Apr 24, 2011

Painting Basics: Something Useful

This is something I learned to use that helps me evaluate certain aspects of what I am painting or drawing. If I am having trouble identifying the exact value or color of something, I found that isolating the area with a viewfinder helps me figure out how that area relates to another.

It is a simple tool as I just take a piece of cardboard and punch a hole in it. This creates a viewfinder that allows me to look at one area of the scene separated from the rest of the scene.

Today, we are going to look at how to use this type of viewfinder to examine the value of the local color.

A Simple Viewfinder

A viewfinder is a device an artist can use to isolate a part of a scene in order to discover the characteristics of what he is looking at, for example, the color temperature of an area of an object. 

This device is easy to make and use. To make one I find a piece of cardboard, usually from the back of an old drawing pad, and cut it to the size I want. I usually cut mine at about two to three inches wide and five to six inches long, but it can be any size you want. I then take a hole punch and punch a hole in the center of one end of the cardboard.

I now have a viewfinder.
Using the Viewfinder

This type of viewfinder is a tool that you can use to evaluate a variety of information by visually separating the area you want to examine from the rest of the scene. Once I find my scene I can use the viewfinder to evaluate the value of an area by comparing it to the value of the cardboard. I can also examine the hue more carefully by separating each color to be examined individually.

Comparing everything to the value or tone of the viewfinder gives me a consistent benchmark to gauge the differences. 

Let's say that I needed to look at the colors of the flowers in isolation. I can grab my viewfinder and position the hole over the area I want to examine. 

Here, I have isolated a section of a group of yellow flowers. I can then move the viewfinder up to another group of yellow flowers to compare the two colors against the muted brown of the viewfinder.

I can then compare the intensity, temperature, or value of the two yellows by comparing them to the characteristics of the cardboard and noting the differences.
How to Use a Viewfinder to Evaluate the Value
Here is an example of using this device to gauge the value levels of the different colors found within a composition.

Sometimes the differences between the local color of different objects can make determining the value level a little more difficult. A viewfinder like this is useful in finding the right value relationships because you can compare the values of the different colors against the value of your viewfinder.

Instead of comparing the values of different colors by their relationship to each other, you can compare them to the one value found on the viewfinder. In a sense, the viewfinder becomes your standard of measurement. 

Here is an example where I have isolated a section of the apple in the scene above. I can compare how light or dark this section is against the value of my viewfinder.

In these examples, I have made the value of the viewfinder the same as the middle value of my value scale.

Here, I can see that the red of this part of the apple is slightly darker than the middle value of the scale. 

Now I have selected an area of the backdrop to see where the value level of the fabric lies on my value scale. As you can see, it is much darker than the middle value.

This is a section of the book in the setup shown above. If I wanted to know where the value level of the tan book cover fit on the value scale I place the viewfinder over a section of the book to see where it belongs.

I can see that the cover is fairly light in value, but does not come close to the lightest end of the scale. Doing this might prevent me from painting the book cover too light. 

I have done the same thing with the blue of the pitcher. 

By comparing all the colors to a single standard as a guide I can work out the value relationships of the different objects consistently.