Are you someone who loves a challenge or are you faint of heart? Generally I enjoy a challenge (unless it involves public speaking). Last Thursday Nan Newman presented her challenge to our group. She handed out tiny images that she had cut out of magazines (most were flowers) and we were asked to paint the image using only one colour. Seems simple enough! Flowers are a little out of my comfort zone though. Confidence is starting to slip. I start painting the background first. Hmm it's looking a little bleak. Nan asks me if I'm having fun. I engage mouth before brain and abruptly say no. I realize Nan has made the effort to put forth an exercise and I've been a bit thoughtless. I continue on and it occurs to me that this is an exercise in values. The 2nd most important component in a painting after composition. Once I catch on I break it into steps and produce a little painting that I'm happy with. We as artists tend to get a bit too comfortable in our practice and challenge night pushes you out there. It makes you try something new whether it be a new medium or a new idea. You really don't have to end up with anything it just prevents you from getting stale.
Try a simple exercise on values using only one colour. You can go through an old magazine and find an image that appeals to you. Break it into 5 steps from beginning to completion. It should only take a half hour. Layer your values (in watercolour you would go from light to dark). A definition of values is: The lightness or darkness of tones or colours. White is the lightest, black is the darkest. The value halfway between these extremes is middle gray. Values are what give an object its impression of being three dimensional. Most important, relax and have fun.