Evaluating Tonal Values In Artworks

I am again exploring how values have been used in various artworks. Unlike the posts Comparing Values In Artworks – The Classics or Comparing Values in Artworks – The Contemporary, I am looking how effectively they have used the values. A strong sense of tonal values is important in an artwork to help convey a…

I am again exploring how values have been used in various artworks. Unlike the posts Comparing Values In Artworks – The Classics or Comparing Values in Artworks – The Contemporary, I am looking how effectively they have used the values. A strong sense of tonal values is important in an artwork to help convey a sense of distance, realism, and give an emotional impact.

Since we are beginning to learn how to make notans in the Virtual Art Academy, we will be looking at how the values are grouped together into large shapes and not broken up throughout the entire painting.

If you want to learn more about creating notans then you should definitely check out the Virtual Art Academy. In fact this post has been strongly inspired by just one of the hundreds of lessons that the course covers, all aimed at teaching you to be a professional artist.

Albert Bierstadt

Kerns River Valley, California by Albert Bierstadt
Kerns River Valley, California by Albert Bierstadt

The painting Kerns River Valley, California was painted in 1871. It shows a strong sense of notan. He uses values to convey sense of realistic depth in his paintings. The posterised version of the painting shows how lighter values tend to dominate the scene, with the darker values used as a way to frame the edges of the painting.

Armin Hansen

Men of the Sea by Armin Hansen
Men of the Sea by Armin Hansen

Men of the Sea was painted in 1920 by Armin Hansen. The lighter background (in the upper right corner) suggests the distance. The lighter value at the back draws the eye past the figures, to the lighter area, and then naturally back to the faces (the human brain will seek faces as points of reference). The painting is lacking strong light values (more easily seen in the black and white and colored versions), with an overwhelming mid-tone use.

The scattered use of values when reduced to just a few grades makes the image harder to visually understand. For the purposes of learning values, this painting does not effectively use a notan structure.

Jay Moore

First Light On Elk Creek (Elk Creek) by Jay Moore is an absolutely gorgeous oil painting that has a wonderful use of values, especially for landscapes that can be easily quite complex.

I have purposely included two different posterised version of this painting. In the two value version you lose some of the foreground details (the creek), however you can still easily tell that the painting is of a landscape. The four value version of the painting has much more detail, and more strongly suggests the form of the included subjects such as the shrubs. The water of the creek remains slightly hidden, however the sense of form and shape throughout the entire painting is enhanced. In both the posterised versions of the painting there is a balanced use of values; almost equal lights and darks.

Jim Lamb

Little Corona by Jim Lamb
Little Corona by Jim Lamb

Little Corona, by Jim Lamb, also has a fairly pleasing use of values. He uses the lighter values to capture the sense of sunlight in his paintings. Notice how the cliffs seem equal, if not slightly lighter, than the sky in the black and white version; this is to emphasise how the sunset is casting light upon them. He also uses the values to suggest the highlights upon the waves.

Despite some of the broken forms for details such as the house on the hill or the details of the waves, this painting utilises values effectively for notan study.

Kathleen Dunphy

Summer Pasture by Kathleen Dunphy
Summer Pasture by Kathleen Dunphy

Kathleen Dunphys work shows a good use of contrast. The black and white version of the painting does not have strong contrasting values of pure white or pure black. She separates the near equal values of the horse’s behind by painting a lighter value backlighting. The overall painting has a ying-yang effect – lights in darks and darks in lights.

Maynard Dixon

Home In The Desert (Lone Pine) by Maynard Dixon
Home In The Desert (Lone Pine) by Maynard Dixon

Home In The Desert (Lone Pine) first appears to have a decent use of values, right? After all, the trees and foreground elements are darker than the distance… However when we convert the image into posterised versions, the image no longer has strong use of values. The 2 value version shows that many of the elements have completely lost their forms, becoming flat and unrealistic. The objects in the painting, such as the house, also become less obvious and the shapes lose defined edges and shaping. This is a clear example of where the colors have much more importance in the painting than the values; as many of the objects lost their definable shapes. For the purposes of notan study, this painting is not ideal.

Peter Adams

Peter Adams is a step away from the previous painters who focused upon more realistic subjects; he is an impressionist painter.

Part of Scotland Series by Peter Adams
Part of Scotland Series by Peter Adams

At first glance you might think that the values in Adam’s artwork is rather monotone. However when we convert the painting to black and white, we can see that he has utilised values to portray a sense of distance – despite the lack of realism. The same values are noticeable and carried across upon the posterised version of the painting – the dark shadows of the trees upon the landmass, followed by the shading of the clouds and their reflections in the water in the foreground. Adam’s has cleverly used the values as a way to draw the viewer’s eye to the focal point of the landscape.

For the purposes of studying notans, this painting is too compex.

Rich Bowman

Along The Way by Rich Bowman
Along The Way by Rich Bowman

Along The Way, by Rich Bowman, is unique in that the painting is of majority light values; in fact there are very few mid-to-dark values at all in the oil painting. This is an example of a painting with poor use of values; even in the coloured painting it is hard to find the elements within the painting. The black and white version demonstrates the monotone use of values. The posterised version emphasises the lights and darks within the paintings, however its still hard to decide subject.

Thomas Cole

The Present 1838 by Thomas Cole
The Present 1838 by Thomas Cole

Thomas Cole painted The Present in 1838. His paintings include a very strong sense of notan. The painting is split almost directly into halves with equal sections of light and dark. Scattered throughout these areas are mid-tones to help represent the landscapes shape and form. The values themselves have been carefully planned to illuminate and direct the eye to the central focus – in this case the tower – by obscuring the subtle details. These details bring life to the painting, but are clearly designed to not be distracting.

William Ritschel

Rocks and Water by William Ritschel
Rocks and Water by William Ritschel

William Ritschel uses values to help define the shape of the land and the flower of water in his paintings. The notan structure of this painting is quite complex; broken into a lot of smaller forms (albeit the overall painting is quite large). The values are designed specifically to portray the subject in a realistic way – less so in an artistic manner.

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