- Lesson details
In this video lesson world-renowned painter Steve Huston will demonstrate tonal composition working from a figurative painting by Dean Cornwell and a still life painting by Jean Siméon Chardin. Painting only using black and white oils, Steve will analyze the works of these master artists and show you the basic value structure.
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video lesson world-renowned painter Steve Huston will demonstrate tonal
composition working from a figurative painting by Dean Cornwell
and a still life painting by Jean Siméon Chardin.
Painting only using black and white oils, Steve will analyze the works of these
master artists and show you the basic value structure. You will
learn how to break down your paintings into a simplified three value system
while composing to maximize your control and allow you to
build your style and vision as a painter.
give you a broad overview of it and then we'll spend several lectures
going through the finer points of tonal composition. And by tonal
composition I just mean value composition. Tonal's just a fancy word for value.
And so the values that hold together your picture.
And we've talked about that in very beginning terms. We're gonna talk about it a little more
sophisticated and as I said then we're gonna dive into the nuances of it.
But today we're gonna look at Dean Cornwell, you saw a flash of that at the beginning of our lesson
and I'm gonna break it down into basic
value systems. We're not gonna do a careful rendering of it, we're gonna do just a broad,
simple design of what's light and what's dark and what's middle.
In general, to remind you, or if you haven't seen my earlier
lecture on tonal composition we're gonna break things down into three
values. That's the simplest way to go. Some artists will make it
two values. As Dean Cornwell you could almost break into two values, and some will go
as much as four. Once you hit around five values it doesn't become
very useful to even think of terms of separating in
values but what we wanna do is we wanna take all the information
in our set up. The model on the stage, the landscape out in front of us, the
still life on the table, whatever the scene is or the photograph we're working from
and we wanna break it down not into all the values, that would just
start off as a rendering project and we'd just render like heck until
we ran out of time, but what we wanna do is design it down into a simplified system
so that we can get good control over it, so that our first few
marks, our first few choices will say the most about what
we're trying to do and what picture we're developing
and then something that's easily rendered out of. Something that we can take
much farther into a very tight and realistic, even photo realistic
or abstract designed direction.
And so three values is a great way to work. So when we do that
what's gonna happen is we're gonna lose information. Some things
are gonna have to get grouped together, at least in the beginning, so that just a
few things separate. And by doing that you're at
editing. You're making solid, distinct choices
and that means your choices will be at least a little different than the other people's choices.
And that's how you start to develop your style, your technique, your
voice. Not the technique, I shouldn't say that, the technique
is more generic rendering. The style or voice, the
vision you have. Which is really why people will come to a gallery
or look through a book to see your work is because it's gonna be unique. It's gonna teach them
something about the world, it's gonna show them at least a slightly different way of
seeing the world, that's what's interesting to us. That's why we go to movies, read
novels, that's why we listen to music because those art forms
order the world in a very particular way, a very special way
and hopefully in a unique way that teaches us something.
So three value system is a great way to start. And so we want to figure out what's the
lightest thing, what's the darkest thing or things in the
composition and then what's gonna get grouped into those middle ranges.
Or into that middle range. So those are gonna be our
issues to work with, the major
separations will be shadow and light, light against shadow,
and foreground against background. Those are gonna be the major separations.
The figure against the ground, the face
in front of the wall - whatever it is. The tree in front of the sky
and the light and shadow patterns on those various objects.
And what we're gonna see in the Cornwell is - the reason why I chose him is like a
Caravaggio or a Rembrandt, those shadows are gonna
anchor the composition and we're gonna group a lot of the things
that are dark into one big mass and then that's
gonna frame the lights. And that's a very safe way and a very
dramatic way to work. It's the way still life looked and we're
probably in the next lesson we'll take to get to it. We're gonna look at a
still life painting and compare it back to the Cornwell and see the differences and
similarities between them. But really it's a still life
painter's strategy to get shadows
down at the bottom of the composition and underneath the forms. It gives
weight, it pulls them down, makes them feel like they're solid, anchored,
have mass and structure to them. And so it's
the simplest way to get a sense of realism right off the bat is put a lot of
darks down at the bottom of your composition and put darks,
specifically dark shadows, underneath the forms, the bottom of the forms.
are gonna fall into darkness and that's gonna give, as I said,
them weight, draw them down to the surface and keep them from
kinda floating off from us. So we're gonna have a good sense of solidity
to it. Dean Cornwell was an illustrator. He was called
the dean of illustration. He was one of the most famous
illustrators of his day and one of the most
talented and the most stylistic. One of the most stylistic
painters. He had a really distinct way of putting down
paint and designing forms and massing in
values. And a lot of his style came from
a painter called Frank Brangwyn, who's one of my
favorites. And Frank Brangwyn was a fine artist and illustrator, print maker,
a designer. He could do it
all really and did mural paintings. And Dean Crowmwell
wanted to become a muralist and did some murals. Did
Los Angeles library mural and several others but primarily he was an
illustrator. He lived from 1892 to 1960
produced some just glorious pieces of work.
So what we're gonna do is we're gonna try and break down the
basic composition as I said very simply.
