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Part 2: The value of values

values Feb 02, 2021

Last post I filled you in on what 'values' are in watercolour and why we need them - and now I wanna show you what happens when we get them WRONG.

And look, there really is no wrong in art - it's whatever you wanna make it. But in this example I mean: when we're aiming to get something looking realistic but we don't get the values close enough to the reference. If you've ever thought your work looks too washed out or not realistic enough, this is for you.

More often than not, when I see newbies share their work and say they're unhappy with it... it's cos they haven't finished yet!

Overworking your painting isn't always great either, learning when to stop is a whole other skill, but a lot of the time it's just a case of needing to work on the highlights, mid-tones and shadows more - and tie 'em all together.

Take this doggo painting I did for example, check out the different stages:

Row 1 is laying the foundations, row 2 is the affectionately named 'ugly stage' and row 3 is when the values come together and the details do the work.

I managed to get the values on the body pretty spot on in the first layer by using a lot of saturation - but definitely not the face! Many people stop at around pic 4 and feel so frustrated, when really there's so much left to do.

In the second row I started shading the ears and face more with a combination of wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry. By the 6th pic things are looking odd. There is a clear mismatch between values. There are highlights (like the chest fur) and shadows (like the ears, 'eyebrows', around the nose, body) but the mid-tones just aren't there. I've also accidentally made the face look really blue compared to the body.

DO. NOT. STOP. HERE. We have to trust the process! Watercolour is wildly unpredictable but it's also controllable and forgivable. We can fix most things, and if we can't - we'll learn a lot in the process.

Row 3 is where I really pull together the piece by focusing on the mid-tones that tie the darker and lighter values together, add any final highlights or details (like the nose, collar etc) and balance out the blue face colour by adding a light wash on the ears and body.

I hope you enjoyed seeing a visual of my process, and how stopping too soon can be the cause of many of our frustrations. Next time you're not feeling great about your painting, think back to the 3 stages I've mentioned above and make sure you're not giving up too soon! You've got this.

See you in Part 3.