn’t be much of a painting.
So as you study these paintings… looking at the power of the middle values… ask yourself how much of a painting would they be with just the Darkest Dark brushwork?
When you take paintings apart like this… it’s amazing to see just how much power the middle values have.
We need the Darkest Dark brushwork to provide us with the visual anchor for the full range of values. But the real magic of watercolor lies in your ability to work the middle values.
David would love to see you at the TexArt Workshop in May of 2016.
TexArt Workshop Registration now open
This unique new artist training workshop is a first ever collaboration between the Susan Kathleen Black Foundation and the Society of Animal Artists, featuring 8 of the Society of Animal Artist’s award winning instructors and a large variety of artistic skills to choose from.
Train with the best… TexArt Workshop in May of 2016 in Kerrville, Texas.