Fine Art in Oil
A Newsletter For Artists – By Artists Volume 2
By Cassondra Foxpool
LEARNING OUR VALUES
After completing a painting in our very first class I was really excited to see what I’d take home this week. All the other
newbies showed up again, too, so I guess that completed painting last week really sucked us all in. The instructor, Linda Relis,
said we would be using two colors of paint this time. True to her word, we used two colors – black and white.
I brought and painted on a smaller canvas board (8” X 12”) in this class as Linda had suggested. You can buy canvas on a stiff
cardboard backing rather that the stretched canvas on a frame, which we used last week. I thought we were just going for variety
in size as well as color and content. Linda had other ideas. We began by drawing ten rectangles all the way across along the 12”
side of the board. At that point I thought I had it figured out that we were painting a piano keyboard.
But no, Linda said we were going to make a value chart. This is a tool we would use throughout our painting years. I knew a
few definitions of value, but they had nothing to do with painting. I found that what I had always called various shades of a color
were, in fact, various values of a color. I was interested to see just where Linda was going with this. As Linda held up an example
of a value chart for us to see, I was thinking, ‘This isn’t going to be the masterpiece I had envisioned taking home and showing to
my husband today.’
We squeezed little puddles of black and white paint from the tubes onto our palettes. We numbered our rectangles one
through ten, left to right. We painted the number one rectangle black and the number ten rectangle white. All the boxes in
different shades ( I mean values) of grey in between. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds because we couldn’t just paint whatever color
felt right to us. There had to be a subtle one-step change from one box to the next, not too much and not too little. Linda was the
judge of that and guides us on our way. I had no idea, at that time just how necessary and helpful this value (and valuable) chart
would become. Think how boring this world would be if everything had the same intensity of color.
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When we finished the value chart, Linda put a spotlight on a setup she wanted us to paint. Again with a cloth backdrop, she
had placed a white thermal carafe on the right side of a small table with a cup in the center, then an antique coffee grinder on the
left side. The backdrop covered not only the back, but ran across the table and dropped down in front of the table. I’m telling you
all this because, geeze, it seemed a bit too much for where I felt my ability level stood.
“Now, using your value chart for reference, I want you to paint what I have arranged. Just paint it in black and white. It will
be monochromatic, which means you will use only one color, and modify it only by adding black or white.” I could not believe my
ears! Linda spoke with such confidence, as if we would all just pick up our brushes and get to work. In fact, we all just kind of
looked at her and glanced at each other, our wide eyes screaming our surprise and self-doubt. Um, this is only lesson TWO.
What did I miss? How did we jump from a one color Chiaroscuro to a full- fledged still-life? I looked toward the more
advanced students. They were watching us, smiling and giving us curt little nods as if to assure us that, yes indeed, one way or
another, we would paint that scene.
Linda explained that, to be more precise, we would be painting a grisaille, (pronounced griz-eye’). This is a monochromatic
painting that is done in all shades of grey, (as opposed to shades of another color).
Out came a new stretched canvas, pencils and a new kneaded eraser. This is a good time to tell you that this eraser is
different than the ones I’d used in school. Light grey in color when new, it is soft and malleable. It erases by picking up the
graphite, or lead, when you want to make a correction. As time goes on you will notice the eraser getting darker and darker grey.
Just keep kneading it to find a cleaner spot. Eventually, of course, it will get so dirty that it will need replaced. These erasers last
a long time and don’t leave crumbs or erasure residue behind.
It was about this time that Linda introduced us to the viewfinder. The viewfinder is simply a small piece of stiff paper or
cardboard with a rectangle cut out of the center. Linda gave each of us one and said, “To use it, hold it up at eye level between
yourself and your subject. View through the hole like you would a camera lens, and adjust it left or right, up or down and closer
or further away from your face until you find the view of your subject you would like to paint.” This is about the most non-
technical artists’ tool you can get, but it works!
Of course, we had to draw the setup on our canvas before we could start painting. So I looked at the setup through my
viewfinder and found the view I liked. Now Linda wanted us to use a light hand in drawing in basic shapes on our canvas just to
see if it all fits the way we want it to. I had my brand new eraser, so I wasn’t intimidated by the drawing part. But wait! Not so
“Look carefully at the setup.” Linda said. “Look not only for the shapes of the objects, but also the shapes of any shadows
thrown by the light. I want you to draw in the shadows, too.” OK, so000 this wasn’t going to be difficult enough. We now
needed to draw shadows, too. She pointed out that the backdrop had folds as well as shadows, and yes, we were to draw those in
After a few minutes Linda stopped us. “These objects can’t be floating in space. You have to determine where the back of the
table is going to be and where the front of the table is going to be. Then you will have a better idea where to put the individual
objects on the top of the table. And see how the fabric drapes down over the front edge of the table? You’ll want to be sure to
indicate that in your drawing.”
I have to admit, I felt inadequate, unsure, afraid I was going to make a fool of myself now. But I stopped myself from that line of
thinking, took a deep breath and became determined to give it my best shot. I had to trust Linda to lead me through it.
For the remainder of that class, we diligently worked on drawing the setup…and the shadows. My eraser got a workout. I
wasn’t completely satisfied with my drawing when I left that day, but I could see that something was forming that could be
worked into a reasonable facsimile of the setup. Next week, when I came in fresh and rested, I just knew that with Linda’s
guidance I would whip that drawing into shape.
Come back and see how it turned out.
http://foxpoolsartstudio.weebly Foxpool Online Studio
http://cfoxpool/2013/02/12/the-making-of-an-artist-2 Volumn 1 – Feb. 2013 (in case you missed my very first newsletter)
http://www.relisart.com – Linda Relis