Innovation, Risk, Surprise, Uncategorized, urban sketching

Valuing the Value Study

There’s nothing like being reminded for the umpteenth time to do a “thumbnail.” For those who don’t know, this is a (usually small) simple sketch or two before attempting to dive right into drawing or painting the work you have in mind. Often it takes a teacher to get through to you on this; for those more accustomed to “multi-tasking” and thinking it is doing some good, it requires a bit of discipline to keep slowing down.

Illustration:  Value study sketch (Hillwood Mansion grounds) by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: Value study sketch (Hillwood Mansion grounds) by Black Elephant Blog author

In my experience, this business of reinforcing what we’ve already supposedly learned is one of the main benefits of keeping anchored in a class or two–so that your habits do not become too sloppy. And of course you keep learning new stuff even as you are reminded about the “old stuff.”

So, in the current class in pastel painting, the teacher handed out this handy little value chart (which I’ve protected in a little plastic sheath–see photo below).

Illustration:  Photo of value scale

Illustration: Photo of value scale

When we do thumbnails or sketches, one purpose (besides mapping out a composition) is to do a value study–a study of the “values” or the tones or shades of contrast. While it is tempting (and normal) to jump right to the details, I have learned that the details often blind us to the really important things in art (and elsewhere?…) –like values, shapes and shadows. This requires re-training the brain for many of us.  Doing value studies is the most direct form of problem-solving I’ve encountered so far in my art education. (And it seems quite transferable to other fields requiring problem-solving.)

While can be more fun to jump straight into colors (and sometimes, depending on what you are seeking to achieve, it is a good idea!), learning to see the values, shapes and shadows has its own delights. Doing this in different media, including water-soluble graphite…

Value Study in Graphite crayon

Illustration: Value study in water-soluble graphite by Black Elephant Blog author

and conte crayon

National Gallery of Art value study

Illustration: Conte crayon value study of Richard Serra metalwork sculpture (East Wing, National Gallery of Art) by Black Elephant Bog author

also provides valuable learning opportunities.

So during a recent visit to the majestic, privately-run Hillwood Museum and Gardens estate in the heart of Washington, D.C., the grounds were so beautiful underneath a

Hillwood photo

Illustration: Garden sculpture at the Hillwood Mansion and Gardens, Washington, D.C. –Photo by Black Elephant Blog author

clear blue sky that it was nearly impossible to go inside. Instead the sights of flowering trees and bushes, the gentle slope of the “Lunar Lawn”, and ornate garden sculptures were captivating. Frankly, it was a challenge to detect the “values” in different shades in such a riot of bright color. In addition, the diversity of people, from all over the world, and particularly Russian families, made it an even more memorable afternoon.  (The Hillwood Estate of Marjorie Meriweather Post features the most comprehensive collection of Russian imperial art outside of Russia, according to its website.)

Such a glorious visit to the Hillwood mansion gardens has provided much fodder for future practice in value studies and beyond…

  •    A small Japanese garden, for instance, features two   whimsical bridges, leading to a roughly sketched out ‘work-in-progress’ in pastel.

Pastel work-in-progress

  • And, a toddler sitting in the tall grass already has provided inspiration for a series of sketches and value studies…

    Boy sketch 1

    Illustration:  Sketch of Toddler sitting in tall grass at Hillwood Mansion, Washington, D.C. by Black Elephant Blog author

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