And what we're gonna find
is that these three values
are gonna be pretty obvious
in a Cornwell. Almost always those two or three values
really easily seen,
found. And typically what these kinda
dramatic artists would do
would be to group the middle value closer to the
And this piece is underlit for dramatic
effect. Very Hollywood lighting.
Melodramatic lighting. And this is actually an illustration -
I forget actually what magazine it's for, its Colliers or something like that.
But they would do serialized stories in these magazines and the illustrators
would illustrate them. Wyeth and Pyle
Cornwell, Abbey, and they would
create visuals for the
story. They pick a few key stories and show the visuals to them.
Now when I'm designing this I typically would work
a lot smaller, working out the basic design. But I want it big enough that you can see
it nicely from
your camera's eye view.
And what I want to feel is just a sense of the shapes.
Roughly speaking. I don't care specifically what they're doing.
I just wanna get the general sense of it.
And then later I would work out my rendering
on top of this design or this design would be a little sketch
as we're doing and then the finish would be
a whole new, bigger piece. And these early illustrators tend to do work very
large. You know three by four foot, two by three foot,
that kind of thing. This is probably in the two by
three foot range I believe.
Let me rinse off that brush.
Alright. Now the darks anchor this
and if you squint, how we want to
determine our values is not look - we're not gonna stare
carefully at the object or at the
reference, whether it's life or photograph. We're gonna squint at it.
And when you squint you allow less light in and so the
things that are close in value tend to group to about the same value. It's easier
to see the cohesion involved in the
set up. And so when we squint - and we don't even hardly have to squint
we can see that this
has close to dead black. Now this is actually a color -
a full color illustration, even though it's limited color, it's a full color
illustration. But we're just doing this in black and white. We're working out the tones, the
values. We don't care about the colors. So this is actually a
dark, dark brown. We're just gonna make it a dead
And I'm gonna
thin this out a little bit. The thinner I put the paint down,
the less control I have over it. And the less
build up I can do of new paint, new rendering on top of the old
base. And so I'm not gonna take this
very far as a rendering and so I can afford to go a little thinner here
to speed things up. I can move things along quicker
if I can
thin it out. And that's why I'm doing that.
Okay so that -
all that dress is one big mass of black
and if you walked into a room and saw these people
and their planning a murder - I can't remember if they're planning the murder or just finished the murder
but they're thinking death. They're thinking of
doing a nasty act and it's weighing on them. They're
worried about it.
And so we have the dramatic lighting and the massing
of the dark composition
to reinforce the dark deeds they're thinking
of committing here or contemplating having done.
as we do this you can see
just how dramatic
it is. All this white canvas isn't all that far from the truth.
He's using an off white in the originals.
A greenish white, kinda a sickly
color. Again which is appropriate
to what's going on here.
And it's underlit. The beastly light.
You know when you show the werewolf, the underlighting
because it makes him look like an animal.
Light's not coming from above, from heaven, it's coming from below, the earthy
savage and so that under light is
strange and alien to us because we don't really see it in nature much.
And it's very suggestive
Now one of the dangers here
is I'm starting out with the dark and I'm doing it so that you can
see quickly the effect, since we have the light canvas
had I started out with the - just a different
light side you wouldn't see much effect. But now
you can get the whole sense of the painting.
impact already of that finished piece. Just in ten minutes or whatever
it took me to get to that stage. We've got the impact.
We don't have all the melodrama, we certainly don't have the rendering and the nuances and
all that kinda fine drawing. We're never gonna get the fine drawing
at this - for this level - but we'll get the impact
of it. You know, we'll get the mood, the atmosphere.
And that's just the sense of light. Now the
middle value - if you
squinted at that
finished piece and replay the lecture again
I'd encourage you to do that with most of the lessons - really all the lessons -
watch them several times so you really get it. Seeing this stuff
once, unless you're already very familiar with it,
isn't really enough to get it. And so
repetition best form of learning
you can do. So - and you can squint at this right now
and when you squint hard enough these
start to group together. And I think they could group a little bit closer
together. So I'm gonna knock this down a little bit farther.
I want this dark - I'm sorry this middle value to group with the
dark and to frame
Fits in there and then
we got the hand here, you can go a little bit lighter.
Her far hand - it's up on top of the piano
the near hand that's in position to play the
piano keys It's probably Beethoven
dun-dun-dun-dun. [indistinct] or something kinda thing.
And as always when we do our painting
if we turn the strokes vertically, they won't shine
as much. If I go horizontally it catches the shine from above
and it actually looks a little lighter in value than it really is. So if I turn my strokes
vertically when it gets shiny, this way, scrub them in vertically,
you'll get a clearer effect when you squint at it.
Alright so, let me switch actually to a finer
brush for some of these smaller shapes now. So we've got the face
And it can be a little bit darker
We're not interested in making this a
perfect drawing. And I actually don't want to do that.
Because then I'm gonna be thinking about the drawing and all the
beautiful forms and turning the form and
how I'm gonna render the form and I'm gonna miss the design
elements. What I want is to see this is as
a design problem. Not
a rendering problem at this point.
