View Full Version : High / Low Key value discussion -- Commission Help Needed

05-08-2003, 06:39 PM
I have a large commission from someone in Germany....they want a "Paris street scene"...first they wanted it in pastel but I suggested my primary medium was a better bet

So...full sheet

I have some reference photos from Olga's last trip...some from my stash and some I stole off the web.....

They want "pastel colors" not "bright"


Someone to draw it for me?


Reference Photos (http://www.pampeters.net/Parisreference.jpg)


05-08-2003, 06:54 PM
How about the one in your reference pics ... with *you* in it ... what about les doux magots?

05-08-2003, 06:56 PM
Sorry no help here.......love all four photos.....but would know where to start........

But am going to set back and watch......:D

05-08-2003, 06:59 PM
I think I like the one with the red canopy...

05-08-2003, 07:17 PM
Sorry Pampe, none of these ref pics are doing it for me. Flat light sources :(

I have lots of pics but no scanner I'm afraid...I would love to have helped!

I have attatched a pic I found somewhere on the net mainly 'cos I liked the lightsource.
Does it have to be a daytime scene 'cos Paris comes alive at night and the lighting on the buildings would make a wonderful piece.....Just a thought!

05-08-2003, 07:25 PM
Pampe, Congratulations on getting your commission.
I don't know how you feel about your client picking out which they prefer.
My personal preference is top right then lower right.
I'm sure whichever you do will turn out great.
Your stuff always turns out good.

05-08-2003, 07:33 PM
Hi Pam,

If I was going to work from one of those photos the bottom right one is (IMHO) the best composition by far. I'd change the left hand tree into having green leaves and soften the hue of the canvas sunshade. Hope this helps :) .

05-08-2003, 07:34 PM

Here's one that a friend of mine took last week. Not sure what you are looking for but I am sure you will know it when you see it. Looking forward to seeing your progress.



05-08-2003, 09:05 PM
Hope I'm not too late to venture an opinion.

I like the one on the bottom right. I think you could do alot with it, and it has a lot of pastels (lilac tree, yellow buildings, etc) I like the composition also. Maybe you could change the awning to a nice rich blue, although it wouldn't be very French.

Here's one I found somewhere. You might want to change the name of the restaurant or something ;)


Whatever you decide, it will be lovely.

05-08-2003, 09:30 PM
Originally posted by noreenemc
Hope I'm not too late to venture an opinion.

Here's one I found somewhere. You might want to change the name of the restaurant or something ;)


Whatever you decide, it will be lovely.

Pam, I'm not partial to any of your ref pics... I really like this one, though... I think you could take some licence, live up to your client's preferences and still paint something that would satisfy your own unique style...

05-08-2003, 10:15 PM
ARRRGH...all those chairs!!!!!!

*runs screaming*

05-08-2003, 10:38 PM
Less chairs is good. Maybe just the tables in front. The comp is not that great, but the colors are good. I think the photographer was standing on one foot. If you cock your head to the right it looks better.:D
artistic license....

05-09-2003, 02:23 AM
Pam what a challenge!!!!!

Even if they don't want bright colours, you can still use a ref. with bright, primary colours, you just need to calm it down :) I'll see what I can find in my stash for you (with less chairs :D )


05-09-2003, 05:24 AM
Found this possible on www.freefoto.com, nothing in my own files.



05-09-2003, 06:29 AM

Couldn't fly to Paris and take your own pics, could you?;)

I like the one in the upper right corner of the cafe and the wrought iron work around the second floor of the building myself.

The one of L'Hallebarde Cafe is good too, but definitely with far fewer chairs. I especially like the lady with her hand on her head, she looks like something from the past. (Don't let Fookie see her, she'll fall in love and write a wonderful story to go with the photo. :evil: )

Whichever you choose, when you add your colors and style, I'm sure it will turn out great.

05-09-2003, 08:14 AM
Bottom right! Or the chairs! Both are lovely, and I know you'll do it perfectly...

05-09-2003, 08:34 AM
I don't know how to say this gently, but if I were to ask for a street scene in Paris, I would want a street scene and not a cafe scene. Yes, a cafe should be part of it, but a cafe alone does not say Paris, they are a dime a dozen in any town in Europe.

Sorry, I have no photos to contribute, have never been there.

05-09-2003, 08:44 AM
Pam -

I just love this type of question. I like the photo on the upper right, the one with the canopy. You can change the colors to whatever you need to make clients happy.
I would crop the photo, use less tables & people. Maybe 3 tables with less detail and 1 table with more detail. On the left hand side, you could show just some of the tree and add in a flower stand on the ground.

