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It’s All About Strong Values

Summer Squash, Tired Carrot, oil on panel, 8x8"
Summer Squash & Tired Carrot in bright light, quick study, oil on board, 8x8"

When I was teaching my last session of watercolor classes I saw my students learning so much and was jealous. I realized that I wanted a teacher too! So I began a search for an oil painting mentor to review my work in progress, give me guidance and help me progress.

Value study 1, ink washes
Value study 1, ink washes

First I tried advertising on Craigslist, describing what I needed. But the artists who responded weren’t a good fit. I wanted a mentor whose work excited and inspired me AND who was a good teacher. Then Rebeca Garcia Gonzalez sent me a postcard announcement for her show of portraits of undocumented immigrants and I fell in love with her paintings. I knew she also taught at a local art school so I emailed her my proposal, we met, and she agreed to mentor me.

Value Study 2, ink wash
Value Study 2, ink wash

At our first meeting she reviewed a dozen recent oil paintings and knew right away what I needed to work on. She said that I needed to focus on my values (the range and contrast of light to dark) and I knew she was exactly right.

Value study 3, ink and wash
Value study 3, ink and wash

She asked me to sketch using ink and diluted ink washes and to start paying close attention to values in everything I see, when I’m out walking, or just looking out the window.

Value study 4, ink & ink wash
Value study 4, ink wash

She suggested I ask myself, “Is this shape darker or lighter than that shape,” noticing the value relationships in everything I see to strengthen that ability.  For example, a black object in bright sunlight might look lighter, relatively, than something white that is in shadow.

So much of learning to paint is learning to see, and so much of learning to see involves a kind of “peeling layers of the onion” off of our eyes to see the relationships, shapes, colors, and values in the current light and atmosphere, which can be shockingly different from what we think they are.

11 replies on “It’s All About Strong Values”

It’s always so helpful to get someone else’s appraisal of your painting – we often get too close, and while we can see the problems in other people’s work we are often unable to look at our own work objectively.

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Glad that you found someone to help you along; that is a just as important a component to growth as anything else. Feedback is invaluable when given meaningfully.

It also reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry dates the woman who has a mentor:)

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You are so lucky to be in a place where you can get the mentoring you need. It looks like you have found a fit. Congrats. I, being in the rural woods of nowhere’s ville have to rely on what I can garner from books and blogs to help me on my new journey into the land of oils.

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What an intelligent way to go about the mentoring process!! I just had a four day workshop with Karlyn Holman (watercolor, not oil) and her focus was edge treatment, value, and the push/pull between warm/cool and dark/light. If only I can keep this way of seeing without her guidance!

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A very helpful post and what is most remarkable :an excellent artist like you
teaches us a lesson in honesty.All my teachers were high above me.,as infallible as the Pope.

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Thank you Victor. Do you still feel that way about your teachers? Do you wish you’d felt differently when you were in school? Do you think that holding them in such high esteem was helpful or harmful? Jana

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It is all about your passion to learn more when you are such a fine artist, you have gone out to say that there is no end to learning and the continuous journey can be so rewarding! You are an inspiration!

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Thank you for your kind and generous comment! Thank you so much. And you’re so right. The more I learn the higher I raise the “bar” and the more I want to learn. Jana

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I like your process. I need a photography mentor. I love photography but have not had formal training. I would like to take my work to the next level but don’t quite know where to start. Craigslist huh? Maybe I’ll try that.

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