Tuesday, April 25, 2017

How Dark is Dark Enough?

'Late Summer Haze'            8x10        pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available   $125
It really isn't hard to have rich and colorful darks with pastels. Some of my favorite pastel makers offer dark sets and they are a must for my pastel collection. I especially love Terry Ludwig and Diane Townsend darks.  I enjoy starting my paintings by building up several layers of these rich darks. I know that I can modify these dark areas as the painting develops. I have discovered that if the darks aren't there in the beginning it's hard to put them in without have spotty areas of dark.

But how dark do the darks have to be? The question came up during my workshop this past weekend. I had been doing my usual demos showing how I layer dark values at the start of my paintings. The result is usually a block- in with some pretty strong dark passages. See the painting and pastels in the photos  below for a good idea of how dark my paintings usually begin.

starting a painting with rich darks


One of the artists in the group was concerned that perhaps she didn't start her paintings dark enough. She preferred a brighter higher key look to her paintings. It started me thinking. How dark is dark enough? Do we have to use the darkest value available to start a painting? What if you don't really like to use those dark values....what if you prefer to paint in a higher key?

The answer is simple. The darkest value you use in a painting will automatically be the darkest dark. Even if it isn't very dark! 

If you use a middle dark value to a middle value and every other value in the painting is lighter....than that middle value automatically becomes the darkest dark. The value isn't as important as having strong value shapes in the block- in of the painting.


 Take the painting in today's post. It is lighter (higher key) than I usually paint. I blocked in the dark areas with a dark middle value gray violet instead of my usual dark violet. Every other value relates to this gray violet. And because the rest of the painting is made of lighter values the gray violet and the additional rusty pastel became my darkest dark.


*A note about the wonderful Terry Ludwig eggplant pastel: This is a wonderful rich super dark. I like to reserve this beauty for accents rather than use in in the black-in stage.*

1 comment:

Merrill Phoenix said...

That's an incredibly important distinction for all artists hoping to get the light values right. In order to produce the light needed to lift a painting you have to ensure the darks are dark enough. Knowing that they don't have to be your darkest pastel but just your darkest pastel - specifically for that painting, is actually very liberating. Thanks