Or re-evaluate photos you have and chose what you like out of each of the pictures and combine the elements into the composistion you feel comfortable with. Doug has a thread about computer aided composition from not that long ago. I'll see if I can find it for you.


05-09-2003, 08:48 AM
Doug's thread right after this one.
Computer Aided Composition 1.
It was brought to top this morning.


05-09-2003, 10:12 AM
Originally posted by fun2cook
How about the one in your reference pics ... with *you* in it ... what about les doux magots?


05-09-2003, 10:13 AM
Originally posted by Nitsa
Sorry Pampe, none of these ref pics are doing it for me. Flat light sources :(

I have lots of pics but no scanner I'm afraid...I would love to have helped!

I have attatched a pic I found somewhere on the net mainly 'cos I liked the lightsource.
Does it have to be a daytime scene 'cos Paris comes alive at night and the lighting on the buildings would make a wonderful piece.....Just a thought!

well, anita...sometimes you have to work with what you have and create your own light, you know????;)

05-09-2003, 10:18 AM
thanks, Carolyn and els

Andy...I like that one too

Kate...great idea to add...thanks!

thanks for the photo, noreen!

*oh, good, Ruthie's looking in her stash*

you know, syl...I tried to pass that by the hubby as a BUSINESS TRIP.....:confused: :evil:

Uschi....you are right...that's why I want it to be more than a cafe

Thanks, Bonnie...my plan is to take a bit from this and a bit from that and make a composite, yes.....at least that was my plan....if I find the "perfect" photo, I won't have to;)

Thanks to everyone for suggestions....

05-09-2003, 10:47 AM
bottom right... I think it's the strongest composition - full sheet? wow - that'll keep you busy for a while -

what ever you choose can't wait to see it!

05-09-2003, 11:01 AM
I HATE commissions!!!


I'm no help am I? lmao

ok ok

I like the two photos on the right on your reference page.

AND I like the photo Ruth found. (chair backs can be changed)

I looked through my photos weeks ago and found nothing suitable. you know my view.....very narrow and MACRO. I have great photos of the detailed stonework at Notre Dame. lol

Here are the 3 street scenes I could find in my photos.....let me know if you want them in larger files.

I hope you find your muse Pam


05-09-2003, 11:14 AM

First congratulations on your commission. And all the way from Germany to boot - you are international!

Good luck on this piece and I look forward to seeing what you decide upon.

05-09-2003, 11:40 AM
My humble vote is for the one on the bottom right. I also like the one Ruth found.....


05-09-2003, 12:03 PM
Good luck with this commission Pamps. Whatever the final painting, I'm sure it will be just wonderful. :clap:

I personally like the photos Em posted (top one the best). There are many buildings for you to do your wonderful ability of mixing colors, etc. The other photos are just grand, don't get me wrong, but none of them seem to say "Pamps" if that makes any sense :rolleyes:

Good luck....and fer sure I'll be a watchin' :cat:

lyn lynch
05-09-2003, 02:00 PM
PB: right you are! I pm to Noreen to see if I can get better resolution to crop to the lady in her chair. LOL, think I be too forthcoming of my personality on these boards....

Now Pampses problem. Pamps, whatever you decide to do with this full sheet, I suggest you send a sketch and palette sample to client for approval before beginning. I KNOW there was a street scene posted in this forum since I have been a member, which screamed Paris. Have you any photos of NYC streetscape? I am thinking particular of long-shot of Broadway convergence at Flat Iron Bldg. Also, Broadway convergence at Helmsley Hotel. Actually, Broadway convergence at anything; this popular wide-angle shot of NYC. These offered just to help you get into the mode of street scene, rather than single image focus. You have done other street scenes, and can do this too, it's just a matter of thinking cap and full sheet size, and remembering to keep palette in high key, not southwest.

05-09-2003, 02:45 PM
Hey Golf Girl... Go to Paris and absorb the culture and let the painting happen. Oh yeah and bring me back a couple of bottles of Merlot too. :)

05-09-2003, 03:17 PM
Some great photos of Europe, including Paris, on this site :)

Kate Mc
05-09-2003, 03:26 PM

I just pulled out a handful of pictures from Paris that might be helpful. There are a couple of views with the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty in the same shot. I love those a lot. (although I'm amazed that the one in New York has a green patina and the one in Paris is balck!). There are also some street scenes and a couple of the Place St. Michel with the fountain. There are a couple of the Champs d'Elysee and the Arc de Triomphe.

