Its All About the Value: Lights & Darks in Picture Quilts

Fall, Falling, Fallen by Lea McComas

Who isn’t looking for the best value? No, I’m not talking about getting bang for your buck when making purchases. I’m talking about figuring out where to go light and where to go dark when creating portrait and picture quilts.

Oftentimes value is the key element that gives any piece of artwork its visual strength. In fact, according to award-winning fiber artist Lea McComas, value is more important than color when it comes to designing portrait quilts.

It can be difficult to see the range of lights and darks through the lens of color. So Lea uses this method to strip away color to find value in pictures that will become quilted portraits:

First you will change your photo to grayscale and crop so that you can create a pattern to work from; the color and fabric decisions will come into play later.

  1. Scan your photo into the photo-editing software of your choice.
  2. In your computer program, eliminate color by changing the photo mode to grayscale. This will allow you to focus on value (light vs. dark).
  3. Posterize your photo to create defined value areas. Work with 5 levels of value within the face(s). To achieve this, posterize at 6–8 levels for the entire photo. Usually, this will provide 3–5 levels in articles of clothing.
  4. Crop your photo to increase interest. Determine the focal point and zoom in on it, eliminating as much non-essential space as possible. Also, crop so that the faces appear in the sweet spots. To do this, visualize your photo with a grid over the top that divides it into thirds horizontally and vertically. Place the face(s) at or near the intersection of the grid lines.
  5. Resize your photo to the dimensions of your finished piece.
  6. Print the photo. If your project is too big for your home printer, take the digital file to a local print shop that can produce larger images on a single sheet of paper. Learn more about methods for printing your photos and images with our free guide to photo quilts.

Imccomas-fused-applique-3f you want to discover every step of Lea’s appliqué portrait process, register for her Fused Raw-Edge Appliqué Portraits online course. In this 6-week course, Lea teaches each student how to select and edit digital photos for the best quilted portrait possible, how to make a pattern from your photo, and how to select the perfect fabrics. Plus, she shows how to fuse your portraits using your guide pattern and how to quilt and finish the raw edges. If you’re interesting in making picture or portrait quilts, you won’t want to miss out on this information-packed course!

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