His hand down
here is catching that
second value and the
shadows in his palm here as he
has that hand cupping his face and the hair
and neck actually create
a gradation there into the lights. Okay so that's -
a second value. I think I got it all in there.
I can make this soft edged
as I go or
keep it hard edges, whichever you want.
One of the things I'm gonna try and
do is I'm gonna fix the drawing
with a negative - correct the drawing.
Not fix it but correct it. Correct the drawing with a negative shape.
And so I want this wrist to come
back here. I want this arm to
be a little bit thicker.
That kind of thing.
And I'll do that with the negative shapes.
And now I'm gonna do my last value, my white.
Now, when I do my white value I'm gonna have to fight -
or light value I should say, it's not white.
I'm gonna have to fight all the paint that's already down there. This white or lighter
value that I put down is gonna be the most
easily polluted. If I just put a little bit of black in there look
how quickly it changes the value of it. And so I wanna be very
careful to push my paint.
And that's gonna be a little too dark, we're gonna make it
lighter than that.
There we go. I'm gonna push my paint
up against the dark values. So her
hair - I'm gonna push it
zigzag up to that border.
And as soon as I touch the border it's gonna pollute my paint
on the brush, the lighter paint. And so I can come back
and pick out
more, load up again, more
As I see all sorts of nuances,
I see hints of the brick wall,
it's kind of a leaf mural inscribed
into the wall.
None of that am I particularly interested in. What I will do at
this stage usually is do some soft edges.
So I can kinda feel the effect.
There's her shadow casting up
on the wall. And I'm also allowing this to get
a little dirty so let's clean that up.
You can see just how quickly
we move along. You get all the effects.
Now squint at this
and you'll see those three values happening.
And laying it in kinda scrubby and
fresh and so there's little imperfections in the paint.
It's not perfectly laid in, it's scrubbed
in. And I like to do it that way because again it keeps me
a little out of control in terms of the drawing so I'm not tempted to come in
and put her lovely red lips in there, or the perfect
drawing of her shoulder line, that kinda
stuff. I want it to be really simple and
crude so it's an abstract painting. It's an abstract design
so I can understand the mechanics of what I'm
planning to do. And I may well spend 50 or 100
hours on a rendering if I'm a tight realist.
But at this point I'm working out the
legitimacy of the design. Why spend 100 hours
or even five or six hours on a bad design? I wanna work out
the thinking here.
You know, what's gonna be the best choice
for this. And these illustrators
might do ten or 20 or 50 of these. Some of the old pros
just go with one or two and
have it mind right off the bat.
But typically they're gonna spend a lot of time working out
those issues. And the beginners, the
novices will think well geez, all that, I spent,
I did 50 little studies, that was
five hours I spent doing that. And that's five hours
I could have been rendering to finish my deadline. Towards the finish of my
deadline. But these studies are probably gonna save you
five hours in a 50 hour rendering because you're gonna work
out the issues
and know whether what you're doing
is worth that investment and is gonna solve the
problem for your client or if you're a fine artist
as I am, solve the self-imposed
problem that you created for yourself.
Let me put that down because the tip keeps falling off. I'm gonna put that down.
Okay so we start to get the sense of it. Now
that's a claw hand. We can do maybe a little better job on it
but just to give kind of the - have it ring a little
truer in terms of the fluidity, the flow, how it comes
off this - all this stuff in
here. We can do a little bit of design
here. You get those darker half tones pulling out
of the shadows.
Draw a little bit of a line there to show
her back. But
really that's about all we want to do.
Give a sense of the eye
socket and then all this stuff. Now look at the advantage.
The disadvantage of doing three values
is we've lost a tremendous amount of information.
The great advantage of the three values
is that we've focused the audience
on what we've considered the most important
part of this story, of this design. And that in this case
is their faces. They're just the - kinda the abject horror, the despair
they feel at what they've done.
There's no going back in the
horrible inevitability of what they did.
Okay so I'm just getting this same
value I'm bringing over here.
Little soft edge at his belt,
hint of the cummerbund. He's in a tuxedo, which
adds to the kinda the horror of the situation.
What should be a celebration is a mourning.
And now we're just picking up. And notice
she has this mass
of detail here, coming out of that
mash of that big anchoring shadow. He has
mass of detail
hidden within the shadows. Kinda lost
And so she becomes more interesting because
she's got this strong silhouette
that separates out. Alright so that's the basic
There's some ears and there's a hairline here and I'm gonna do a little bit of that to show you what's
happening. But this is how I want you to think. And then he's got
some red little dots
here, wristwatch, band, something, I don't know what it is. And there's a
hint of something down here that can be also
that second value. Something across his lap here.
But that's the basic design
Now, if we look carefully at our
image again you'll see that actually the face was a little darker and the shirt
was a little whiter. And so now we're gonna add a gradation
in this to make it a little more dramatic. In fact,
there's a tiny one. I'm gonna make it a little
bit stronger just for the fun of it.
Just to get the point across. I'm gonna put a gradation here. I'm gonna say that this
light value gradates a little darker. So it starts to get closer to that
middle second value.
