Elhorn Road Value Experiment
oil, 8 x 10 inches

I recently watched and listened to an artist do a demo (in oil) and sat bolt upright suddenly, as if I had been slapped, as he mumbled something about value relationships in landscape painting.

Huh? What did he mean by relationship? Oh, did he ever explain it and demonstrate it!

He made something become so very clear that I was absolutely struck by the revelation. Mind you, some of you out there will simply say, “Oh, thaaaat? Of course I knew thaaat,” and wonder why I have been so asleep for the last 20 years. I may have missed it more than once, but this time I really heard it.

The revelation was this: A painting has four kinds of ‘planes;’ the sky plane, the ground plane, upright planes and angled planes. Tall trees can be upright planes or a solid cliff. Just so it is vertical. The ground plane can be the top of a bush, too if it is near parallel with the ground. His mumbled wisdom was that the sky is the lightest valued plane in the painting. The ground plane the second lightest (that is slightly darker than the sky), while the vertical planes were the darkest.

He went on to say that there were accent darks and accent lights which were the darkest of the dark and lightest of the light . . . . .to be used most sparingly.

The point was simply that the ground relates in value to the sky, as do many of the highlights. The angled planes are darker than the ground and, thus, relate. Inside all of these four sets are the values of shadow and light. In the verticals, the darkest shadows occur, while on the angled planes there is a subset of shadow values lighter than the dark vertical set of values, which are related between the ground and the verticals. Another way to say relatedness would be to use the word **compared.**

On he went. And it was amazing to me. I grabbed a painting that I had done en plein air a few weeks ago and put it up on the easel and saw immediately why I wasn’t happy with it. The value relationships were all wrong! In ten minutes I glazed over the painting following the above wisdom and VIOLA ! What an incredible difference! The painting not only worked, but it sang!! Today, into the studio I went to whip up a similar composition using a different color scheme, but promised to paint those relationships of value. Whooopeee!!

This is so worth practicing and making careful note of the values as I mix them on the palette. There is more to this, but for now, I am jazzed to be fiddling with the basic relationship proposition. I can already see that the foreground is much lighter than the sky. . . .and that bluish background shape needs to be a lighter value. What an incredible tool!

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