Oil Painting Value Studies with artist Nicolas Uribe

Posted by Vincent Keeling on

This is a fantastic little video of an artist I really admire called Nicolas Uribe. I think he was born in the US but to Columbian parents and thus has been back and forth over the years between the two Countries. He’s and now based Bogota where himself and his partner the lovely Daniela Ocampo set up this really cool project a few years ago, called “Our Painted Lives”.

The gist of it is that Nicolas would paint scenes from their everyday lives, with lots of little detours into other subject matter too, and Danny would help with the video work and editing, thus capturing the process. For most of those years, there was a new painting and video almost every day, which is a ton of work.

Anyway, these guys helped keep me company, and indeed, helped keep me semi-sane during those hazy Covid years and beyond; and this particular video, I believe their first, has always stuck with me.

The core of video is all about controlling one’s values while painting and he demonstrates this by first doing three little monochrome variations of a nice pic of his daughter. All are studies in a restricted range on the value scale, with each one focusing on a different range. Oh by the way, if you’re not familiar with the term “Values” in relation to oil painting it refers to the lights and darks of the picture. Anyway, after painting the three little variations, Nicolas picks his favourite and proceeds to paint a larger black and white painting of it.

So much I like about this video and indeed the topic. Firstly, the older I get the more I realise understanding and controlling one’s values is one of those holy-grail skills of becoming a truly accomplished painter. Virtually all the greats had exceptional control over their values, with Rembrandt, Vermeer, Velazquez and Sargant popping into my mind as I write. And in my head, after watching this little video I’m thinking: “Must do better in my own work! Must practice this more! Must take a leaf out of Nic’s book!”

I won’t say too much more except to mention things Nicolas talked about, that I feel are important and worth looking out for. Oh, and this is me very much paraphrasing and sometimes throwing in my own two cents worth.

  • The importance of doing up a value scale of lights and darks.
  • The fact that instead of merely copying he’s interpreting and analysing the information from the reference with active creative intent.
  • His mentioning of how our brains tend to get sucked into details, but we need to resist this and stay mindful of the big relationships.
  • And when working on the details, they should fit into the larger value range within each part. Never easy to do.
  • Also, the idea of big to small as guiding fundamental principal.
  • He admits that some artists can work at the small level first, the details, and build from there, but this requires considerable mastery and in general is not to be advised. Big to small best.
  • And mid-way through he also talks of drawing, and how the linear drawing in pencil is usually how many conceive of drawing, but drawing is in fact integral to the whole painting process too. All mark making with the brush is a form of drawing itself.
  • This interpretation above reminds me of the wonderful lessons of the legendary oil painter Richard Schmid, and his wonderful book “Alla Prima II”.
  • Nicolas also gives a sense of how painting is always a bit of a struggle never perfect and never easy.
  • And yet this bit was a curious one for me, Nicolas talked about how painting in this restricted value range, once you get your head around it, in one sense makes the painting process easier, as it reduces the choices available.
  • And this makes sense as if you work in a small mid-range of values, whether in oil paint or graphite, it’s easier to correct mistakes, easier move things around.
  • And finally, and this is definitely me talking, I just love the aesthetic of a paintings done in a limited value range. Seems to add an air of mystery, unity and opportunities for interesting shape design and composition.

 Oh, yeah if I didn’t mention it Nicolas Uribe studied in New York under two stellar artists, Max Ginsberg and I’m pretty sure Steven Assael. Very much worth looking up too if you haven’t come across them, but no doubt we’ll get to them at a later date.

Ok here’s a link to the video and please support Nicolas and Daniela and their “Our Painted Lives” project in any way you can. So many good videos up there, and my God, this man lives and breathes painting in such a pure and wonderful way; and has a depth of knowledge of art history that blows my mind. Oh yeah, and if I didn’t say it he’s one hell of a painter!


LINK TO "Our Painted Lives" YouTube VIDEO below.

Value Studies in oil paint with Nicholas Uribe




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