How to be a Better Artist #4: Learn the Importance of Value

How to be a Better Artist

Learn the importance of value.  What is value in art?  Value is the measure of light and dark.  White being the lightest and black the darkest.  Many value scales have ten steps with black being number one and white being number ten but you can work with a value scale of less say, five or three.

Value is important as it applies to all styles of painting.  For a realist painter the more value a painting contains the more lifelike a painting will be.  However, abstract and impressionist artists will benefit from value too.  Value helps to move the eye around an image, as well as creating a resting place for the eye and adding interest and drama. 

Drama is created by putting very dark values next to very light values.  An artwork does not need to be perfectly balanced between light and dark.  A painting can be predominantly dark such as in chiaroscuro or predominately light but areas of the opposite value will always create drama.

You can create your own gray scale value finder by drawing a row of ten boxes on a piece of paper.  Paint the first box pure black and name it value 1.  Paint the last box to the right pure white and name it value 2.  Next mix equal amounts of black and white and paint the middle box on the row.  This will be value number five.  Keep mixing equal parts of the two values next to each other and painting the box in the middle with the result.  Continue until all the boxes are filled in.  You should see a row of boxes move gradually from black to white in even steps.  Try squinting when looking at the value scale.  If any boxes jump out it means the value is off slightly and should be remixed.  Keep going until you see a smooth flowing value scale.

If you have a piece of work that is hanging around that just doesn’t work or you feel is boring ask yourself if it contains a full range of values.  Are there some very bright areas as well as some very dark areas.  If the answer is no try lightening the lights and darkening the darks.   But remember this doesn’t mean using pure white and pure black.  Mix lights and darks from your main color palette. Lights should be crisp and clean and darks interesting and colorful.