Val­ues and con­trast

ImagineFX - - Editor’s Letter -

Min Yum shows that par­ing back an im­age helps you see what’s im­por­tant to fo­cus on when paint­ing.

Min Yum demon­strates his method for cre­at­ing an im­age us­ing con­trast and just four val­ues, touch­ing on op­ti­cal il­lu­sions and sto­ry­telling, too I first read about con­trast and val­ues years ago in An­drew Loomis’ clas­sic book Cre­ative Illustration. In­side were four odd-look­ing boxes of var­i­ous val­ues, which the au­thor claimed to be im­por­tant when cre­at­ing a strong illustration.

My def­i­ni­tion of val­ues has changed since then. I mostly as­so­ciate them with de­scrib­ing a form, but they also serve an­other key role, and that’s to gov­ern con­trast. Here, con­trast refers to how an ob­ject stands apart from an­other. It’s how we dis­tin­guish an ob­ject from its back­ground.

Why this is im­por­tant? It’s ba­si­cally how we look at things, or how cer­tain ob­jects be­come no­tice­able when they have a strong con­trast. And by in­cor­po­rat­ing them into our work we can vis­ually con­trol how ob­jects are read – or not read – by their roles in an im­age. If they’re im­por­tant then you should add con­trast, which makes them stand out. Ob­jects of lesser im­por­tance need to re­tain their low con­trast, so a viewer know it’s there but won’t be dis­tracted from the fo­cal point of the im­age.

So un­like us­ing them to de­scribe form, this ap­proach em­pha­sises the re­la­tion­ship of con­trasts be­tween val­ues. If done cor­rectly it’ll re­sult in a strong im­age with clear read­abil­ity.

Why use four val­ues?

There are many vari­a­tions on paint­ing with con­trast. Many artists use three val­ues, which re­sults in a bold paint­ing. Oth­ers use five be­cause the fi­nal art is slightly more for­giv­ing. Yet it’s not im­por­tant how many val­ues you use – the key thing to un­der­stand is that you have to use val­ues to cre­ate con­trast for bet­ter read­abil­ity, rather than de­scribe a form or light­ing setup. This will free up a lot of val­ues and give you an op­por­tu­nity to think about the ef­fect of con­trol­ling con­trast. This also helps you to pri­ori­tise fo­cal points over less-im­por­tant de­tails. Th­ese two im­ages show how the fo­cal point is em­pha­sised through the use of lim­ited val­ues.

Get sketch­ing to test my ideas

I al­ways start with sketches, and Pro­cre­ate’s sketch brushes are ideal for this stage. The draw­ing helps me to see where I’m go­ing. It’s a quick way to con­firm if an idea will work or if I need to take an­other ap­proach. It’s much eas­ier to make ad­just­ments and ex­plore vis­ual ideas now, rather than dur­ing the later stages of a paint­ing, where it’s time-con­sum­ing to make even the small­est of changes.

Sim­ple value plan­ning

I now switch to Pho­to­shop. It’s al­ways best to work from big to small as you paint. My plan is to show the large, key shapes with­out de­tails and see if they can be read. My big­gest con­cern is that since my dark­est value (black) is tied to the back­ground, I’m left with three val­ues to de­scribe the rest of the scene. It’s go­ing to be a chal­lenge, but at least this gives me an idea of the prob­lems that lie ahead.

Com­po­si­tion op­tions

Be­cause we’re ac­tively think­ing about how this im­age reads, this should re­sult in a good com­po­si­tion. Large con­trasts in val­ues needs to be placed next to the fo­cal point, to en­sure that I grab the viewer’s at­ten­tion. Sub­tler ad­ja­cent val­ues such as dark grey and black could be used in de­tails that may not be im­por­tant, but need to be present to sup­port the main idea: in this case a small group of trees within a for­est. I want to show strong, ver­ti­cal trees with a hint of a large sil­hou­ette within the tree­line. It’s go­ing to be a lit­tle flat, but there’s a good op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore rhyth­mic shapes and pat­terns.