Malheureusement, I don't have a scanner. I have two ideas:

First, I can take pictures of them with my digital camera and try to upload them. If you find one/several you like, I can send them to you by snail mail.

Second, I can send the whole lot to you by snail mail and you can look them over.

What think you??

I'll keep looking, because I know I have some interesting views of Notre Dame somewhere.


05-09-2003, 03:37 PM
You all are too great....just saying , during lunch with hubby, how WC! has become a huge support, but more than that...a resource of International proportions when you need something...wow

Look at all the material I have to work with.....:clap:

Em...muse is here....draw-ing person needed...thanks for the photos....mine are all like yours...macro....but I have some great METRO shots.....I was on a metro sign kick when there last:rolleyes:

karen...not just Germany...this is the 4th for this couple...so I want to please them!

fooks....can you talk more about "high key"..cause if this guy wants "pastel"...wouldn't that be kinda high key?

GolfGuy...ya.....I'm there and drinking Rothschild myself (in your dreams)...haven't been for 3 years.....withdrawal...when hubby worked for French company, we were there twice a year :crying:

Thanks, Ruth...surfing now

Kate...that is such a sweet and generous offer...THANK YOU!!! I think I have enough now to get there and I need to get this done this weekend probably:eek:

05-09-2003, 04:02 PM
Pam, Searched some of the net

This one is excellent, some street scenes with Montmartre in background, flags etc. slow to load, at least on my dial up

this is the site where I picked the above from, don’t speak french so don’t know what they are saying http://photosparis.free.fr/liens2.htm

Go to latin quarter - nice street scene


On this one exchange cars with café

O.K. I’m done!

P.S. just read re high key, yes, that's how they paint in Europe, see Gilberte, I think Sonja, Baba etc.

05-09-2003, 06:58 PM
thanks, Usch...those sites are great!

05-09-2003, 07:00 PM
good luck Pam!!!

just checked out some of the sources Uschi found - a lot of good stuff to look at!


05-09-2003, 10:23 PM
indeed there are, Suz...kept me busy all afternoon!

05-10-2003, 12:02 AM
Pam.....pick one....go for it....end of story....:)

05-10-2003, 05:00 AM
Originally posted by taghera
Pam.....pick one....go for it....end of story....:)

... beginning of story :)

I'm looking forward to seeing what you decide to do...

05-10-2003, 08:05 AM

I suggest you paint one of each of the suggestions, show them all to your commissioners and then give the unchosen pieces to the WCer who recommended it .... I think doing this would make you very popular with both groups - (thou you're pretty popular rond here). Hey, don't act like you don't have time to kill. . . :)

If you agree to this I'll find something somewhere and recommend it... otherwise - I like bottom right ref. which you first proposed (thou - I've not looke through ALL of the rest)... poor you.

Good luck and congrats on the Com.


05-10-2003, 10:04 AM
Hugh ;) :p :evil: I know:rolleyes:

jti....now THERE'S an idea.....:rolleyes:


lyn lynch
05-10-2003, 02:57 PM
Pamps, high key is simply value range.
Tonal value begins w/full color from the tube and water added makes bit higher value, more water makes next highest value and so on.

The darkest values [those closest to straight from the tube] would be LOW key.
The light values [those furtherist from the tube] would be HIGH key.

Each color has a specific range of exactly how many values can be made from it. For example, Windsor Violet may make a range of say 10 values from low key to high key.

Yellow rarely get to a value higher than 5.

So, using those two colors, you would make a value chart, w/intent to chart only the High key values.

You will find that if Violet at 10 is your lightest color, then perhaps 7 would be the DARKest value for your shadows, etc.
You will find that if Yellow at 5 is your lighest value, then 2 may be your darkest.

You will need to determine your palette and make a tonal range to be sure to stay in the high key range. Basically, there is a low tonal change between the values so it is important to watch the key while you work. Mix only the high keys on your palette, separate that palette from one w/ranges you do not intend to use.

Pastel artists work in high key, too, I am sure. But, overall I would not consider a Pastel to be high key, I have seen many in high key. The key is only values, not colors.

05-10-2003, 03:07 PM
I printed this out fookie; we should do a "project" on high key paintings HA! So if you have to add so much water do you make up a seperate puddles for each colour before you start and at what value would you make the puddle - 5?

