Lesson: Color and Value

Assignment #1: A Pair of Shoes.  Design a composition with a pair of flat shoes.  Use any kind of sneakers, walking shoes, old worn shoes, boat or tennis shoes.  Keep in mind that the laces provide a nice design element.  Play with the composition until it presents something visually interesting that works.  Working from a photograph and direct observation, paint the composition, keeping in mind color and value. -- from Braldt Bralds

The Process:  I chose to paint my pair of Japanese geta, a kind of sandal with an elevated wooden base and fabric thong.  I only wear them in my studio because the flip-flop sound they make when walking drives my husband crazy.  I placed them on a small Japanese obi.  After photographing several compositions, I settled on this one for I liked the angle of the shoes and the soft folds of the obi.   I made both a color print and black & white print of the composition, the latter to help focus my eye on the relative color values – the darks and lights.  As I began the painting process, I quickly realized the challenges presented by my choice of shoes: I had to represent the solid wood base of the shoes and the soft fabric of the thong and obi.  Using Saral, a wax free transfer paper, I transferred the image to watercolor paper.  With a hard HB pencil, I added the details of the wood grain in the platform of the shoes and also added shading using graphite.  I then applied a fixative over the pencil sketch to preserve the details and prevent smudging.   I was now ready to apply watercolor washes while first preserving the whitest white areas like the highlighted edges of the obi.  I could have applied Frisket to mask the white areas, but chose not to, knowing that if necessary, I could add the whites later using gouache.  To achieve the shiny, wood grain surface of the base of the shoes, I added Gum Arabic to the paint; the medium adds gloss and brilliance to the painted surface.  After much experimentation and several failed attempts, here is the final painting.

The critique:  Artists are often too hard on themselves and I’m my toughest critic.  In spite of much experimentation and several failed attempts, I was disappointed in the final painting.  First, there was not enough color contrast. Rather than staying true to the colors of the obi and thong, I should have taken artistic license and used a cool color  -- perhaps on the thong or obi -- to contrast with the overall warm reds.  The piece also fails because all the color values fall in the mid range.   I welcome your comments. 

Lesson learned:  Tonal values are critical. The lights and darks contribute more to the success of a painting's composition than any other factor, including color.  Begin each painting by locating the darkest darks and lightest lights.





Write a comment

Comments: 0

Honeysuckle Clouds, Acrylic on canvas,

40 x 30 

Sowi-ing Mana (Deer Maiden) Acrylic, collage on canvas, 18 x 14. See more of my Katsina Series on the Native Abstractions page. 

Chalchiuhtlicue (Aztec)

3D sculpture of cast paper and bamboo on metal stand, 13 x 13 x 2  See more of these works on my "Native Abstractions" page.


Pueblo Village, oil on canvas, 20 x 20. See more of these works on Latest Works page.

Firecracker Cactus

Acrylic on canvas, 

10 x 10, See more on the "Small Works" page.

Flower Moon 雪国

Collage, watercolor,

20 x 16, matted. See more Japanese-inspired works on my Asian Abstractions page.

San Geronimo Runners,

24 x 12. See more on Native Abstractions page.

Check out Bonnie's Blog for News, Techniques, Inspiration