AuthorTopic: Value Studies  (Read 4926 times)

Offline Ambivorous

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Value Studies

on: August 12, 2017, 11:19:02 am

When I first started doing pixel art I thought that it wouldnít require much artistic skill. This was obviously horribly incorrect.

The logic being that I can just use someone elseís palette and since Iím placing all the pixels individually it will be easier. And this was partially true.
Thing is, the workflow involved when youíre trying to make pixel art without any artistic knowledge is constant refinement. You draw one thing (and it sucks), then you go over every single detail in it again and again until it looks satisfying. Youíre basically trying to brute force an image.
The end result of this is that it was taking me hours; days to finish a single, tiny piece. Now, over time I got better, but the fact of the matter remains I was doing a lot of unnecessary work, and reworking, which was wasting time and still the end results were not as great as I wanted them to be. On top of that if I wanted to change anything about a piece I was extremely reluctant, because of the amount of effort I had already put in. So my pieces were stale and static and sometimes just a massive waste of time. You can also imagine it was basically impossible to animate anything decent in this manner.
Then there comes the palette. Letís face facts: if you canít make your own palette (or at least modify someone elseís) you will never get the mood you quite want and you will have to settle.

Luckily for me I was a curious soul and I spotted one of the other pixel artists doing a thumbnail study over in the daily sketch.
I asked what they were doing and the response was that they were taking an image, making it rather small and then trying to copy it - more or less - while essentially blurring their vision so as not to distract themselves with the details. Well, this sounded like fun and I decided to try my hand at it.
Enter the worst thumbnail study in history:

Alright honestly it's not even that bad, and I put a lot of effort into this and even tried out a new brush!
But realistically I now know that I could not see value in any way, shape, or form while doing this image. This is when I was introduced to value studies!

A quick side note on the word 'value':
Basically value means how light or dark something is. Another word for this is brightness. But when I use the word value here in this context I am taking into account one final thing: saturation.
In your digital painting program of choice you will likely come across a transformation to greyscale which will include the word 'perceptual'. What this word means to you is that not only did they take into account the brightness (which is actually called value in your HSV (hue saturation value) colour picker), but also how saturation effects the apparent brightness to the human eye.
You can have yourself a quick google of the differences between all these terms, but the tl;dr of it is that I use value incorrectly, so just bear with me.

Some Theory Work

Alright, so what is a value study?
It's quite simple, all we're going to do is take an image, make it greyscale, and then try to copy it.
The idea here is that colour is distracting and we're only interested in value for now, so we're going to remove any and all distractions as best as possible to focus on what we want to.

But just doing this isn't going to be terribly useful if we don't set some nice rules for ourselves to learn what we intend to learn.

Spoilers: we want to learn how to see value. The entire point of value studies is to teach our brain to see value.
If you don't catch yourself staring at a cup of coffee in the morning looking at how dark the shadow underneath the mug is, and how brightly the light is shining off the top rim, then you're no where near ready to move on from value studies. We need to make your brain obsessed with value and see it all the time in everything we see, even when we're practically unconscious.

So to force ourselves to see value we need these rules:
  • Do not trace: Open up your reference (now greyscaled) image in one program (preferably on a separate screen entirely), and your art program of choice with a blank canvas alongside it.
  • Never use the eyedropper tool: This just defeats the entire purpose of your value study. This actually only applies to using the eyedropper tool on your reference. Using the eyedropper tool on colours you've already used on your study will save you time, but for bonus points selecting each colour (shade of grey) manually every single time you need it will give your art an amazing feel later on and you'll be able to transition to physical media much easier. Also you'll make amazing palettes.
  • Timebox yourself: Stick to an hour a day, per study. Having the time limit open ended will have negative effects like focusing too much on one detail, loss of inspiration, feeling like you're wasting your time, and eventually stopping doing these exercises at all, so make sure you only do this a little bit a day, so it remains fun and never becomes a burden.
  • Don't try too hard: You're going to suck at this at first, that's the whole point. Don't put in too much effort. The  idea here is to teach your brain to do this automatically, so the less conscious effort you put in the better. If you're struggling with something that means your brain isn't quite used to it yet. This is purely an indicator that you need more practice at that specific task, so look forward to things you struggle with because this will give you room to grow!
  • (Optional) Stick to a handful of shades at first: This is what I was told to do, but I don't know what value (hue hue) it actually added, so do it if you want, but I'm not evangelising it. Please do tell me if this is actually a useful step if you try it, so I can update this.
Alright, so now that we know what to do, what not to do and what our intention is, we need our first reference image.
Now this part has sapped a lot of my inspiration in the past. It's hard to find good reference images that ease you into things gently, and indeed finding good reference images is something you want to practice, so it's part of your value studies! If you find yourself exhausted after searching for a good reference image this means you've made your brain work already, so don't feel bad if you're hard pressed to now do your value study.
To take away this daunting task you can separate these two actions. These days I'm always on the lookout for good reference images, so every day I log into deviant art and check the top images of the day and if there are any amazing photo references I can steal. If I find myself google image searching something and a good reference image pops up I stash that away in my references folder. Always be on the lookout for good reference images even if they don't satisfy your current needs, because later on you might need them.

