Squint! Keep squinting! Squint some more!
Squinting helps you See the major Values and their relationships to each other by blocking out the details and unifying similar Value areas into fewer, larger areas.
While squinting, lighter Values will, of course, appear darker than they actually are, however the darker Values will remain true and relationships of the Values will be revealed.
If you have trouble squinting, as some do, close your eyes part of the way, wrinkling up your cheeks and lower eyelids. It can also help if you shift your eyes slightly out of focus.
You can vary the amount of your squint. Practice! The more you get in the habit of loosing details, the better off you will be!
You dont want to loose all the form, just SIMPLIFY!
If you have trouble identifying Values, you might consider:
Simplifying by separating the Values into 5 levels:
light medium light medium medium dark dark.
Fewer and clearer Values gives a stronger visual impact!
Simplified, you have less variables to deal with.
Keep comparing and evaluating all the Values to each other, both in your subject matter and in your painting.
Invest in one of the many fine Value Gauges available.
Also, you can use a piece of Rubylith or 2 layers of deep red cellophane about 5 x 6 to hold up in front of your subject and your painting to block out color qualities other than Value, to help you better judge and compare the Values.
Or as DaVinci said, hold your painting to a Black Glass (black painted on one side of a piece of glass or Plexiglas, will reveal relative Value levels! Tape edge of glass for protection.)
Medium to darker Low Intensity colors will tend to seem darker in Value than they actually are.
High Intensity colors are often read as lighter.
Paler Low Intensity colors often seem lighter than they are.
Any Value looks darker next to light areas; lighter next to dark.
Take your lighting into consideration!
When you set up a figure or still life, be sure to include well-considered lighting to develop interesting Values as well as other useful qualities which enhance your concept for the painting and add to your inspiration.
When plein air painting, first notice the light and how it will effect your painting process, your colors, your composition, etc.
Be aware of direction of light and different lighting situations:
intense diffused overcast reflected.
Hardness to softness of edges; strength of shadows and highlights, overall feel of the subject, etc. are all impacted! (Color of light source(s) impacts color in both lights and shadows.)
Contrast! How much? How little? It makes a big difference!
The greater the contrast in Values, the more dramatic the painting. Less contrast gives calmer, quieter looks. Etc.
Choose the amount of contrast in Values you want for the effect you want! You can push Values, or pull them back.
Value can contribute considerably to the mood of the painting. Often, it can almost entirely create the mood!
Let the Values (and other qualities) match the subject or the sense you wish to portray! Be aware! Consider! Relish!!!
Chiaroscuro* is a term indicating a strong contrast between light and dark: background and object shadows in very close relationship; the light areas very light and also in close relationship. Very dramatic! *An old Italian word meaning light/dark or clear/obscure.
Sketch out your composition showing the major value dynamics. Know what the Value impact will be from the beginning!
Effects of Values
Maximum contrast adds opportunity for most form and depth.
Any Value looks darker next to a lighter Valued area. Any Value looks lighter next to a darker Valued area. Stay aware! Compare!
If an area seems larger, more expansive than you want, taking it a bit darker is one way of letting it seem to be a bit smaller.
Where there is a lower contrast between Values, the edges will seem softer and not attract as much attention.
Lower Value objects will usually seem to recede; higher Value usually seems to advance. (Color can make the difference.)
There are 5 light/shadow qualities:
half tone highlight form shadow cast shadow reflected light
Full-saturation Hues have quite varying Values. Dont let the local color throw off your perception or use of Values, etc.
Values of Reflected Lights are never as light as the lighted area on the object. Compare them! Always!
We are more attracted to Light Areas, Bright Colors and Hard Edges. Remember these areas will draw the most attention. Soften them if you dont want attention there. Guide the viewer!
Remember Peter Pan! He needed his shadow connected to him! The objects in your subject also need their cast shadows connected to them. Consider them one of the color shapes in your painting and if you are drawing in color shapes, include the cast shadow shapes! Be aware of the unity between the form shadow and the cast shadow!
Understand the difference in the terms relative and exact.... Relative denotes the proportional relationships between each Value (or other color qualities) one to another to another. This relationship can be used with a realistic effect even though different from the exact Values. Shifting the exact Values, while keeping relative, can often heighten the creative force of your painting.
Many artists paint highlights too light and with edges too hard, with no gradation into the strongest point of the highlight.
Study and Review
Visit museums or (second-best) leaf through fine art books to study how memorable painters have used Value. Look for individual styles and ways of choosing and using Value. There are many different twists that can each work very successfully. Then review your own work. Do you have a style? One that works? Is it catch-as-catch-can? Look for what you need!
Value and the other 3 Color Qualities: Hue-Temp-Intensity
Many say that it does not matter what colors you use as long as you use the right Value. The very fine painters who say that just happen to use the most effective Temperatures and Intensities for the Hues they employ. Its just that there are probably more things that can throw off our evaluation of a Value! Use all the tips above, practicing a lot to achieve your best!
Remember that Value is often the first way we show form and change of planes, but it is not the only way! This is very important to know! Temperature and Intensity also contribute significantly to the show of form and the important plane changes.
Impressionist artists often used Hue-Temp-Intensity to show form and change of planes more than Value. Notice b/w vs. color pictures of the same works. All color qualities are important!
But Values can often be the most difficult to judge!
Return to the Index of Writings
Top of Page