Lately I’ve been filled with impatience. I’m on a short fuse when dealing with everything from friendships to traffic to stubborn pots of water at dinnertime (can’t you boil any faster?!). One person I am not impatient with is artist Andy Evansen. He’s given me, and therefore you because I share like that, a three-step value study to remove the guesswork—and white outlines—from my watercolor painting process. Finally, someone who understands my need for speed.
Light, Middle, Dark
Through trial and error, you may have already found that the best way to lose detail and paint more loosely is to squint at a scene and view it as three distinct values: light, middle and dark. These three divisions of light are what a value study is all about.
Drawing from the reference photo, begin by blocking in the larger shapes. Because it’s a study, it doesn’t have to be perfect. I actually recommend doing several block-in sketches to warm up because the three-step value study can go by fast so if you have several sketches, you’ll experience that much more by repeating the process.
When you squint at the scene, you see the sky, the light-struck area of the casino and tents, and the rocky shore as light, so they remain the white of the paper. There are many opportunities for lost edges in this large shape. The trap in this first stage of the value study lies in the fact that there’s a white casino, a sunny day and white boats in the water.
When it’s time to add the dark values, begin with the boats to make them reappear. Next, separate the pier from the water with the darks underneath it and its reflection. A few windows, palm trees and flags finish off the little details for interest. Look how much can be accomplished in just three steps. And really sit back and consider how compelling light, middle tone, and dark are for a composition.