Welcome back to my discussion on the Whitney Patterns. In the previous introductory post I talked about the Whitney patterns in general terms, arguing why we should care about patterns at all. In this part 2 we proceed to the fun part of the process – value allocation, that is an actual pattern utilization. We are going to break down each of the 6 Whitney patterns, demonstrating the principles behind each on an actual example, hopefully providing good amount of information so you too can start utilizing value patterns in your own work.

Today we’re taking a look at the first two out of the total six 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.

Just a reminder, following are the reference image and the sketch on which our study is based.

Reference Photograph; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY
Reference line drawing; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

Pattern #1: A Piece of Darker Value in Lighter Values

The Denman Ross Value Scale

“A piece of darker value in lighter values” is a concept of darker mass contained within a lighter area. The lighter area is a light midtone so there’s clear contrast between the two. Their relationship is relative though, which means that we can use say a “light” and a “low dark” for increased contrast (shown above, “light” and “low dark” refer to the Denman Ross value scale explained in this article) but we could also use a “highlight” complemented with a “low light”, were we making an overall high key painting. Notice that there’s no mention of any prominent white or black shape. Therefore we can assume these are used for highlights only.

An example of Piece of Darker Value in Lighter Values; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

On the image above you may see my result. The simplicity may surprise you. So let’s talk about it a little bit and remind ourselves of the idea of “bigger picture”. Notice how I treat the scene as a two-shape (technically three-shape), two-value design only, disregarding all the nuanced shapes in-between. Scroll up and look at the reference sketch, even the reference photograph. Compare it to my value pattern. Notice how I disregarded the internal structure of the buildings for the greater good. This is the essential ability required for dealing with patterns. Of course, we don’t paint our paintings with only two values and three shapes. But if we look at the description of the pattern, it says “a piece of darker value in lighter values”. This suggests that we work with masses of values. A group of darker values that reads as a mass of darker value, enclosed by a mass, or group, of lighter value. Such strong division creates a powerful sense of structure. And that’s what working with patterns is all about.

I’m going to further explain how to recover the structure within the large masses of values in the Part 3, for now just let the concept of massive simplification sink in.

Pattern #2: A Piece of Lighter Value in Darker Values

The “piece of lighter value in darker values” pattern is basically a reverse of what we’ve done above.

An Example of Piece of Lighter Value in Darker Values; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

In this example of “piece of lighter value in darker values” I used white for the lighter value. I did this intentionally to demonstrate 2 points. First, it is technically correct to use white as a piece of light since it is in fact lighter than any other value. But it can be very difficult. Leaving such large area pure white is very tricky and indeed very hard to do correctly. There are rare situations when we would want to do that, for example when making a very high key painting. Light middle value could then be our surrounding mass or “darker values”. But it is extremely difficult to incorporate pure white in such large quantity into a painting. I definitely recommend you to try it if you’re interested in experiencing it for yourself as it is a great exercise in value key limitations.

Here I have an example of such painting in case you don’t feel adventurous at this moment. First notice the pattern itself on the image below. It is in fact a “light within dark” pattern, simplified into two values, white and black.

The pattern; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

Notice on the next image how the actual painting “Angular Melody” looks like. Notice the variety in the darker values and how the white is incorporated into the picture. I did this by pushing the darker values further down towards dark, allowing me to use light middle values around them to soften the white shape and allow it to be integrated into the picture. Now this may not necessarily be a perfect picture but it demonstrates quite clearly my point and it was a very good exercise in which I tried to push what’s possible.


My second point is that when using pure white for entire shapes in a painting, that is the white of the paper, you rob yourself of the option to use white for highlights. Loosing the option for including highlights, in watercolor especially, isn’t much of a problem in many cases, because we already use the white of our paper to a very large extent. It really depends on each individual painting and our individual approach to it. For example, the painting below does use white more as a highlight than a major shape as in the painting above.


Now the following picture shows a version of the painting where white would be incorporated creatively as part of the overall design and would then negate the effectiveness of highlights as it would simply overpower them. You can see that the bit of white on the boat in this version isn’t nearly as strong as above. Remember that if everything’s loud, nothing’s loud. That means that without proper control over dynamic contrast the potential of any concept is easily thwarted. The ability to feel the right ratios is acquired through experience and practice. On the other hand, using white in such large extent is not necessarily a bad thing. My point is that we want to be conscious and aware of our decisions and plan them, instead of relying on chance.


Now all this said, I want to say that I would love to see some more attempts at pushing what’s possible and how well it can or can not be done. Experimentation, exploration, those are the mindsets we need to encourage. And so if you attempt to tackle this particular pattern by employing a huge mass of white I would love to see how you managed to incorporate it into the picture. Let me know in the comments!

To get back to the original pattern, here’s a more “correct” version of “piece of lighter value in darker values” pattern. By correct, of course, I mean a more practical one. One that allows us the use of pure white to highlight certain areas that support our idea.

A more balanced example of Piece of Lighter Value in Darker Values; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

And that’s it for the first two patterns. Stay tuned for the next set of patterns coming tomorrow, along with a discussion on how to recover the structure within the large masses of values.


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.