You’ve all probably heard me say that you shouldn’t give up on a painting until you’ve put in the darkest darks, because you don't know how effective the illusion will be without those powerful dark strokes.
I keep waiting for someone to ask, “if you can’t tell whether the painting is any good until the darks go down, why not put them in first?”
It’s a very good question, and I’m ready for it. You should put them in first, just not on the same piece of paper as the painting. By all means, make a study that maps out the pattern of only the darks. It will help you see where the lights and middle values are headed, and give you an idea of where you need to be careful in the early stages.
|San Pedro y San Pablo Etla|
This image has plenty of strong darks. A quick study may reveal how much of the narrative they carry.
An altered photo makes it clear that the darkest darks in this image tell most of the story. A rough, painted version of the pattern would provide the same information, with the added benefit of a physical memory of how it could be painted.
|Edge of Town, Oaxaca|
It is not so obvious what role the darks play in this image. I'll leave it to you to find out.
For homework, find a photo or a live scene that you would like to paint, and make a quick study of the darks alone. When you are ready to paint a proper picture, keep the study handy, so you can be reminded that the darks will add substance to what may seem hopelessly flat.