Using a Value Comp to Mass Values

Image of how to use the value comp to plan value massing.
That is NOT an alien in the upper left. Just my thumb. It's hard to hold all this stuff and shoot the camera too!

This is a tool called a Value Comp (found at art stores online) that can be used to find the "lightest lights" and the "darkest darks" plus all the grays in between in order to plan the painting. If you follow the green lines from the left squares to the arrowheads, you'll see the grayscale values for various parts of the reference image. This is one method that helps you understand what value belongs where in order to give a subject volume and mass. It also helps to think in terms of areas of blacks, whites and grays, without getting distracted by the all the color and details.

Rarely is there a pure pure white in a subject, for example. The blaze on Miss Wickers is very close to white, but I would paint it using Titanium White and probably a touch of Payne's Gray or Burnt Umber/Burnt Sienna. If anything, I'm going to want to "push back" (decrease the value of and attention to) the white blaze and bring the viewer's focus to a highly contrasting area around her eye. Doing this makes me in charge of how the painting is viewed.

Value Massing: Unfocus Wickers the Warmblood

A softened reference photo of Wickers to help the painter see the massed values of light and dark.

Up early today, it's going to be 90+ and we're not anywhere near summer yet! Have to get some outdoor things done before it's too darn hot.

What's that fuzzy thing to the left? Your eyesight is failing and you just can't focus? Well, it's just another method you can try to break a painting into large masses of values. 

This age-old technique is to squint your eyes at a subject and paint the simplified results. This doesn't work well for me; it's hard to hold my eyes squinty for any length of time and it starts to hurt! And we won't even mention what kinds of squinty wrinkles it causes....

I you happen to be nearsighted/myopic, try taking your glasses off and start painting those simplified masses. If this option is open to you (i.e. you're blinded without your glasses!) it's really nerve racking at first! I had to calm down and accept the shapes and colors as just that - not as an actual something. I use this method often when painting outside/plein air (for once, I'm happy to be nearsighted!) and it's helped my paintings a great deal.

Compare this massing method to the more formal color-coded post.