There's my gradation. Notice by doing that, this becomes less
interesting because there's less contrast. The eye always goes to the area of greatest
contrast. The lightest light against the darkest dark. And that
little tiny dabs, not this stuff. Nobody's gonna even notice that
for a long time. What they're gonna be interested in is the big
masses of light against dark.
lose that back in there.
So what - we've got a gradation there and then
we also have a gradation - and we do have a strong gradation here.
Up in here.
And the middle value gradates a little bit lighter.
And the light value gradates quite a bit darker and so this all starts to
group together here. Cast shadow starts to get lost
into the background.
And notice I screwed up her hair. Well we don't care
much about the drawing anyway, so it's not a big deal,
but sometimes it's kinda irritating. You wanna make it a little
ring a little truer.
So all I'll
do is come back with my darker value and
pick out the shapes again.
And maybe even
pick out the hair. She's got the kinda 20s
bob which is 20s, 30s, probably when this was done.
And even here there's a little gradation
Now there's a big gradation on his head from the
very dark hair
which gets lost with the background.
He's a distinguished looking fellow.
With what they used to call
high and tight hair cut on the sides.
And then his
skin gradates very dark. He's much darker
than she is. More brooding. And so we get
this natural gradation out of the dark hair, into the
darker ruddy face.
And then once we get the little dappled light
on the various little planes around the eyes
dramatically the ear.
Notice there's still a
lousy head. I haven't painted a really good head here.
And then the shirt
is extra light. So we're gonna push this almost to a white.
And basically I'm taking
white paint and letting it
blend with what was there so it's ending up being a little less,
a step less in white.
And you can get the point across pretty well.
Pretty quickly. There's the other cuff
coming off there.
And we'll even - for effect, we'll
go ahead and give a few little
So there it is. We've got three values.
Light, little dapple bits of it here.
Middle value, the shadow on the wall, the darkest
parts of the face there, shadow on the flesh, her hand in shadow,
his hand in shadow, shadow on her. That's all
middle value. And then everything else of course goes to that black. And then we have a few
simple gradations moving between those
values. We're grouping - sometimes we're losing
the middle with the dark, sometimes we're losing the middle with the
light. We're adding some soft edges for effect there
but that gives us very quickly a sense of whether this is a dramatic
painting that we would want for whatever our
purposes are. In this case telling a melodramatic story.
And so it's melodramatic light
to do that. So let's stop there. And we'll come
back and we'll compare this to a Chardin
still life and see how the still life painter used many of the same
ideas as this melodramatic illustrator
did. We're gonna look at our Chardin piece
Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. He lives
1699 to 1779, he got 80 years of life. He was not
prolific, he only did about 200, little over 200 paintings in his lifetime.
Almost all those were still life - well that's not true,
he started out doing all still lives and then the story goes
it may be apocryphal but the story goes that another artist challenged
him to do figurative works, claiming he was a lesser artist
since he was doing still lifes. So he started doing figures and became quite famous
for that and spent his years producing highly popular
paintings, highly finished paintings, he only did about
four paintings a year but very popular and in his
lifetime and since considered one of the terrific, great
still life painters. The
piece we're doing here is not -
is pretty typical for still lives. It's dead animals. We have usually -
not usually, but many times - there's dead animals or there is -
or just past
the due date on the fruit and often times
still life was a symbol for the transients of life. There'd be skulls
painted, especially Northern European still lives
and it became a genre and was considered at this time
a lesser genre but it's a genre of
that always hinted at
the nature of life and the fact that things decay
nothing lasts, that kind of bit.
So here we've got couple little - cute little bunny rabbits
dead, of course. Cute, dead bunny rabbits.
Need a little more
frame here to get my bunny rabbits in. And there's a
pheasant. And what we're interested in
of course is the lessons we were learning from our Dean
Cornwell a few minutes ago and that is
the tonal composition.
And we're gonna see, as we lay this in,
that Chardin used the darks
in similar ways. Not exactly the same -
we'll parse out a little bit of the difference here in a bit - but
very similar ways and it's not unusual. These guys
working more dramatically with shadow. I mentioned earlier
that the shadows anchor the form. They anchor the whole painting
really, but anchorage form too. And so you get that
underlines shadow. You have to realize when your audience
comes to your paintings, they're experience is
light from above. The sunshine outside, the lights
in the environment inside,
all light comes from above
and is their experience. And there's exceptions to that
but that's what they're gonna see. And so when they see a painting,
art work where the light is from above and the shadows
are from below and especially when you get nice, deep
rich shadows, they're gonna feel that same anchoring of realism
that they're so used to and they're gonna respond to that,
connect to that, and it's gonna add to the mythology
of the piece, the illusion
that it's true even though it's just colored mud
on a white or
tone canvas. And Chardin - Chardin I should say
would have worked with a
toned canvas and we're not. We're just gonna knock this out - and again we're
not really interested in the specifics
of his style. That's something for another
lecture. And a very interesting lecture, that's something we definitely will look at it
taking great masters and parsing out their style
fairly carefully and sometimes, in a couple instances,
I think we'll do very carefully. Seeing what they
were trying to see and doing what they were trying to do I think is great
lesson. But for now we're just interested in the
tonal composition. How do the values
tell the story, create the mood,
and help develop our structure,
sense. One of the things as an artist
you want to keep in mind is, we are really -
as realist artists, we are actually abstract
artists. We're working with abstract ideas.
