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August 27,2014
DANCE OF THE SEVEN VALUES

I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned in this blog that I am colour blind. I am pretty sure that probably isn't the sort of thing you should admit publicly when you are trying to pass yourself off as a painter, but the point I want to make is that accuracy with colour is not that important. I found out about my visual handicap in high school when one day the Physics teacher held up cards covered with dots of various colours and asked us to read out loud the numbers we could see on those cards. Everyone laughed when I called out numbers I could see clearly but that were apparently completely different from what everyone else saw. That established me as being red/green colour blind –not an unusual male attribute.

But it goes further than just difficulty with red and green. When my wife yells "Watch out for that blue truck!" at any time in the vicinity of dusk, my reaction is "What bloody blue truck???" In low light I can see a dark truck, or a light one, but don't ask me to identify it by colour. I am hopeless with colours in low light. You can't imagine how I struggled to figure out what colour to paint anything in shadow. Then I had an epiphany on the day I learned that you mix any colour with its complementary colour in order to neutralize its vividness in the way that low light neutralizes it. So, for example, a bright yellow object in sunlight requires purple to be mixed with the yellow to achieve the colour of its shaded side. Who'd a thunk it? It isn't always that simple, but that's the basic principle.

But what matters more than colour in any sort of representational or realist painting is value – the relative lightness or darkness of the "colour", whatever it might happen to be. It's the contrast between the lighted and shaded portions of an object that gives it a visual third dimension. It is value variances that create the perception of distance and spatial perspective. I sometimes think we colour blind types have an advantage over normal-sighted artists because we see in values more than in colours. In other words, the colours don't interfere with our ability to detect value differences, although I suppose we can never know for certain how other people see.

And so there I was last week, working away on my painting "Winter Morning View From My Studio Window" trying to get the values of all the various parts right so that the objects closest to the viewer appeared closer than the furthest objects, and that everything in between had a value that corresponded to its distance relative to all the other portions. The first value I establish is unlikely to be the right one once I start adding the other parts of the scene, so I may need to darken or lighten areas several times until the full range of values comes together in the right order: darkest up close, then fading in progressively lighter blue tones to the far distance. I would mix the paint on my palette on the desk, turn and apply it to the painting on the easel, then take several steps back to look at it from a distance to get the full effect. Back to the desk, turn to the easel, step backwards and look, over and over again. It felt like I was doing some sort of dance, and the layers I was applying were like veils. Dance of the Seven Veils! Only in this case the veils were actually values but with the same seductive purpose as the veils of Salome. The dance however, had you seen it, was not nearly as erotic.

Changing subject matter, I did promise to explain my long absence. Appropriately it's a rather long story that involves almost six months of debilitating pain from a pinched sciatic nerve, a month to recover from the narcotic pain killers after the nerve healed, two months to restore my strength from such a long period of inactivity, a move to a different apartment in the city (in the same building, thankfully), and finally a bad case of BPH that was resolved with surgery last week. Although still officially recovering from the surgery for another month, I felt well enough to finish the Winter Morning painting the day after getting home from hospital, and right now I feel great – full of energy and chomping at the bit to get on to the next painting.

Posted by Peter Kiidumae at 09:58 5 Comments
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