When you begin a painting, do you think about the mood you want to create? Or the tone of the concept you want to convey? Will it be calm, boisterous, joyful, dark, thoughtful, or delightfully light, etc? Some strategic thinking is helpful to create mood your paintings.
Once you decide on the mood, then what? What are your next decisions? Color, line, edges and subject matter all play a role in creating mood. In this post I am going to focus on the role of values.
As you know, value refers to the light and dark of a color. In my painting “A Silent Tack,” you can see a full range of light to dark with the color blue. How would you describe the mood of this painting?
What mood does this painting communicate? It is mysterious and calm. It is also called a low key painting. What is a low key painting?
Paintings generally fall into three categories of keys or moods. They are: 1) High key; 2) Low key and 3) Mid or Intermediate key.
A high key painting is one that is predominantly light in values. The colors are often pastel and the mood is often light and airy. In music, a high key would typically be song written in a major key.
A low key painting uses predominantly dark values. If your desire is to convey an ominous, serious or mysterious mood, then this is the key you want. In music, the key would be a minor key.
Most paintings end up in the mid or intermediate key where middle values dominate the painting. It is important to note that intermediate key paintings often do not contain as much drama or emotion as low or high key paintings — not always, but often.
What Tools Can You Use to Create Mood?
Below I have a 7-step value scale with labels to show you the values that dominate in these 3 keys.
I asked you earlier, what do you need to decide when you choose a particular mood or feeling that you want to convey? You need to decide on a value plan. A value plan refers to the ratio of light and dark values you need to apply in your painting. I have provided six value plans below for you to consider and they represent the three keys.
For example, if you want a low key painting to create mood in your painting, then the values of your colors will need to be on the dark end of the value scale as indicated above. Below, I have painted two low key examples showing you the ratios of light and dark that you could you use for your value plan; they are in the middle column. “Silent Key,” has a ratio similar to the one in the second row labeled low key.
An example of a high key painting is “Quietly Stirring.” Do you see the larger ratio of light values in this painting? In the in above graphic, which of the high key ratios does the painting land in? The top or the bottom one?
Following a value plan to create mood applies to any style of painting, be it realistic or abstract. Here is an example of one of my abstract paintings fused with realism “Moonlight Sonata,” that is a low key painting.
You may be wondering, “Carol, do you measure the areas of your painting to determine if you have the ratios you want?” NO! I am a little nuts, but not quite that crazy. LOL!
One way to evaluate your value plan ratios is to convert your painting images into black and white. I have examples below.
These value plans are a great reference for future paintings as well as when you are evaluating a current painting. Ask if your painting is conveying the mood that you want to achieve? If not, then refer to these value plans to determine if your ratios of values coincides with your goal. Knowing about these value plans is also a good way to heighten your awareness of the values you use as you traverse your painting journey.
How has this information helped you? Which key do you typically paint in?
The next time you are at an art show and find yourself attracted to a painting, evaluate the value plan or ratio of values that the artist implemented.
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