Middle values—A Most Difficult Value Range (Playing with Color Series by Joen Wolfrom)Joen Wolfrom | September 17, 2012
Greetings to you this beautiful fall day. The leaves are beginning to turn color—oh happy day! Before beginning a new fall project, let’s think about one more value concept—the middle value color range. Surprisingly, it appears to be a most difficult value range to work with. For best results, designs featuring middle-value colors need to include definite value contrast. If value contrast is not present, the design tends to blur together. This can create confusing and disappointing results.
It may surprise you to find that most fabrics found in a fabric store are in middle value. Additionally, middle value is the value that most quilters are comfortable using. Thus, when at a fabric store, the middle-value fabrics are the ones we select the most. If we look at our fabric stash at home through a value finder, we’d probably be amazed at how many of our fabrics are sitting right in the middle-value range. Certainly we have some light-value fabrics and some darks, but the bulk of our fabrics are in the middle range. Our fabric collections are often too homogeneous in value to give us really good value options in our designs.
Why do we need value contrast or variation?
When values are too much the same in a design, the design becomes unclear. Without either the richness of a few dark colors or the splinkling of lightness, a middle-value design can look lackluster or mundane. Often it has a mushy effect. There’s no clear focus. One shape runs into another, making the design confusing. The design can even disappear without intent.
The fish image (below) is a good example of too much middle-value in a design. The featured fish is a bit difficult to see clearly because its value and the background’s value are too similar.
We see a similar value problem with this next fish image. The values vary, but not enough to make it clear that the fish is the featured object in this design. Again, the fish and its background are too close in value. The featured fish is obviously not being featured. Now if the fish were colored in strong, pure golden-yellow hues, it would be a different matter. However, when the values and colors are similar, value contrast is extremely important.
Using a most valuable tool—–a value finder
To make sure you have enough value change in your designs, use a value finder. It is a very helpful tool. If you look through a value finder, you will see no color. Everything will be in gray tones. You become aware of lightness and darkness and values in between.
When looking at fabric through a value finder, what do you find? Are the fabric values of your entire selection the same or very similar? If so, the design has a good chance of having clarity problems. People may not know what to look at or what’s going on in your design. If you have a star design and the value finder shows that your fabrics are all similar in value with both your star and background selections, the background and stars may merge together. The value finder helps to clarify your fabrics values and helps you assess the changes you need to make. If you tend to use mostly middle-value fabrics in your designs, use a value finder to help you make good value choices.
While working on your design, check it often, standing back 10 or more feet to assess you progress. Use both your eyes and your value finder to analyze how your design is evolving.
More about a value finder
A value finder is a very inexpensive tool that provides you a wealth of information. Be sure to have both a red and green value finder on hand. Work with the one that best suits your eyes for most colors. When you work with red fabrics, use a green value finder. When you work with green fabrics, use a red value finder. Working with red on red or green on green gives you incorrect visual information. BTW, the newer editions of the 3-in-1 Color Tool have both red and green value finders. The earliest edition has only the red value finder.
Sashay around the Block (below) is made from mostly middle-value and high-value colors. If the values were not clearly thought through before beginning this quilt, it could have been a visual mess because there is a lot going on in this design. Although every color family is well represented in this quilt, it was important not to get the different designs confused or intermingled. It was especially important not to have the background merge into the foreground or the foreground move down into the background. A value finder is really helpful in clarifying a fabric’s position when many different colors are used. It is often difficult to compare values of two dissimilar colors in a design.
When Is a Disappearing Motif a Great Idea?
There are times when you may want to have parts of your design disappear to create a playful or intriguing design. To do this, select similar values for your foreground and background. Also, select colors of similar tonalities or intensities. When you do this, the two planes (levels) appear to merge into one. A great example of merging background and foreground sections of a design is Autumn Praise by Carol Webb.
Notice in the upper left portion of Autumn Praise, all four leaves are apparent. The leaves are mostly-middle value while the background is high in value (light). Check out the upper right side of the quilt. One leaf has disappeared. It’s there, but it has merged visually with its background. The two are of the same value. Notice the differences and similarities between the other three leaves and backgrounds in this section. The values aren’t strongly different, but they are enough so that the leaves can be seen. This illusion is helped out by Carol’s color choices. When a more brilliant color is used (less grayness), the leaf can be seen. When the color has the same amount of tonality (grayness) or more, and the values are the same, the leaf visually disappears. Look at each set of four leaves. Analyze the differences between each leaf and its background and how it is seen in the quilt. Check out the values and the tonality of the colors for each of these leaves. Carol Webb’s Autumn Praise is a magnificent example of using value imaginatively. Much of her design is done in middle value, but she has enhance the design so much by adding both light and dark values.
Value Play creates Beautiful Effects
In Lois Dunten’s original mariner’s compass design, she features middle value hues. Notice that these beautiful hues are enhanced by her use of value variation. The darkest greens add richness to the design. The lightest hues provide visual respite and a bit of vibration. Although the middle-values are featured, they are made more beautiful because of the addition of these value variations.
Look at your past designs to see how you work with value. If you work almost exclusively with batiks, use your value finder to see whether most of your fabrics are of the same value range. After you have assessed your most recent projects, make some decisions as to how you would like to work with value in the near future.
UPDATES & NEWS
Here are three tidbits of information that may interest you:
1. My new online color class, Color Play for Quilters, has just launched. If you are interested in learning more about color, do check out the class. Go to Craftsy.com’s quilting classes to find my class. Once enrolled, you can view it 24-7. You can ask me questions, work at your own pace, and have fun learning. I really look forward to working with you.
2. Finally! After almost 15 years of wishing, whining, and planning, my Joen Wolfrom website/blog has been redesigned and updated. Not everything is in place or complete, but it’s up and running and will give you lots of information concerning my offerings, schedule, etc. Please feel free to visit it as often as you like.
3. After much arm-twisting, I have just launched a new photography blog called Joen Wolfrom Photography. I will show a selection of my photography here in theme galleries. Thus far, I have six galleries on the site. If you like photography, please visit as often as possible. I have many more galleries to add to the blog.
I hope you have enjoyed this post on value. Thank you so much for your interest and support. I appreciate it. Happy coloring!
Text, illustrations, and photography copyright © Joen Wolfrom The copyright of each artwork shown remains with its creator.
Joen is a color enthusiast who teaches and lectures on color. She has written three color books: Color Play, Visual Coloring, and The Magical Effects of Color. Her Studio Color Wheel is used to illustrate color concepts in many of these blog posts. She is also the designer of the 3-in-1 Color Tool. Her new book Adventures in Designis now available. Joen’s newest design tool, the Magic Design-Ratio Tool is also available. All books and products are published by C & T Publishing.