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Values darker than black but different colours - help kindly requested.

I am a first time contributor to this forum even though I have been reading, with much interest, the valuable information that so many of you have shared with this community. I bought Mark's videos some time ago and watched his excellent free on-line tutorials multiple times. I have finally set up a studio, following Mark's instructions as closely as my space allows. The studio is a 12' x 9.8' room with a ceiling height of 8.3' and the lighting fixture is in the middle of the room. I have positioned my shadow box and easel as close as practicable to meet Mark's suggestions in terms of lighting angle etc. I painted the walls black and even laid black rubber mats (as found in some gyms) on the floor, which have the added advantage of providing protection to the wood flooring underneath. Two images are attached, showing a part of the studio where I have positioned the shadow box and easel.

I have set up my still life and a photo of this is shown below. Note that I used my iphone which has poor contrast - the highlights are not that bright. Incidentally, I would welcome comments on whether this is a good still life composition. Not sure whether I have bitten off more than I can chew for a first attempt. Having started to prepare my palette one soon realises that nothing is ever as straigh-forward as it might look. One issue which I would welcome some assistance with concerns the following:

My black (60% ultramarine/40% brunt umber) is nowhere as black as the background which, according to MC's method is OK, I'll just paint it with the colour I have mixed. The potential problem that I have encountered is that the inner surface of the broken jar is also darker than my black paint but has a different (dark orange/brown) colour. What does one do in such circumstances? I have balanced the lighting as best as I could and I have not detected glare on my colour checker.

[Deleted User]mariebSummer


  • If it's darker than black, paint it black — so something a little darker than black, something much darker than black, something green that's darker than black, and something red that's darker than black… are all painted the exact same color: black. This will almost always be an issue to some extent or another, but if it's interfering with the composition you had in mind, you'll need to find a way to add more light to the dark areas you want to be able to see in the painting (as a color besides black).

    So basically, you're doing it exactly right on the technical side. If, for artistic reasons, you don't want all those things to be black, you'll need to adjust the setup and lighting to bounce some light into those dark areas. This is the exact same thing a photographer would have to do if they were having the same issue (which is not uncommon).

    Does that make sense?
  • @Kingston He is painting from life. The photo is just a reference of his composition.
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  • David, thank you for your comments and suggestions which I will give careful consideration. Basmeijdam, I will also consider the addition of adding more burnt umber and green hue to the black perhaps either by getting slightly more light in this region (as suggested by David) or by trying to add just a hint that will not significantly affect the value (?). Kingston, I agree that the inside is not black - certainly nowhere as dark as the background - but still darker than the black I mixed - confirmed with the colour checker, of course. This is what has prompted my question. With the weekend over, I am hoping to spend time this week finalising my palette and commencing with putting paint to canvas - a good motivation to leave the office at a reasonable hour :-)
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  • edited September 2014
    Make absolutely sure that your light is balanced. If your color checker light is brighter than your setup light, your blacks on the color checker will always appear to be lighter than the darkest darks in your setup. But part of it is that you are attempting to replicate light and the absence of it with pigment. Pigment will never have the full range of values that light has, and this especially shows on the extreme ends of the value scale, i.e., highlights and darkest darks.
  • I think your main question has been addressed here so I'll not comment on that. But I would like to commend you on the setup you made for yourself here. It takes a great deal of effort to get to the point where you are now. Congratulations, it's already very impressive! And I like your drawing.
  • Dear Mark, thank you for taking the time to also comment on my query. It is most appreciated. Having studied your excellent tutorials, I understood the limits of which you speak of but never considered that one might see considerable colour variations darker than black paint. So my first reaction was, "surely, if I paint it black it will not look right.." but having read your response, I am reminded (by virtue of your commentary on the videos) that this is exactly the trap that the inexperienced falls into and will further accept the possibility that it will not even look right until the painting is fully completed. In future I will also check my blacks which I didn't do in this case - just the whites. Thanks again!
  • opnwyder - thank you for your encouraging comments. Yes, it did take some time to put it all together but am hoping to now get something out of it!
  • @brian, I like your still life set up because each individual piece of pottery is nice. The colour scheme is harmonious and the broken piece adds interest. You asked an interesting question and I learned from the replies. I look forward to seeing how it progresses . :)
  • I am currently struggling with this on a current painting. I have wave foam that is whiter than my white and dark pants on a little boy that is darker than my black. This photo was taken with too much exposure so there was little I could do with the waves. However, I was able to bring up the darks a bit. Even after painting it, I see now that the pants and shirt are still too dark compared to the I'm actually in the process of making the pants and shirt lighter. The way we see is so much better than what the camera sees. This is how going from life is so much better than a photo. You have the advantage there. You also have the advantage of changing your lighting to meet your needs. Your value range is very wide. You have very dark areas and very light areas. I don't think it'll take away from the painting by adding a bit more light to your dark areas. If the white is too white, you may be able to put fabric over your light to cast a different light that is less harsh. What we see from your photos is not the real thing. I know that you see much more color in the white spots (highlights) on the pot than the white blob we see.

    The composition looks great. The only thing that I see that I would change (completely personal preference) is that the design on the two non broken pots are exactly the same. This tells me that the placement is calculated. Not sure if that is what you would like. I would turn your pot that is on the right slightly turned more inward. So the handle would be toward the viewer a bit more.

    Good luck! Every painting teaches you something. Sometimes it's about paint. Sometimes it's about ourselves. Many times, it's both.
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  • brian

    Excellent work! Perhaps I am being influenced by the lighting/glare on the photo, but it seems to me that the background suffuses too much with the darks of the ceramics. Perhaps you intended this?

    The objects are great, really solid. There is a nice flow of light and the perspective and composition is well handled.

  • It looks great. Please update the photo when you have it varnished.
    [Deleted User]
  • Hello Denis - the line between the dark areas of the ceramics and the background is intentionally lost - hope it looks ok once varnished. Megan, will update once varnished.
  • I think it looks fabulous! No more than you have painted, it's over the top. Please keep up your painting.
  • I love your painting.
  • This is absolutely beautiful! I'm so happy for you, Brian. Who would believe it was your first painting?! All of your careful preparation has paid off. Really, really nice.
  • Lindley - thank you!

    Jimmy, thank you for your encouragement. I started from the right-hand jug (I'm left-handed) and I'll never forget doing my first blending on this, standing back and being astounded at how well it had turned out - all due to Mark's incredible instructions. Hoping to start on my next one soon..
  • Hi @brian, a uniquely wonderful painting ! It is obvious to me stolen time here and there served you well.
  • @brian This is a wonderful execution.
  • Excellent start in what looks like a very successful future. Please keep us posted on paintings to come. Thanks
  • Lots of good advice from our fellow painters.
  • So, how did the work finally turn out?
  • [Deleted User][Deleted User] admin
    edited July 2015
    Ron said:

    So, how did the work finally turn out?

    He posted it, the forum just doesn't make it obvious on older posts because the way images are uploaded changed. Anyway, here it is:

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