View Full Version : Seeking advice: Values struggle

04-06-2018, 09:39 AM
Hi, I am committed to setting up my pastels by value and find myself struggling with all my lovely, luscious, lively or limpid colors. The images do not show all my sticks. This is an iterative work in progress.

>> Attempt 1/the squint method -
Drew 6 value bars using grays, numbered them 1 (darkest gray) through 6 (lightest gray), laid and compared individual pastels against them. I really thought I should be able to trust this one. But a lot just seemed wrong, off. In the following pictures, you'll see I've had to move some of the sticks to the side because there isn't enough room above the bars.

Next: A combination of stuff I've heard or extrapolated and some technology:....
>> Attempt 2/the [red] filter method -
Using the same value bars, laid and compared individual pastels against them in addition to trying to neutralize them with the red filter - full disclosure, also squinted a bit. Works really well except for any hue with any red in it. For Yellows I doubled 1 red plastic storage box cover and one blue one to sort of arrive at a purple-violet filter. I'm guessing red filter is best for plein air. Resorted to trying to view the reds with a green flower vase. 855976
Just to see how well I was making out now, I decided to take a picture and make it gray scale
Overall Results for Attempt 2: Fitful at best, but I got some of them right :)

Ok, using that reference, now I've moved some of the sticks.
>> Attempt 3/photoed
and applied gray scale filter- Still working this through, but here are some of my moves.
I think it's better, at least a little bit. I could be on the right track.

Here are some of my questions:
Can I trust the gray scale filter? I'm hoping I can.
What about the values that fall in between the bars?

In addition to wanting correct values, I am also trying to train my brain to see them correctly. I do realize that proximity can impact perception and so can hue.

Once I have the values right, I will arrange in color families.

04-06-2018, 10:00 AM
I think what you have is fine, put them in your box the way they are and then make adjustments as you see fit. It's often easier to see what needs to be moved when they are all sitting together.

In addition to wanting correct values, I am also trying to train my brain to see them correctly

That happens with practice and by painting.
Don't overthink your pastel sorting too much, just get it started like you have done already.
Then go paint.

You should also put color aside and do greyscale studies. That will really help you see values and is my strong recommendation.

Have a look at basic form and how light interacts- there are so many tutorials on WC for that, maybe they aren't in the pastels forum though.
Go look in drawing and sketching, and I know there are some in oils too.

You want to study the breakdown of light on objects and how that translates to value- terminators (the bedbug line), midtones, cast shadows, highlights, stuff like that.

Book recommendation is James Gurney's Color and Light...everyone should have a copy.

04-06-2018, 10:35 AM
Thank you, Stapeliad. I appreciate your feedback.

All good advice. I do have Gurney's book and do make greyscale studies. Quick question: Do you mean 'studies of a planned work'? I do thumbnails for shape and values.

I'm better in greyscale than in color, by far. One of the areas I struggle with is when I do use color (pastels), I end up having to rework (sometimes multiple times) seeking the correct value. So frustrating.

My concern is that due to the nature of pastels, it is the stick that provides the initial value. Can I adjust it with an overlay - Sure, to greater or lesser degrees of success. But I'd like to get to the values closer first time out. When I do my optical mixing, I want the color values to line up to create interest vs. a flat color.

I hope that makes sense.

04-06-2018, 11:10 AM
Quick question: Do you mean 'studies of a planned work'?

I just meant doing greyscale work in general, could be studies for color pieces or not.

Yes, that is the challenge with pastels, knowing the correct color/value.
It is a matter of understanding value and practice. It is ok to correct your work, we all do it.

Once you have your box sorted it will be easier to choose your palette...but honestly, don't overthink it. Painting practice is more valuable than spending too much time sorting your box.

04-06-2018, 11:24 AM

At this rate I will have to post something to the Studio and Gallery forum soon, darn it.

Thank you again for the feedback and advice.


04-06-2018, 11:29 AM
At this rate I will have to post something to the Studio and Gallery forum soon, darn it.

Doooooo it!
You can't get better at painting by...not painting.

04-06-2018, 11:38 AM
I'm stealing that comment for my signature, if that's ok with you?

I may actually print it out and stick it in my studio and all over my house.

04-06-2018, 11:39 AM
sure :)

04-06-2018, 11:43 AM
Thank you kindly.

04-07-2018, 09:35 PM
Your post has reassured me that I am not alone in the struggle. I am taking Stapeliad's advice. Thanks to you both.

04-10-2018, 11:04 PM
Organizing your pastels by value and hue is a good thing for sure. But one thing I realized is that some colors/sticks just dont "belong" to any one particular hue.....so now I dont get too consumed by keeping my organization perfect....Its more of an evolution, that may change here and there...and being able to locate my most used colors (which many are often hard to figure out which color they belong to) :)

04-11-2018, 07:32 PM
If you are struggling with values, have you considered doing value studies with a limited palette. Try using just greys or burnt sienna and white. You could also create a value finder to help you compare values. Try resorting back to basics and go with black panpastel, charcoal and white pencil. You'll be amazed how much you learn from using these mediums. Concentrate on value studies, it will always carry over to your painting. Stick with a small value range.

04-12-2018, 02:14 PM
I am very new to art and pastels and struggle too with values. I will probably always struggle with values.

Well, except for black, grays, and white. One can easily line those up and pick. With my camera's photographs, I usually push the contrast, giving the image a greater range of values, especially darker darks and lighter lights.

But now as I am learning soft pastel painting and other media, I don't have the slider buttons to apply values or color saturation. I have to look at the subject, imagine the color(s) to search for stick that rarely matches what I want. And what I want or pick rarely matches (to my satisfaction anyway) or is compatible with the strokes adjacent or within or underneath. It is like the slider has moved from a finite to infinite range, endless. And then perspective tends to compound establishing the proper value.

Sorting by value(s) blessed me a couple of months ago when I dumped a box of old Grumbacher's. Before the treasured mess, I just left them in the wooden box as I received them, labels, dust, and crumbs. After dumping them so gracefully, my wife was not tolerable at leaving them on the makeshift studio floor. I removed the labels, cleaned each piece of pastel, and sorted by color; retaining the crumbs and dust for recycling into 'homemade' sticks. The box is much lighter in weight....

During this sorting process, it seemed that the value of a particular color or stick changes. And I noticed that when painting. I can sort them in the box with relative ease. But value changes relative to the colors/values on the surface. It is really frighting painting the first stroke as there is no reference save for the subject photo or scene. To me, it is a fun experiment with all these colors and tints/shades available. And I am force teaching myself to brushoff my 'mistakes' and start over.

Sometimes I think that after the disaster and disappointment, I have art. It is fun to look back at my struggle, amazed at what I am learning. :)

04-13-2018, 06:28 AM
I tape a piece of scrap paper (of the same type I am using for the work) beside the working piece on the easel, and use that as a study to test the color choice before marking the work. If I underpaint, I underpaint on an area of the study, too.