This is just an oddball dark shape on
the light shape. It's nothing more than that and when I
carefully render this little bunny out, which we won't do in this case again,
or the pheasant out or
the vegetable there
it's still just gonna be just abstract marks
on there. And so as a realist painter
it's very important that I have an abstract
artist's sensibilities. A designer is maybe more
powerful way to say it. Because often times realists hate abstract
painters and the reverse also is true. And
that's a shame because abstract painting has great, great
lessons to teach us about
design and energy and
moving the eye through the picture.
As realist painters often times we get so fixated on
making it real and that's only real in quotes
because again it's not real at all, it's just abstract
marks, just colored mud on a surface. But the realists
get so caught up in making that highlight on the nose
pop off and making
that chiaroscuro and all that kinda stuff is they miss some great opportunities to create
beautiful design. And why spend 40, 50 hours on a
painting if it's not gonna be a really terrific
painting? And you won't know if it's gonna be a terrific painting until you
do a little bit of leg work.
Work out the value system.
Alright so we've got our darks in. Now
I'm starting to lay in my middle values.
cover some more territory more quickly here.
as I've mentioned before, and as was true with the
Cornwell, the dark
value and the middle value in these
kind of dramatic paintings tend to be close together.
So I'm gonna make them very close for the moment.
And then we can back off that if
we need to a little bit. But when I squint now
the middle value background and the dark value wing
get lost very quickly in my squint, I start to lose
the separation and I'm literally just squinting at it like that. When you
squint you're gonna see things grouped together. The
things that seemed different start to now be
so different and the only things that really separate
are the very strong contrasting things.
And so this background
is not very contrasting, compared to that wing.
And so it's just a bit lighter
than the background here and it fades off to the darker
edges and soft focuses out like a
soft shot in a movie would do.
heaviness on the outside kinda frames the painting and squeezes us
towards the center. That dramatic center where that
slash of a wing shape, rather violent
shape. And then as you look at the
our bunny rabbits, they're
all horizontal and falling into
verticals. They're all dropping down this way.
Dropping down this way and so they've
given up. They're dead, life is
won, or the hunter [indistinct].
And they're - they've gone to the big
rabbit hutch in the sky. But the
of these things is
really heavy, dropping down, weighted,
you know it's like a sack of potatoes dropping. It just lays down,
gravity flattens it and draws those lumps down towards the bottom
of the canvas. And the great energy
of this piece is this wing
slashing up through
violent act in effect.
Okay. And with this kinda thing
I don't even care - this really is, in a sense, an abstract painting -
I don't really care if you
know or the audience knows or if I
remember a year later what the heck this is.
I'm not gonna do enough to show that that's a pheasant.
There's some little key color notes here. We're working from a
reproduction so we're not gonna get all the detail that the original would have.
Things might be a little darker, they might be a little greener,
you know, you just don't know on these things. But that
that's fine with us, we're just working with a
tonal idea. And if this tonal idea isn't exactly
like the tonal idea of the finished piece.
It's just a slightly different take on that finished piece. A
different compositional idea.
So that's fine with us. So if this is a little dark and moody
as a print it won't matter at all. Okay let's get our
bunny rabbits in here now. This is gonna be the lightest area.
And it's not near as light, except in a couple little
rendered spots, as our Cornwell.
So we're gonna knock it down
a step and put
fellows in here. Okay now as soon as
I make that stroke, a little light paw coming in, my
brush got dirty so I reloaded my paint.
A light gray here. And so it doesn't
have to be pure white, that means if it gets
a little dirty that's alright.
Okay and then I have a little gradation here, as the
bunny fades off into the shaded area. So I'll just let that zigzag
out. Here's my
second bunny here. Again I don't really care if you know
it's a bunny.
I just want this mass of shape
And then a little bit of the table
little rotting piece of tomato or
whatever the heck this thing is.
stem. And we have a little bit of the white wing
and beak of our
And then there's a repetition of this slashing shape,
a little bit of tail feather I presume.
Okay and we'll just fill in our -
around our light choice.
Now when you squint at this
you'll see that you can't squint away the light
from the dark or even the light from the middle except maybe
where the edge is soft here. It's gradating just a touch there
but you can't squint that away.
And so that's our area of greatest contrast right here.
These are all forms that are fading into shadows so they all
become soft edges. And at this study
stage you could put those soft edges in or you could keep it completely
hard edges. Since I'm planning for a realist painting when I'm working
I almost always put in the hard edges
but - or I mean the soft edges - put in those major gradations. But not all
always, I don't always do it.
And I'm not too concerned - like I've got this little guy's ear
up too high, should be in line with the edge of the table.
I'm not worried about that kinda stuff.
