Take Control of Value

Value is the term used to describe the relative darkness or lightness of areas or objects. Values are most easily seen in black-and-white drawings, where the white of the paper represents one extreme value, black represents the other, and a range of grays connect the two. Used correctly, values can help you create the illusion of form and volume critical to representational art. In most cases, artists use from five to 10 distinct values in a given piece. In the exercise, for example, I used five.

To put values to work for you, let?s start by creating a value scale, or gray scale. Place black at one end of your palette and white at the other. Then, mix the black and white to produce a middle value gray. Position this gray midway between the black and white on your palette, as in Step One. Right now, don?t worry if the middle value is too light or too dark. Next, begin to elaborate on these three values. Mix some of the middle value with some of the black at a point halfway between the two on your palette. Then, repeat this process using the middle gray and white. You now have a five-value scale, as in Step Two.

Step One: Finding the Middle Ground: This example shows how I positioned the white and black on my palette, then mixed the two to create a middle value gray.

Step Two: Completing the Scale: To fill in the remaining values, I mixed my middle gray with the white to produce a light gray, and combined black with my middle gray to create a dark gray.

Now, you?re ready to do a simple value study. Choose an object and sketch it on a sheet of drawing paper. Look carefully to determine the lightest area or areas?squinting helps here?and mark those spaces with the numeral “1.” Repeat the process with the darkest darks, and assign them the numeral “5.” Next, identify the remaining three value areas, and assign each a numeral—either “2,” “3” or “4.” (Study my preliminary drawing, at top, right, to see how I began this exercise.) Now, all that?s left is to fill in each space with the appropriate value for each number, and you?ve created a value drawing.

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