Choosing Subject Matter - What tends to influence my decision and why...

Several months ago I wrote a blog about the importance of seeing tonal value, to be able to then paint the values you see. 

I stated at the end of my last blog, "I hope to show you in my next blog how seeing tonal value often influences my choice of subject matter."

Here at last (my apologies for not being a consistent blogger these last few busy months) are a few reasons I continue to be inspired to paint much-varied subject matter - landscapes, flowers, houses, animals, boats, people, etc.

There is a house I often pass on foot which catches my fancy - below are a few photos I've taken, in different lighting and seasons. I'm fascinated by the many different values created by the angles of the moving sun against the windows, porch, roof and sky!

I will probably paint this house someday. But for now the photos help illustrate what I've previously written about tonal values.

Here the roof is much darker than the sky:


Here snow changes the values - the sky is now darker than the snow on the roof, in patches:

More snow made the value patterns change once again - the shadows around the windows and porch contain so many varied strengths of value and now stand out against the snow much more. Some window panes are much darker in value than others:

Here the shadow from the tree branches are darker than the sky, but lighter than the roof shingles:

And now the green leaves are darker in value than either the roof or the sky...I do love how this house and the windows change in value - even if it were painted with only one color! Squint, and you can see how the columns holding up the porch roof are lighter than the shadowed side of the house behind them!

Recently I needed to paint some new works for a silent auction benefit for a local library. The plein air date was July 19th and artists were allowed to paint the evening before the event. I was asked Thursday afternoon by a student what I planned to paint. I shrugged my shoulders and replied, "I don't know yet."

Someone else suggested a garden I should paint. Again, I didn't think too much about it. 

There's a good reason for this.

A professional photographer friend of mine has told me he gets a lot of questions about his camera - what does he use? He told me people often spend lots of money buying high-end cameras, thinking they will then take better photographs. But he then told me the secret to taking good photos isn't what type/brand or price of camera. "It's all about the lighting," he said.

I agree! Lighting affects value and having at least five or six distinct values will enormously help you create a strong painting.

Sure, quality paint and paper make a huge difference in the end product, but more importantly, I look for subject matter to have good light in order for it to have good tonal values.

The reason I wasn't thinking much about what subject matter I planned to paint was because the subject matter isn't nearly as important as the lighting, which changes with the sun.

I wanted to paint boats, but the exact scene was yet unclear - so down to the harbor I went, lugging my supplies, looking for the light.

Inspiration often comes from how light affects scenes. What would give me foreground, middle-ground and background values? 

Where was the light today? How could I visually grasp it and then depict it?

Even when commissioned to paint something or someone specific, I'm always looking for how the light creates tonal value. Things in the shade have value, too, especially as they recede into the distance.

Below is my painting from Friday evening, July 18th, 2014. 

You can see how the horizon is lighter in value than the top of the sky. The water is darker in the foreground, lighter as it heads toward the horizon. The land in the far distance is lighter toward the sun, helping make it "glow."

The closest boat is much darker in value than the boats farther away. This effect is helped by the boats diminishing size, and the placement. 

The lightest values are found in the sun sparkles against the water, and I varied the color of these quite a bit!

My second piece was painted Saturday morning, with the sun rising until it was eventually basically directly above me. 

The values remain, even though side lighting is preferable. 

The sailboat hull is the lightest, then the sky, the far distant horizon, the water in the foreground, and the darks of the island - reflected in the water and the trees themselves.

Happily, both works sold and went to what I assume will be good homes.

Depicting value helps clearly communicate your subject matter to the viewer in the same way a writer uses good vocabulary.

I hope this helps you "see" and strengthen your own works of art! A good painting, in my opinion, draws the viewer into the painting, so that a flat piece of paper appears to be three-dimensional!

Good success as you see and paint tonal values!

Your painting-friend,

They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.
For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.
They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end.
Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.
Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.
Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!
~ Psalm 107:23-31

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