I'm just trying to get the overall masses, the sense of rhythm
of the dynamic relationship between
things. The proportions I'll work out at the drawing stage
or in the more careful
You know I'll do another study and I'll do it more carefully.
Those kinda things. But usually
this is enough for me. I can get the sense of what I'm gonna do
from this stage. And then I do my
drawing - careful drawing - and that'll have some
tone in it. Little leaves coming across
there. And then this fades off here.
And off here.
And this'll tell us a lot. Now one of the great
advantages of this is not just working out the idea for the painting
but once you get painting it is very easy
to get lost in the rendering. And
so one of the tools of the tonal composition, one of the
its functions is to keep us disciplined and keep us
on track. So once I get rendering this pheasant say
there's some lighter red feathers here, there's some lighter blue feathers here,
there's some blue gray feathers here, and it would be very easy
when I put on my rendering hat to start rendering that stuff up way too
light and making all the sudden that dark
value, it ends up getting rendered up to a middle value and then I've lost a
dramatic design. So one of the great things about doing your tonal composition is
once you get to your finish, you're gonna have this little tonal composition
right next to you and you're gonna be looking
over at it consistently to make sure you're on track.
So when I render my bunny rabbit I'm gonna render him
in the light grays and by the finish with the last
mark, the last little detail of rendering
I'm gonna be able to squint at my finished painting
with all its fabulous technique and maybe its three hundred
hours of careful feather and fur rendering
and I'm still gonna see that same, simple dynamic
three value system that I had in this little sketch
that took be ten, twenty minutes.
And so it really keeps
you focused. It's so easy to start rendering
and you really get into this little area, it's like you got a little microscope
and you're checking that little area and getting that feather or that fluff of fur and you
go to the next little area and you work around and you miss that
big statement. And so one of the things I also
do is as I'm painting I step
back and get away from it. I've got
quite a bit of studio space here, and some of it's to hold junk,
you know your props and your junk, but
a lot of it is so I can get back away from my painting.
And on the back side of the painting I will have - you know my painting's here
on that wall back that way I will have a
mirror. And so I can turn around and look at that mirror,
it will reverse the image which will make it look fresher to me
I'll get to see it with a new, fresh eye, and I will see it
from, you know, a long way away. 30, 40
feet away. And then seeing it from a distance I'm really seeing it
as a small, postcard image and I can see that
flash of information. Am I getting that
idea down correctly?
Is it reading well? Is the big picture
working? Because you get up here and you go that's the best eyeball I ever painted in my life.
That's the best rabbit paw I ever did in my
life. Boy I'm good. And then all the sudden you go out
that day, you come back the next day and you realize that that great eye
is over here when it should be over here and that paw is
way too dark and is making the
rest of it look out of whack somehow.
And so it's not any one thing that's gonna work, it's the relationship
thing to each other. Now here's the -
I'm putting a little frilly highlights here just for a second.
When you're staging your lightest value
this light gray that we did, we want to - let me get
a little bit stronger here. We wanna key it to the highlight.
And there's a couple little highlights in here that are not white
but close enough. But what I wanna do is I wanna
pick a value for this lightest value that's still dark enough that my highlight,
if there are highlights, will read.
Will pop. And so when we put
those on they'll really take off. It's real easy
to use all of your ammunition, push your blacks
dead black and push your whites, your lightest values, dead
white. And then we miss that kick.
And so what I like to do is when I lay things down
I put them just a little bit off the value they'll be.
If it's dark I make it slightly lighter than
it probably will be. So now look when I put in - now I have a
place to go when I do render. I can render this, these feathers
down a little darker. You see the value change.
What looked like it was black was really
a dark gray. And now I can render
and kick in my black
value and I may never get to black of course
in any particular composition but in this one I'm going to.
And I can render this up
towards its lightest value. That way whatever my
composition was, when I start rendering I'm gonna tend now
to render the dark values down even darker.
And I'm gonna tend to render the light values up even lighter.
And so as I render, what was a nice strong
contrast will become more and more and more
contrasting. Every time I add a new detail
I'm gaining greater and greater pop of
form. That dramatic, dynamic difference.
The eye goes to contrast. I'm rendering gin
value what I may
well do is I'll start it out a little closer to the dark value than it
really should be or needs to be. And then I will
render in - and that's what Mr. Chardin did here -
I will render in a gradation.
Push it up in value. So now I
can create this slight halo effect.
And what was a subtle
separation will still be subtle but it will have
a little more pop.
And that gradation. Gradations are wonderful things because I can take
a gradation and I can take an area that should be
very contrasting and I can gradate it
out of interest and then
slowly bring that value change lighter and lighter and lighter
against the darker and darker and darker. Notice how the wing,
from the chest of our little birdy here to the wing, it's getting
subtly darker. And in the background from the chest
to the tip of the wing it's getting subtly lighter.
And so this area of the
bird and background, other than that little flash of the feathers there
but right here, that gets almost completely lost. We don't
notice it very much at all, which is exactly true in the painting.
And in fact his - this is where he adds a little bit of
lighter red to the chest area there. And
it does get lost. And then up here
it becomes very contrasting, or relatively so for this painting.