And now we're ready to begin our very first value study.

Your First Value Study

Here is my very first value study:

Honestly, not all that bad! Once I'd removed all this colour nonsense it was pretty easy to see that there are blacks and whites and a bunch of greys.
So let me go over a few of the things I did in this and then explain how useful or useless I think they were.

I made the canvas the exact same size as my reference image.
This was useful because I could judge the exact distances that things were from the edges of the image. But perhaps I should not have as this is another layer of distraction. If I had not cared about exact sizes and shapes and differences I may have absorbed the value knowledge sooner.
It would probably have been best to first do a composition study to get my alignments and sizes correct and then do value studies, but that is for another time.

I used only a handful of shades of grey.
This may have removed some of the distractions. I didn't have to worry about blending yet, so that was nice.
Again, perhaps blending should be moved to a separate study, or added later (as I did) once you're more comfortable with values.

I only used a round brush.
This was probably a mistake in hindsight.
Again again, removed a layer of distraction since I always used the same brush. I should probably have diversified my brush usage later on once I had everything else waxed, because now I can still only use one brush!

A side note on tools:
As I just mentioned, I still only use a round brush, with 100% hardness. Even once I'd started blending (I use opacity to blend).
What I did learn out of this is that the tools you choose to use are entirely irrelevant to your learning or your eventual ability! Pick the tool you want to use, because eventually you will become good enough with anything to achieve any end result you want.
This means use any program and brush and settings and method you want. Draw outlines, blobs, use photoshop, krita, round brushes, square brushes, draw with a trackpad, mouse, tablet; use microsoft paint if you want. And change what you're using at any point you want! Yes, your art will take a hit at first if you're changing, but that's part of it.
Don't become like me and be reliant on the same brush every time though (or do, I'm pretty cool).

So now I think you're ready to start doing your own value studies, equipped with the knowledge you'll need to become an amazing artist.
As a bonus, I redid the same image just eight value studies later and look at the progress I'd already made:

Now go and become the next [insert famous artist of your choice]!
* may contain misinformation

Offline RAV

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Re: Value Studies

Reply #1 on: August 12, 2017, 02:42:58 pm
Great article. Thanks for sharing your experience.

It also sheds some more light on the wisdom of the old masters in oil painting.
I have read often how they would remind their students to emphasize pencil practice even as oil painters.

This had many reasons of course: The sheer volume of quick practice, the difference in the costs of it, and I also suspect the importance of learning Value, simply by the pencil's nature of not allowing for Hues. You had no other option than to develop an eye for seeing Value, make use of Value to draw the scene, and learning how to use a pencil for creating Values.

The masters did not need to recommend Value study, they recommended Pencil study. Better focus on Value was implicit to the correct choice of tool. When trying to drive a nail into a wall, you don't choose a spoon or a sponge, you pick a hammer. And that's true for how you study an aspect of art.

And the simplicity of the pencil was unambiguous in what matters, what you would practice. Today we face a different problem: our tools seem almighty and very complex. For learning, it is difficult to discern the order of things. But I believe there is a hierarchy in every domain of knowledge, and understanding that helps you learn it faster.

Thus nowadays, it becomes more about understanding the conceptual system of art, and reducing the functionality of our tools to our given needs accordingly. Facing all these possibilities right from the start, you need to learn what to focus on and what you can meanwhile ignore, for a given task. The idea of Value Study reinvents the old pencil practice within a powerful image program. You better know how to tune your tool towards a focus study.

With colour, we can observe that when trying to create an image only by Hue it is much harder to make an advanced scene than by trying to create it by only Value. So clearly, Value takes prescedence over Hue in the basics of what it means to construct an image, and it's the fundament of understanding colour. This reveals the treachery of the HSV name, since it implies the importance of Hue coming first. But sorted by priority, it should be named VSH.

Recognizing the importance of value does not mean Hue is easy, though. In nature, objects and light sources have both archetypal Hues, but it's much more complex than Grass = Green. This in itself is subject to intense study, especially how all these objects and lights interact for the final Hue. For example, one common mistake is trying to create daylight change only by Value. Thus, after you learned to understand the world by Value, you have to rediscover the world of Hues.

In terms of what practice has what core meaning compared to other practices,
You might even say that classic painting basically focuses on Hue Study.
Pixel art is basically focus on strict Pattern Study.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2017, 12:26:06 am by RAV »