How can I create a simpler, stronger value structure in my images?
Jonty Hatt, US
Clear value organisation can lend real impact to your work, making it both easier for the viewer to take in and more memorable. One powerful technique for achieving this is to group areas of close values together into larger, simpler value shapes. James Gurney coined the term “shape welding” to describe this method. Our own vision often works this way, especially in very bright or dim light when we see only the greater contrasts. The idea is simple: paint as much as you can in the same value! If two shapes near each other are almost the same value, then make them the same and let them merge into a larger shape.
These larger shapes will create your simpler structure, and then you can easily use bits of shadow in the light and highlight in the shadows to suggest form. If you’re unsure what values to use within the various areas, try making your highlights in shadow the same value as a shadow tone in your light areas, and that should provide you with the key.
As you advance with this method, you’ll find that you can use less detail to successfully suggest the various elements in your image. One can say so much with just the edges of the shapes and the suggestion of form within, and the overall simplification of value will instantly make your painting more cohesive.
The shadow areas of the knight and the pine tree flow together, and the brightly lit clouds behind the figure provide contrast and focus. Posterising the image shows me that the image is still recognisable because of the basic value arrangement of larger shapes.