And then when we get back up here it
gradates again in that background,
starts to merge
not as completely as this,
but starts to merge and lessen in difference
between foreground background
and wing and wall.
So gradations focus our attention in a very
specific area. Potentially they can
and they can move the eye as the
values change, as the
contrast change our attention to it changes.
We're less interested in an area. We don't see it
as quickly if the contrast has been reduced
down to a minimum or lost completely. We
do get much more interested, we see it much more quickly when we
see a greater contrast. So this is gonna be
the area of greatest contrast. This bunny against that bird.
Light against dark. This bunny will get
rather lost at first against this other bunny because it's light against light.
And also the thing that we see here.
Let's exaggerate this now or really not even exaggerate it, play it
up closer to what Mr. Chardin did.
Look at the background shadows and the shadow
inside the ear.
and on the table
and the light of the table
and the little bunny paw
and the other little bunny paw and the
bunny ear from our first ear over here - first
bunny rabbit over here.
shadow of this and the front edge of this
and the back side of
And notice as we do
this we're getting these little strapping
shapes of light
Notice how slash, slash, slash - let me put a little
Slash, light, dark, light, dark, light and middle
middle light, dark light, dark light, light
dark, light dark, light dark, light dark, slash, slash, slash, slash. See how it's
just this woven - these woven little
fingers of tone that are slashing light, dark, light, dark.
That starts to gray out. When you get these little dappled
darks, make sure you can see that, yep
dappled darks on
light it becomes a dot pattern and that at first glance just looks
like a gray. That's the basis of newspapers. A newspaper
photograph will be little black dots on white paper
And depending on how concentrated those dots are you'll see it as a dark gray, light gray,
or a black. And so when you get these broken little
pieces - the ears, the eye socket, the jaw line,
the skull shape, the
paws and legs. Those are all little
little ribbons of value. Light against dark, light against
the dark. And it starts to all
mud together. At first glance you can't decipher that
and in this little study you may never decipher it. But what that does is that creatures
this broken pattern of
tone that is camouflaged. It's like the tiger stripes in the
tall grass. You can't see it because all the
background and foreground start to slash together in these
series of ever more broken shapes. So your
camouflaging your piece here. By doing that -
and let's get rid of this highlight now -
and then we finally get an area here
where we get full bunny.
And here there's a little chests that will never
breathe another life breath again.
Our - we can see a bit
of them. And we can see this head a little more easily than this
head. This little guy
is doing this.
Even his little mouth creates a slash.
So we see this first, this second, where they come together
where they meet the background it slashes. These fingers slash and open
up. And notice
that that camouflaging slash is a
powerful counterpoint to this slash of design that
absolutely attracts our eye. This is one big slashing shape
that goes up with energy
and across diagonal in action
and we see it first in a lot
of ways. Even though this is the most contrasting there's not as much here to
attract our attention. So we're really gonna quickly go to this
and maybe you could even argue first see this. And part of that
is because this is right in the center of the canvas too. If we do an X across
we'll find the center right somewhere in here. So in this area
this center of the canvas is the most important area of the canvas. The edges
attract our attention later. The center area
attracts us first and this bunny, which is more real
in terms of big shapes to see, is also more central to the
canvas. This guy is shunted off to the side more as is
the little light feathers and the little
fruit or vegetable there. And so this powerful
slashing up, like a rocket taking off, boom,
shooting out across the canvas, these little guys where they've collapsed
and are melting over the table top and
the pieces are basically disintegrating, we get the
mass of the body and then we get these slices and
slivers of every less solid
disintegrating shapes and that kinda adds to the disillusion of this
So you can see the thinking here. And it can be very
thoughtful or it can be intuitive.
You know I doubt Van Gogh would sit down and explain to you
how Starry, Starry Night is a projection of his
middle anguish and that those slashing, swirling strokes were
exactly what his tortured soul was feeling. He just put
that out there. He emoted that. So often times artists
are gonna be purely intuitive on these things. And it's gonna
feel right. And that, in many ways, is the best way to be when you're
working. But when you're learning we need to parse these things out and think about
them and say why is this working, why isn't it working? What can I
learn from this and use? And eventually like
an athlete you do all that training, you do all those
swings in the batting cage and when you're in the moment, when you're
actually preforming, it's just muscle memory, you don't think about it, you just
react and swing for the fences. And that's what we wanna do
with our art is we want to
study enough and study so much that when we actually are in the
process of doing the work, we don't really think it through
we just feel it. That feels right, that feels wrong, and then if we get
in trouble then we can go back to our studies and say now why is that not
working? Oh I needed to push a gradation so that came a little
stronger. Or oh I overdid it it was too strong and we can go back
then to our - to the mechanics
of making art, the craft of art, and we can look for solutions when we
get in trouble. But in general
a lot of this stuff is just intuitive
processes. But anyway we have this great
slash up, this great diagonal across
and we have this great contrast of value
here, although not as great as it could be. I'm actually making this much lighter
than it is. For him, for this painting, I'm looking at
it's much grayer, there's forms that break into here
that start to damage that mass of - that egg of
white or light that was so attention
grabbing. He's played that down so this becomes even more strong.
