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The value of color

Not Pretty, no. 9; 30" x 40"; oil & collage on canvas

I had a long conversation with another artist today about what value means. Not the monetary value but the color value. I don’t think about color values when composing a painting. In fact, I don’t think about much when painting. Mostly, I just feel what the painting is telling me it wants. And that is not always what I want. Or even what I start out thinking about.

If I understand it right, she was explaining about value as the lightness and darkness of the colors as used in relationship to one another. Something like using black and white and all the grays in between except using color as they are lighter or darker than another color. I don’t think that way. I use color as it feels right, as it feels it needs to be, especially in relationship to what color is around it. Recently I thought I had finished a light purplish blue painting but it dried darker than I expected and so then had to add some bright color to it to wake it up.

I think of composition more in terms of color and form than value. Getting the right color, and the right amount of that color, is important and it comes more from a feeling level than thought level. I studied color intensively when in art school. We had a color class that met twice a week and we did all of the Josef Albers color exercises in his book The Interaction of Color. We also did weekly color studies which were free form, using intensely colored papers.

Recently, I have been working on some large horizontal paintings. This configuration is hard for me, shakes up my sense of composition. I consider myself a vertical person. But I think it is important to work on a variety of sizes, not become too comfortable. Similarly I am using different colors. There is still so much to explore.


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