Venice Value Studies and Painting


Today started with a couple of value studies of Venice scenes. Went in first with the mid values and simplified the shapes as much as possible. I was first intending to do the first one as a full painting but in the end plumped for the second one.

It was a trial. I simplified things further by doing the whole thing in grayscale to avoid getting distracted by color and was very glad I did.

First the drawing. Sketchier than I would usually do but took care to keep the verticals and horizontals as they should be.


Next the mid values in large shapes. I was getting a little discouraged at this point. The main buildings weren’t hanging together as well as I’d like and disaster was looming. However, I ploughed on and after the darks and some lighter value detail on the building I grabbed it back from the jaws of defeat.

Not one of my best but not too bad either. A little too sketchy in places but maybe worth another go.

The Elusive Zbukvic Touch

Every now and again I torture myself and try and get some insight into Joseph Zbukvic’s technique. I’ve had an inspirational printout of one of his wonderful Venice paintings on my wall for a while and I foolishly wondered if I could learn anything from trying a copy.

Now I wouldn’t recommend this if your ego is not built on rock solid foundations. I’ve tried before with varying degrees of success and didn’t really come away with any lessons learned. This time I made a little headway.

Firstly his values are surprisingly close together. The scene above (his is the bottom one of course) looks as though it has very dramatic value changes but actually they’re almost all about 3 steps apart. The sky especially near the horizon darkens significantly and helps to tie everything together.

Secondly his ‘colors’ are REALLY close to gray. Low chroma in other words. I got the Munsell chips out and had to go to my ‘nearly neutrals’ section to even come close to matching them. It’s really easy to slop far too much bright color in there even when you think you haven’t.

Once I’d got to grips with both those things I didn’t fair too badly. I till could have compressed my value range even more but on the whole this was one of my better attempts.

Here is a preliminary sketch I did before the bigger one.

This was definitely worth doing. Gave me confidence that at least my values were in the right ballpark.

Venice and Value Studies

venice value studies watercolor
venice value studies watercolor

Varying the value range alters a painting’s feel

The plan behind venice and value studies is the following. Take a reference and paint it three times. The middle one is painted as closely to the actual value range in the reference as possible. The top one is shifting and compressing the value range to the top i.e. lighter than the reference. And similarly the bottom one is shifting and compressing the value range to the bottom i.e. darker.

Change the values but keep the value relationships

The first goal with these studies was to see whether we could shift the values but still keep the value relationships. If the relationships are good then the scene will read correctly. And I think they all do. None of them are great paintings but you can see they all represent the same thing.

Shift the values to change the atmosphere

The second goal was to change the feel of a painting by shifting the values. I thought the lighter one might have a more misty, ethereal feel. And the darker one would be more moody. Well I don’t think I succeeded here. Maybe I’m over simplifying the process. But it definitely an exercise worth doing.

Some days nothing really works

Wasn’t really feeling it for this one. Let’s hope I can pull something out of the bag for tomorrow’s class. In any case it was good practice for value studies. I’ve also included a larger version below. Again I’m not really happy with it – just one of those days I suppose.

venice sunset watercolor
venice sunset watercolor

And a link to someone who can really nail this – Joseph Zbukvic

A lot of you will know of Joseph Zbukvic. His value handling (amongst many other things) is spectacular.

Watercolor by Joseph Zbukvic

Yes well we’re all depressed now aren’t we? He actually uses quite a narrow range of values here but expertly implemented.

Value Studies for Rainy Streets

The homework for Gary Tucker’s last workshop was to do a local rainy scene. Now we haven’t had any rain in forever and the only rainy photo I had was from New York so that went into the pile. I plucked a few others from pixabay and went to work.

These are all small (5”x7”) value studies to work out composition and values.

First a simple scene with a lot of red.

Not bad but lets try a few more and see how they do.

I also quite liked this one. Nice contrasts in the car and the shadows on the street and misty buildings.

Next was my New York photo. I did two of these a day or so apart

It may not be obvious but I was much happier with the second one. It’s a complicated scene and I was starting to get to grips with some of the subtleties in the value changes. Maybe one more of these and I’ll be ready to paint!

And for completeness a quick still life warmup and some mid value mixing practice. I was trying to go in and paint everything with a mid value or lower in a single shape. Then go back in with lighter values and finally the darkest darks. Not perfect but a worthwhile exercise.

Gary Tucker Workshop – Rain in NYC

I zoomed another Gary Tucker workshop this weekend. It’s tough as he paints in a very different way to me and nothing really came out well. In fact my value study above was the thing i was most pleased with.

I did two paintings in the end. One paintings along with him and one today at my own pace. Here is the paintalong one:

Yes it’s a bit scrappy and I wasn’t happy at all at the end. After 24 hours though I can see some good in it. The values are strong and there’ssome nice color variation in the road. On the whole though I was rushed and didn’t feel I’d done it justice.

So today I did another version. Pretty much the same method – initial colored washes, second washed with a mid value, then the colors and the darks. Here it is:

The perspective is better but it still was a struggle and I’m uncomfortable painting this way. I’ll persist though – the big shapes are good and the values again are strong. Maybe one day…