November Guest Artist – Kevin Nakagawa
The Value of Value
by Kevin Nakagawa
In my work, I'm always attempting to communicate several things with visual tools. Color is always a strong element within a composition but my focus is primarily on something even more basic. Color can be broken down into the visual components of:
Hue (the color)
Intensity (relative brightness)
Temperature (warm/cool), and
Value (relative light and dark)
It's in value that I place the most importance in terms of bringing a piece of work to life.
Here is a composition featuring surface (meadow), subject (cabin), background feature (mountain) and sky with a light source (sun). There are many ways to approach this scene in terms of color. For example, we could make this a late Fall scene at dusk where the grasses are dry and glow gold in the warm sunlight or maybe it could be a night scene with the sun transformed into a moon by the use of cool toned blues throughout. But, here, we'll stick to local color --grasses will be green, the cabin will be brown, and the mountains will take on a warm purplish tone, and we'll make the sky blue.
Okay, here's an example of these hues being applied in a very uniform manner. There's nothing wrong with the scene but there's potential for additional drama and energy in the scene that isn't being realized due to the lack of a range of values. In each hue --green, brown, purple, and blue, there is very little change from dark to light within the spaces that they're used.
This is the same composition but hue has been approached more strategically with the values of each hue. Subjects, volumes, and lighting have been considered and the hues applied accordingly. There's a greater purpose in the tones. As the light pours down the scene the objects reflect that light thus defining the lighting scheme and, in doing so, suggest those objects as three dimensional volumes. In the first scene, uniform values tended to flatten out the objects. Also, in this scene, I've stamped additional hanging branches to increase the value range within the sky section.
Here is an example of what I'm referring to in terms of volumes in the cabin form. To the left, we have a mono value of brown applied to the entire object. The stamp image itself has defined values that create the form but in the application of brown tones to the right, we see a heightened sense of those volumes. I usually apply a uniform light value as a base on spaces and objects but, from there, I'll selectively apply incrementally darker values in specific areas and not the whole. In this case, the vertical sides of the structure (walls) are darker than the horizontal (roof). This gives us the illusion of top lighting (coming from the sun). Under the eve I've applied the darkest brown where the shadow is in the actual design.
Here are the two examples of the mountain range. Again, the range of values create a heightened sense of space within the form and defines the separation of the "range" of mountains within the design. My basic approach is pretty simple here. Just as the darkest color was applied to the the shadows on the cabin, I've applied my darker values of ink to the shadow areas on the mountain. I use the design shading as clues for where to apply my ink.
These two details are the surface areas of the scene. By altering the amount of ink applied to areas within the space (in the right scene) we've increased the visual richness and, like a director of lighting on a stage, we can emphasize the subject within that space --the horse. The little white dots act as flowers within the grass and also increase the value range one dot at a time.
Sometimes it's easier to see the value range with the absence of hue. In these two files, I've removed the color saturation to reveal the value range more clearly. In the scene to the left, it's almost as if the scene could have been stamped on to a grey piece of paper but in the scene to the right we can see the dialog of the illusion of cast light and reflected light across the surface. Now, I've created these two black and white files by altering the color scans but I often work in black and white and I believe it's a good exercise for heightening the awareness of value so that when I do use color I can apply it with a more dynamic usage.
Here are a couple pf recent Halloween scenes that were done in this black and white exercise.
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