I have my one-year old grandson staying with me this week and my husband is away on business so trying to find time to work on my art is out of the question.  However, while the babe is sleeping I thought I’d squeeze in some thoughts I’ve been processing lately to do with values in art.  A number of people have asked me to look at their work and tell them what’s wrong or what can they do better.  One of the answers to this question is one that plagued me for a long time simply because I chose to ignore the answer because it sounded too complicated.  That answer is understanding your values and applying them to your work.  If you take a reference photo that really moves you, try and see it in black and white on your computer.  If you can’t do this, then squint and look at it and you’ll find that with a quality image there will probably be (with exceptions) a wide range of values from white to black and lots in between.  If the work your doing seems flat to you, do the same.  Take a look at it through squinted eyes or a red filter and you’ll easily see what I mean.  When you learn to see colors by their value, you then will begin to create art that really stands out.  This does take practice but learning to understand values and how they work is a valuable exercise and one that will reward you as you become a better artist.  I still haven’t arrived, but every time I create a piece of art, I am more and more in tune with this application and how I can make my work that much better by applying what I know about values and the colors I choose.

There are a great many books and articles out there on values – well worth the read.  Here’s what a value chart  or scale may look like and you can also create your own.

Value Scale

Here are a few quotes from a few renowned artists regarding values.  The one by Paul deMarrais is my favorite.


Value (or the use of light) is our best ally as a painter. Don’t think for a minute this is not in the artist’s control. (Steve Childs)

When beginning artists understand and use values for the first time, there is usually a quantum leap in the quality of their painting. (Paul deMarrais)

I prefer to limit the number of colours on my palette and focus instead on value and temperature contrasts to enhance the rhythm and drama of my paintings. (Sergei Forostovskii)

Edges must be held by tone values, not lines. (A. C. Leighton)


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