Here is a lesson in value I have been trying to learn for, oh, 20 years.
I first did this thumbnail (in Apple's simple Inkpad application). At this stage my only concerns (since this is a storyboard) should have been story continuity, and composition / readability. But hidden within this simple doodle are the seeds of my undoing!
Look closely, and you can see that I am very cleverly planning to have the upper canopy of trees cast their shadows onto only the upper parts of the trunks, and the guy's shoulders!
Here is the line drawing, done in Painter. I spent extra time on these lovely lines, and so of course I am reluctant to cover them up. I also got carried away, starting to add some of my clever shading with the linework. But I stopped myself, and moved on to the shading...
This was my finished, toned frame. I did the tones on a separate layer in Painter. I even tried to quickly show the dappled sunlight and cast shadows on his shoulders. I did a whole bunch more frames just like this. then I stepped back and looked at them all. None of them passed the squint test. They all looked like a mooshy gray mess!
I asked my friend Mike Vosburg, for his opinion.
He said: "Make the difference between the dark of the forest and the sun of the glade VERY evident. Use lots of blacks for shadows to contrast the stark light on the ground ahead. I would just emphasize your values more. Darks in the fg... If you don't get your values too close, it won't get mushy. All in all, as the great cartoonist Rowland B. Wilson intimated to me, keep your values strong and whatever you do it will work. I think in too many of your compositions you (are trying) to use one medium value in three or four shades.... instead of three separate values."
Ouch. His diagnosis is dead on. I've known it deep down for a long time, so I went back to the thumnail stage (actually Mike did a sharpie / Photoshop job just like this over my e-mailed frame). Now it reads way better.
Here is my corrected frame. It reads better, but I still kinda don't get it. I could have used the black and white on his shoulders to suggest the dappled light, without destroying the relationship of the values. And it would have been much quicker to draw!
Anyway, imagine my surprise that week, as I found this same lesson on page 136 of Loomis' Creative Illustration, as he gives us the great Howard Pyle's formula:
I was trying to put texture in the shadows (the bark of the trees) and trying to put form in the shadows (the form of the trunk's roundness, and the forms of the figure). I didn't need either in this case because it is such a simple composition. Hope I learned it this time...
Students, and those who think they are done being students - read this part where Pyle points out how difficult it is to get accomplished artists to stop exaggerating halftones, and just simplify!! I suppose Toth must've read this too...