Art Analysis Ep.3 | Value Grouping and Contrast
Value grouping and value contrast are two important factors in creating a great piece. Values not only define many aspects of composition, but also help with readability and contrast.
Table of Contents
This week, we will look at the work of Frank Frazetta and Craig Mullins in order to emphasize the idea of value grouping and value contrast.
One fundamental that many artists often overlook is values. Oftentimes, we sacrifice good values for color and forget that, at the end of the day, having good values is what really defines a piece. Values not only define many aspects of composition, but also help with readability and contrast.
Key points mentioned in this article
- Contrasting values help pop out areas of interest. Not only can we manipulate how well objects read by introducing value contrast, but we also can guide the viewer's eye using value contrast. Additionally, values are what truly carry a piece, not the colors.
- Introducing too many values only serves to confuse the viewer and weaken your piece.
- Value grouping helps us simplify a piece down to the most important pieces. Try to group values in light, mid-tone, and dark. Limit the amount of values used. Additionally, the reason we simplify is to keep a piece to point and readable.
First, let’s define some basic terms:
Values define how dark or light any given color (hue) will be. We can see purely in values by completely desaturating a piece. On a color cube, the further down on the cube, the darker the value.
Hue is the “pure” color. But notice that some hues are inherently darker than others. For example, if you look at colors under grayscale, purple is "darker" than yellow. Hue is defined by the slider to the right of the color cube.
Saturation is the vibrance of any given hue. Desaturated colors are seen as more “grey”. On the color cube, anything closer to the right is more saturated, while anything on the left is more desaturated.
Value Grouping is limiting the amount or variation of different values in a piece. For example, on a reference, you might see a multitude of different values in the shadow, but we can group all those values into one “average” value.
Value Contrast is using two strikingly different values to emphasize or clearly show a difference between the two values. Contrast draws the viewer’s eye and emphasizes the contrasting areas.
Readability is how well an artist manages to convey what something is. Have you ever drawn a horse only for it to be mistaken for a dog? Well, your horse didn’t read very well.
When it comes to value, different artists often have their own styles and tendencies. However, some basic principles about value remain constant among most accomplished artists.
We start our analysis of value with the work of Frank Frazetta, an American illustrator renowned for his work in comics. In analyzing the work of Frazetta, we will see how contrast in values plays a part in composition.
Let’s take a look at this piece in color first. Notice how, even with the extensive range of hues, the overall piece is relatively readable. Even with saturated oranges and yellows that generally attract our attention, our eyes still focus on the warrior at the front of the piece.
While this is partly due to Franetta’s brilliant use of composition, let’s take a look at how value contrast plays a part in this piece.
With the piece in grayscale, we can truly see the piece with only value. Let’s start by identifying some areas with the greatest contrast.
- The hooded creature’s hand vs. the background & the hood itself
- The shadows on the warrior’s back vs. other parts of his body
- The staff the warrior holds vs. the background
- The foreground mountain vs. the flames
- the wings on the warrior’s helmet vs. the background
Why would Frazetta choose to up the contrast on these specific areas? Recall how contrast can be used as a tool to bring emphasis and draw the attention of the viewer to the contrasting areas. With that in mind, we revisit some areas of contrast:
- The hooded creature’s hand vs. the background & the hood itself.
The overall silhouette of the hooded creature is pretty ambiguous and doesn’t really give the viewer much information about what the creature is. However, several features help us read the creature for what it is - the hand and hood.
2. The shadows on the warrior’s back, the staff the warrior holds, The foreground mountain with the flames, and the two wings on the warrior’s helmet with the background
The Warrior in the foreground is clearly the focal point of the piece. Therefore, it makes sense to have a lot of contrast on the warrior itself. The dark shadows on the warrior contrast with the lights, really bringing our attention to his back.
The Staff, however, points toward the figure and is an important guide that brings the viewer’s eye to the focal point. Increasing the contrast there helps guide our eyes straight to the important parts of the piece.
Similarly, the two mountains frame the figure, and upping the contrast there keeps our eyes on the center of the piece, where all of the important stuff is.
Finally, the feathers on the warrior’s helmet bring our eyes to, arguably, the most important part of the piece, the Warrior’s head. Not only do these two feathers bring our gaze to the warrior’s head, but they also help with readability.
To conclude, contrasting values help pop out areas of interest. Not only can we manipulate how well objects read by introducing value contrast, but we also can guide the viewer's eye using value contrast. Additionally, values are what truly carry a piece, not the colors.
Next, let's look at the work of Craig Mullins, often considered one of the leading figures in concept art and digital painting. In looking at the work of Craig Mullins, we will explore how grouping values can help us simplify a piece.
Again, we will take the image into greyscale so that we can get a better view of the entire piece.
Try squinting and looking at the piece. You probably notice that there are two main groups of value in the piece. The darks, which are primarily made up of the foreground elements, and the lights, everything in the background. Also, there is a bit of a mid-tone value that includes the shadows on the stairs on the right side.
Even when you don’t squint, these groups of value still seem very apparent. Viewers can clearly separate the lights from the darks, and, generally speaking, there isn’t too much contrast between the values inside either group. To elaborate, the values in the “light” group generally have very similar values. While there is a little variation between the values, the general values within the light are marginally different.
Let’s analyze why we choose to group values. At the end of the day, it all comes down to simplification. Howard Pyle once said that:
If in making a picture you introduce two ideas, you weaken it by half; if three, it weakens by compound ratio; if four, the picture will be really too weak to consider at all and the human interest would be entirely lost.
In a way, values and different groups of values are “two different ideas” that Pyle mentions. Mullin makes a much more effective and powerful piece by simplifying all the information down to the most key parts. Introducing too many values only serves to confuse the viewer and weaken your piece. If anyone has ever told you to limit the number of values you use in a piece you know why now.
For other artists that group values like this, check out the work of Howard Pyle and Edgar Payne.
To conclude, value grouping helps us simplify a piece down to the most important pieces. Try to group values in light, mid-tone, and dark. Limit the amount of values used. Additionally, the reason we simplify is to keep a piece to point and readable.