Cre­ate an op­ti­cal il­lu­sion through the use of si­mul­ta­ne­ous con­trast

Although four val­ues are never re­ally go­ing to be enough to de­scribe much, they’ll be­have dif­fer­ently depend­ing on their sur­round­ings. For ex­am­ple, a light grey on a white back­ground will ap­pear darker than the same grey on a black back­ground. This is a well-known op­ti­cal il­lu­sion called si­mul­ta­ne­ous con­trast, and I know that if I use it cor­rectly I can de­scribe a lot more val­ues by trick­ing view­ers into think­ing they’re see­ing more than just the four I’m us­ing. An ex­am­ple of how I’ll use si­mul­ta­ne­ous con­trast to show more val­ues is in the tree de­tails. The darker trunk has light grey pat­terns and the same light grey pat­terns are present in the white bark, but will ap­pear slightly dif­fer­ent from each other.

Work­ing with sil­hou­ettes

When it comes to the de­tails, it’s re­ally all about de­scrib­ing sil­hou­ettes. Here’s a close-up of a tree and a branch stick­ing out. They’re both in light greys, but if I were to keep the start of the branch in the same light grey then I’d even­tu­ally lose its sil­hou­ette. I could re­in­force it with a hint of black as a shadow, but I need it to read bet­ter and it re­quires more de­tails, too. I add white to the branch un­til it’s not set against the end of the grey trunk. Then I fin­ish the rest of the branch in grey.

De­vel­op­ing pat­terns for de­tails

With lim­ited val­ues to show form and depth, I need to find other means to cre­ate vis­ual in­ter­est. I add some pat­terns to sug­gest tex­tures, which also helps view­ers iden­tify cropped branches or trunks. This makes the sil­hou­ettes of branches in dif­fer­ent val­ues look more nat­u­ral.

De­scrib­ing form

I need to think how I can de­scribe form in this arboreal scene. With­out form the treescape would be too flat and de­void of space. Here I use black to show the shadow re­gion, but the trick is to place a darker grey tree next to it, so the black shad­ows don’t dis­solve into the back­ground.

Adding back­ground de­tails

The outer ar­eas of the paint­ings don’t re­quire much at­ten­tion, so very lit­tle con­trast is used. I feel the tree­line needs more fo­liage to be read as a for­est at the mo­ment. Un­for­tu­nately, I’ve al­lo­cated black as the back­ground de­fault colour. I in­tro­duce fo­liage in a darker grey in the back­ground so they can free up the black to work as branches and trees.

Sug­gest­ing scale and story

A hu­man fig­ure will help im­mensely when in­di­cat­ing the size of the trees. A viewer will in­stantly un­der­stand the scale of im­por­tant ob­jects, rel­a­tive to the fig­ure. It also helps me to tell a story. Orig­i­nally, I had a more lighter ground, but it was cre­at­ing too much con­trast so added more neu­tral grey to knock it back a bit.

Fi­nal touches

I still want this im­age to tell a story even with all the tech­ni­cal lim­i­ta­tions. So this is where I fo­cus more on the over­all look, mak­ing sure that I’ve kept the ini­tial feel of the paint­ing and for­est is look­ing nat­u­ral. I also ad­just my de­tails: some­times it’s more im­por­tant to sac­ri­fice de­tails for the sake of a bet­ter im­age over­all.

Wrap­ping things up

Us­ing lim­ited val­ues has helped me no­tice many fun­da­men­tals in paint­ings that I might have oth­er­wise overlooked, such as strong com­po­si­tion, bet­ter read­abil­ity, pri­ori­tised de­tails and more op­tions for ef­fec­tively de­scrib­ing ob­jects. The num­ber of val­ues isn’t that im­por­tant; it’s more about get­ting to know their role when work­ing with con­trast, and how this knowl­edge can even­tu­ally be car­ried into colour work and tack­ling more com­plex paint­ings.

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