05-10-2003, 05:20 PM
Wow, Fookie, I've seen watercolor books where they take a whole chapter to try to explain high key/low key and they didn't do as clear as job of it as you did here in a few paragraphs. Thanks. I'm saving this for reference.

05-10-2003, 05:28 PM
Man...fooks....sometimes I don't understand a word you say (my dopey fault)....and my head hurts

this time, you are clear as a bell......


yes....we need a project on high key!!!

05-10-2003, 05:40 PM
{{{Pam}}} are you still struggling????? I went surfing last night and found some beautifuly oil paintings... big help that was... ok... this may sound really dumb, but have you thought of going to a Travel Agent and gather some brochures? Or to the library? Just a thought...

Fookie... I printed off your wonderful explanation... even I can understand it!!! Thanks...

We all learn from one another!

05-10-2003, 06:07 PM
thanks, Char...I will be fine.....the challenge will be to keep it simple and not get overdetailed...why make it harder than it needs to be....:rolleyes:

I am very familiar with Paris and have photos...that with all the wonderful help here has given me ideas

THE HARD PART for me....is drawing it! ON A FULL SHEET:eek:

So maybe Doug can do it in PSP for me;)

lyn lynch
05-10-2003, 06:30 PM
Pamps, value key has nothing to do w/detail. It's all about staying in the high range of values, and for this you must make a separate palette painting from it only.

Be very sure to make enough mix of each value before beginning the work. It is better to thow out excess than try to get to the same value mix at mid-point, takes a much experienced value painter to do this.

Be sure also to make a high key value chart before you begin so you do not vary from what you have established. High key painting very different from what most do here on this forum; it takes attention.

Before beginning decide if you are going to do any glazing. If you are, then make a value chart of this, too. For example, if yellow 1 is your dark and you add a Violet 6 as glaze it may change the tone to a dark which will be out of place in your work. You may need to start your glaze with a yellow 4 and a violet 10, to stay in the range. It will be helpful to make a grey value to your glaze mixes, marking what you have used to achieve.

Remembering that the tonal shifts are very soft, not dramatic as we generally work.

High key does not relate well on the internet; notice how so much of my work [including that which I just posted in Project of Uschi] has an over-balance of red. Seems to take professional quality photo equipment/manipulation software to correct it satisfactorily.

Sorry you do not understand me when I speak normally. Seems I have to put on my "when I am instructing" hat to achieve clarity.

lyn lynch
05-10-2003, 10:32 PM
I go to handprint to see if more information available on key [value], and of course there is. Read all about it here (http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/color10.html), and let us know what you find.

05-11-2003, 03:20 AM
What an interesting discussion!!!!!!! I had no idea high key was so complicated, thanks for informing us all Auntie :clap: It's funny, I think I painted in high key when I started because, as you said, it's the European style, although that has changed in recent years in the UK with many artists getting much bolder in their use of colour.

I was also wondering whether Europeans always painted high key or we just think they did because the watercolours we have from 100 or 200 years ago have faded?


05-11-2003, 11:05 PM
*gonna have to read this when we haven't just had a bottle of chardonnay*

nite nite, all

best golf game I have played so far!!!!

05-12-2003, 12:14 AM
fookie, I'm curious - is this what you mean by a high key painting ?


After I did the auto-contrast in PhotoShop, you could see all the color he had in the painting much easier - but gawd, what a great job he did with such light values...

lyn lynch
05-12-2003, 12:53 AM
Yes, Faafil, that is what I consider a watercolor made in high key. Except, there are a few misplaced darks, such as the foilage greens. I regret that I did not see the thread, but now you know how difficult they are to reproduce in cyberspace, and why mine are always so red. LOL

Most of you know that I am just one year with watercolor medium, and have no expertise so do not take what I share as gospel. I posted the handprint value pagein event someone can give us more advice, or correct me if I am wrong.

I have been told that watercolors do not fade unless a poor grade of paint was used, or they were left in direct sunlight. So, no, I do not think old watercolors have faded to high key value range; in is sensible to me that the
correct" way to use this medium would have been in high key.

I suppose the common term would be high "value" and low "value", rather than key.

05-12-2003, 09:58 AM

can you chnage the title of this thread to "Value discussion" or "High key/Low Key" or such.....I think it needs to keep going

05-12-2003, 11:57 AM
Hi Pam:

well, I don't have any pics from Paris, but ... do you think that something like this can help you???? :)


sure in Paris is a street like this.... (more o less) :)

good look with the commision....