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February 2014 Newsletter

As I write this, it is snowing. After a January that was more sunshine than storm, it is finally snowing. Truth be told, I am not overly fond of shoveling the stuff. I would love to have it snow 15 feet in the mountains because the runoff is our source for irrigation during the Summer. Green grass and gardens are blessed by the snow up there. The snow on my driveway does little for the water table.

Having said that, I will admit that I profit from the exercise involved. And there are some wonderful artistic blessings that come from the snow.
First is the fact that the snow tends to cover all the things that are not aesthetically essential in a scene. All those little items that can creep into our paintings and take over like mold on cheese. Snow scenes tend to look more like paintings, paintings in which the artist selected the main shapes and left untouched white paper for 50% of the painting.
See how we don’t miss what is covered up by snow in this photo?


All that is left is the large rock form, complemented by the simple shapes that surround it. In the Summertime this scene would contain a lot more information which we would have to simplify in order to create a strong image like this.

Nan and I were going over the Logan Pass in glacier National Park in June. The pass had just been open for a week!  I photographed this peak which was made stark and powerful by the contrast of simple white areas.


Like most of us I am often seduced by all those little things that are in a scene and don’t remember the lesson that snow teaches me every winter: Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!  Every year Winter snow make me see afresh the sights in my own neighborhood. Things I drive by every day and don’t really look at because they are presented amid a plethora of competing details. I suppose it is like ambient noises in a crowded restaurant that make it difficult to hear what is being said at your own table.

Snow also brings strong value patterns into view that might otherwise be lost. The connectedness of dark values in the peak, the middle ground rock forms and the foreground trees in this photo might not be seen without the snow to blot out the other clutter.
Here is a drawing I did on site at Logan pass. It benefits from the simplicity and pattern seen there.


The high contrast is also a quality of snow scenes that has to be sought out in other times of the year. A consistent quality among beginning watercolorists is the lack of strong contrast. The paintings usually exhibit a range of values from very light to medium value. Learning why snow scenes are so appealing can offer us the encouragement to explore the darker side of the value scale. A pianist who only plays the keys on the upper end from middle C has never experienced the beautiful contrast that can make the music sing. Similarly, painting only in the upper range of values can diminish the otherwise rich experience of contrast.

Here is a scene just around the corner from my house. I drive past this often, and always enjoy  the arrangement of shapes, but in the snow it takes on a more graphic quality.

I was drawn to the linked value pattern leading from the fence on the left, through the building and out through the fence on the right. In my mind I eliminated even more than the snow did, and pictured it without the trees on the left and the distant buildings on the right. That would create a value pattern that touched three edges of the format. Then I put that in a preliminary drawing.


So, even though I have to do some shoveling, I love the snow for its visually transforming effect on the world around me, and the encouragement it gives me to simplify. For those of you who live in regions without snow, come visit the rest of us who inhabit the lands of winter contrast.