Ned Mueller discussed how to properly mix the right colors with which to convey a scene.
by Bob Bahr
“Many students want to learn as much as they can in an expedient manner, but it does take some years to achieve a fairly competent level,” says Mueller. “Remember, the Old Masters worked in black-and-white value studies—from plaster casts—for four years before they worked in color. When I went to art school it was ‘just’ two years, and we complained like mad, but color being so complex it spared us a lot of confusion and chaos in our paintings. It is what most beginner, and some advanced, students need, but if you gave a workshop and announced that the students would do black-and-white value studies for the week, you wouldn’t get too many sign-ups. Take some time to do some in the studio. They are fun, productive, build confidence, and help speed up the learning process!”
This study was done primarily with three values. It’s a method Mueller recommends. “It’s best to premix three values: a dark, a midtone, and a light,” he says.
“The idea is to see where the values are very similar and to paint them all one general value. Value is what holds a painting together and is the basic structure of a painting. It enables us to concentrate on the structure or composition and get more solid paintings. Although people admire plein air painting for its spontaneity, an awareness of good composition can make that same painting even better. A value study not only enables us to visualize interesting large positive and negative relationships but it also suggests where to put the smaller light and dark shapes to help the rhythm and movement in a painting.”
A value study doesn’t have to be done in various shades of gray. “This value study is an example of a more unconventional subject and what more of us should probably be painting,” says Mueller. “By training my eye to see things in a more abstract or subjective manner, I was able to see the interesting arrangement of the dark asphalt machine and workers silhouetted against the rising steam. It makes for a compelling image.”