One of the most difficult concepts to grasp as an artist, especially new artists, is value. I know when I first started out, being self-taught, I had no clue what "values" were. Whenever I asked for a critique of my artwork I was always being told that I needed to work on my values. I was pretty sure they were not talking about my personal, moral values, so what were these "values" I needed to work on??? In frustration, I practically begged someone, anyone to explain to me what these "values" were. I was directed to a lesson about values on an art forum of which I was a member. I read it and got the basic idea, but it wasn't really a lesson in it's truest sense. There was no real explanation, just what I have since learned is a "value scale" lesson. It helped but it was not enough for me. I really wanted to understand, so I searched for more information. Remembering how difficult it was for me back then to figure out this basic idea of values in art, I wanted to write some articles that I hope will be of some help to artists.
In this multi-part article I will help you understand what values are and why they are so important in art. I will include a couple of exercises for you to do, give you some examples, and at the end of the second part of the value lessons I will give you a list of some books that I think you will find helpful for more personal study.
First, let's start with defining what values are:
Values are the degree of lightness and darkness of a color, with black being at one end of the scale and white at the other and all shades of gray in between.
So, what purpose do values serve? Well, let's take the example of a shape, in this case, the shape of a circle. Look at the circle below. It has all kinds of possibilities of becoming something, but at the moment it's just a plain, flat, empty shape, right?
Let's add some values to that circle.
It's the same exact shape and the same exact size, but now it looks like something real. The shape has become a ball, complete with shadows and highlights. It has roundness to it. You can see shadow. You can see where part of it is in the light. The shape is no longer a flat outline on the paper. It now has depth and dimension to it.
Now that you've seen the difference values can make to a picture, let's do an exercise to help you understand more about values. The next lesson will then take what you've learned here and help you to apply that knowledge to an object that you will draw. First, lesson one:
Values have different ranges. Cartoon artists often use a range of only three values: Shadow, highlight and mid-tone. It's enough to give a little more shape and make the figures not quite so flat. However, the average artist, especially one who creates realistic art, uses many more values - usually a range of ten. Below is a scale of ten values, with the first box (on the left) being black, or the deepest shadows. The box on the far opposite end is white, or the brightest highlight. In between you will find a range of grays that subtly shift from one value to the next. Can you see how subtle the shift is?
Now for your exercise:
Create for yourself a value scale like the one above. Use these dimensions: Ten boxes, each one being 1" x 1". The value scale will be 10" long by 1" high total.
Tools you will need:
B or HB grade pencil - A regular everyday pencil won't work well because they are usually 2H and you will not get very far trying to build up shadows with a 2H pencil, no matter how many layers you do.
Drawing or sketching paper without texture or at the most very little texture - do not use computer or printer paper). I prefer white or bright white paper, but off-white is okay as well.
Tortillion - to help blend and smudge the graphite.
Kneaded eraser - helps to clean up your drawing and also helps if you need to lighten an area a bit.
A clean, unused piece of paper - place this under your hand while you are drawing. Graphite is very messy and you will spread it all over your paper if you are not very careful.
Start on the far left box and shade it in lightly with the pencil. Always use a light touch with your pencils. Do not press down hard. I always teach my students to use a feather light touch. You can always add more layers to the drawing but removing graphite once it has been put down heavily on the paper is difficult, if not impossible, to remove.
For the first box, softly add layers until you achieve the degree of darkness you need for that box, which should be almost black. This is the one box you should complete before moving onto the next because you will use that to judge just how dark you need the next box to be. Once you have completed that box, move onto the next box and color it slightly lighter and so on until you get to the last box. The last box you should leave the color of your white paper. Always look ahead and keep in mind that by the time you get to the second to last box you should not be laying down much color at all.
Do not complete each box as you go because if they are too dark when you get to the last box you will have a lot of erasing to do. Erasing graphite is messy and can ruin the paper if you have to erase too much. You can always go back and add more layers to darken a box later on. This is why I say to use the pencil softly using many layers rather than pressing down hard and making it very dark from the start. I realize that adding graphite softly and doing many layers is slower and more tedious, but it is the best way you make sure you do not go too dark. Be sure to use the above value scale as your reference.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments section. I will try to check on these articles frequently and answer your questions as soon as possible.
* If you do this exercise, I'd love to see it. Please feel free to post here or leave a link to where I can go and see it. *
I hope this lesson on values has been helpful for you. Next we will go onto part II of values. Be sure to join me!
And as always .................
............... KEEP ON ARTING!!
NOTE: The value scale I used in this lesson is a computer generated one. It is very difficult to take a photos of a value scale drawn in pencil and have it clear enough for you to see all the subtle shifts in range. The circle and ball I drew myself.