And you can see how - or maybe you can see so well, let me do
it this way. You can see
this bird does this. I'm playing up this angle a little bit
but this great, kinda slash,
arrow shape slash, feathers, wings go that way, head goes
down that way actually more vertically, but a strong
angle against. And these guys again, just kind of
it's like pouring water on dirt, it turns into bubbling mud
and then just kinda floats away. These shapes as they go down are just floating
away and dissolving into the environment.
So anyway, that's our difference. Now let's
look at our Cornwell again.
Cornwell compared to the Chardin, you can see that they both are highly dependent
in these pieces anyway, and in many of their pieces, highly dependent
on the blacks. Not only designing and
giving weight, volume, heavy gravity to their
piece - that dramatic chiaroscuro - but also giving
emotion. We have the slash of the wing cutting up into
space with the Chardin and the slash of the
head dropping down in the Chardin. With the Dean Cornwell
we have the
black, the dark black act that these two characters have committed,
engulfing them. The man is completely
surrounded in the black, he's fallen into the black. And the woman is
kinda trying to pull away from it. She's leaning back from that piano and her hands
are kinda glued to the piano, which is in the dark. And she's pulling away
in horror, in effect, and yet can't get away from that.
Her dress is this bubbling volume of mass that's
starting to fill the whole canvas. It's like some growing monster movie
and it's gonna engulf her pretty quick. The shadow behind her head
and up and above and behind her head. And even the fact that we have a lower light
for the Cornwell and the shadow goes up above
her is telling. That shadow's descending upon her
and gonna overtake her. You know, clear her
symbolism there. Chardin we have the darkness
surrounding this death scene. You know
maybe these guys killed the bunny rabbits, who knows.
Here we have the darkness surrounding it and so you can see
almost like an old picture tube on a t.v., the
darkness is just gonna eventually come in and take over this scene.
And it's gonna fade to black. And so death will win is the
message really in both of them. Death has defeated
them, it wins in a competition.
in a different type of competition the death has overtaken, everything
cycles out of life and into death. And that's the nature of
life and so we have the whole world of our
painting and when you look at a painting that frame is a window and you're looking
into that world and are meant to exclude the rules into that world
of the rest of the world, the world that you're used to. It's a
brand new world just like a movie screen. When the curtain opens, the lights go down,
the only world the artist wants you to feel
is the world inside that screen. In this case inside our
frame. And so when you do these little studies it's important to draw a little frame
and I like to actually make the piece
set inside the canvas so it's surrounded
by an environment. You know - not an environment
but surrounded by nothing, by the white canvas. And in fact the white
canvas enframes this little picture window and we look inside and get our ideas.
But you can see those two images of death.
We can see how the blackness in slightly different ways
is overwhelming the two images
and you can see also the broken effect. The man
who's down in the shadows has broken the white cuffs, the white
shirt there, the light on his face,
the ear, there's a little hint of a cummerbund, the hands,
are fractured. You have the same kinda fracturing of him.
Dissolving into the environment
and she's starting to - her hands are breaking away from her black dress,
going into it just like the
lighter feathers, the beak, and the fruit or vegetable
here are doing. So very similar ideas. And
these are rather universal ideas that the artists have used
over and over again and so your job is to understand
those mechanics, those components, how to use them,
and to do it in a fresh way, an interesting way. These two
folks did it using the same ideas, the same
visual tools of value
and the same idea that darkness is death, darkness is bad,
darkness is invasive, and they used it in different
and dramatic ways and both to a great
effect I think. So anyways let's stop there and
what I would suggest is get some old masters, find some paintings
that can be figurative, they can be still life, they can even be landscape,
and get some Whistler, Nocturnes, and start looking at how
the artist used those blacks especially. Because that's gonna be the
anchor for these kind of deep, dramatic paintings. Look for that
and look to see how the story or the image is
emoting or how the story's being told with those
blacks and then compare them to the middle values and the lights and do some little
studies of those just like we've done here and they can be much quicker and you
can do it with marker. Often times I'll just have a sketchbook and I'll use a sharpie
or any kind of marker and you can get a black one and a gray one or you can
have a black one - I'll use black ones that are kind of dried up
and so I have to go over it a couple times to get it really dark and so I can get
my three values that way, the white sketchbook paper, the gray marker, the dark
marker, get our two values, or just hatch in
and use a cross hatching for your middle value. But
study your favorite artist paintings and see how they use those
blacks. See what it did to anchor the painting or throw the painting off
balance or how the blacks surround
to make the light more uplifting, or how the blacks intruded
to start to suppress the light, to make it more depressing.
Just search it out. There's so many ways you can take those
just three values and really do some great, creative things
with them. So go have fun with that and we'll see you on the next lecture.
Free to try
1. Lesson Overview49sNow playing...
1. Intro to tones13m 39sNow playing...
Watch the whole lesson with a subscription
2. Understanding your values14m 39s
3. Understanding your values Part 214m 50s
4. Working in still life15m 51s
5. Pushing your values13m 27s
6. Finalizing and comparing your paintings6m 43s