Hi and welcome back. The “Double Vision” series has been a popular one with its initial launch back in July 2017. Now, finally, almost a year later, we bring you a new set of articles. This time our focus are value patterns. If you’re not familiar with the “Double Vision” series, it is a joint effort where I and my friend and artist Russell Black, tackle an identical scene based on a single photo reference and show both of our perspectives respectively. We explain, demonstrate and illustrate our individual approaches to solving the design problems the subject poses.

As I said, this time around we’re focusing on value patterns. My task is to work with the “Whitney patterns” which I briefly went over in my previous article on tonal value. Consider this a much more thorough and in-depth analysis of the Whitney patterns, not only complementing but expanding on the previous discussion.

To read Russell’s perspective, where he explains and demonstrates the “patterns of depth”, an extremely useful and important concept, please visit this link to his excellent article.

Before we get stuck in I want to say that this time we only deal with the portion of the painting process where we focus on designing value patterns. The entire painting process consists of several steps including image analysis, idea establishment through line drawing, value allocation through patterns (which is what we discuss today) and finally painting the final work. And while it makes sense to put it all together and present it as a whole, we decided, due to the complex nature of designing value patterns, that separating these would be the best way to go about it. This way we keep our focus on the topic easier and won’t get overwhelmed by the complexity of the entire process. Once the Whitney patterns are explained, I’m actually going to discuss the rest of the process as well.

And finally, please note that my discussion of the Whitney patterns is going to be split into several articles due to the complexity of the topic. Links are going to be provided in each article for easy navigation. In this introduction we are going to take a look at our subject and briefly introduce the Whitney patterns. But now, without further ado, let’s look at our reference photo.

Reference Photograph; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

This photograph provides a good number of options as far as our design possibilities go. In this case, even a blatant copy of the shape distribution in the photo would do, which is rare. I did go beyond the given shapes in my demonstration but the explanation as to my exact thinking and decisions will have to wait for a separate article as I mentioned above. Here instead I’ll only show the resulting sketch that is going to provide the guide for our entire set of Whitney patterns.

Reference line drawing; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

Above is the finished design as a line drawing. Again, my decisions for the way I simplified and translated the photo into this line drawing are going to be explained in depth in a future article. For now let’s just accept this line drawing as a final sketch that will serve as our reference onto which our value patterns are going to be applied.

The 6 Whitney Patterns

If you’re a serious learner, there’s no way the name Edgar Whitney escaped you. If you’re entirely new though, I would recommend you check out Edgar Whitney’s book “The complete guide to watercolor painting”. In it, he says this about his 6 value patterns: “… [they’re] tried, tested and proven to be successful which make for readability, lucidity of statement, and breadth of effect.” And it’s true, they are proven and still very much relevant.

And here are two more exceptionally powerful statements from Edgar Whitney‘s book: “Design the shapes first, fitting nature or objects into them. A synthesis occurs in the mind while thinking shapes. An awareness of the matter to be fitted is requisite, but shapes, space divisions, value, and color chords are your concern when creating pattern.”

The other powerful statement I did quote in one of my previous articles but since I think it’s a very fitting analogy and a very important realization, here goes again: “Design values are going to be thought into your paintings or you will be rolling dice in the rectangle. A first consideration is pattern. If you buy a coat do you examine the stitching of the buttonholes and, if you find them acceptable, say, ‘I’ll take this one’? Or do you first appraise its shape in the mirror?”Pattern is even more important in your watercolor. Nothing is more important. You may be the greatest virtuoso, technically, but if your painting does not have a distinguished pattern, your painting will be mediocre.”

Please read and re-read the statements above. If this is a new concept to you, it’ll take some time and even will to accept this new reality. It’s a new way of thinking, there’s no doubt about that.

Here go the 6 tried and tested patterns:

  1. A piece of darker value in lighter values.
  2. A piece of lighter value in darker values.
  3. Large dark area and small light area in middle values.
  4. Large light area and small dark area in middle values.
  5. Gradation, in any direction, up, down, or across.
  6. “All-over pattern” as in textile design – an equal surface tension or visual strength throughout the rectangle.

If you’ve read the book, as you should, then you surely noticed that the patterns lack verbal explanation. There are sketches assigned to each pattern demonstrating how each one functions but there are no words accompanying them. And while it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes those words can have great value. That’s why tackling this topic can be quite difficult. Therefore, please keep in mind that my discussion is based on my own experience and my understanding of these patterns. That being said, my intention is to be as true to the intended meaning as possible. That’s why I also want to thank Russell Black for helping me fill the gaps where I was not quite sure about the proper approach.

From the quotes of Edgar Whitney above it should be already obvious that considering the patterns is all about seeing the “bigger picture”. The word pattern itself suggests this to be the case. When we look up close and study details (the stitching) we miss the overall pattern. Only when we learn to view it in its entirety we are much more likely to notice how the thing operates as a whole. Therefore remember that to view and build patterns we must learn to see and think big. It is the “reading between the lines” and “seeing things in perspective” of painting. Pattern is the foundation and we must try our best to not only learn to see but create such foundation in our work. It adds strength, structure and order to our work. And, of course, besides that very essential benefit of strong visual structure, we are free to manipulate values to create any sort of lighting scenario we desire, that is we don’t need to rely on the subject and the current outdoors lighting conditions to dictate what kind of painting we produce. It is our choice and our responsibility to decide what our painting looks like, what it says and how it says it.

And that’s it for today. Check back again tomorrow to read Part 2 where I’m going to discuss the first two out of the six patterns.


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