How to Identify and Apply Value in Your Artwork

No doubt you have heard the word “value” thrown around among artists regarding artwork. However, do you know exactly what the word “value” means?

Value is a very important element of art. Value is simply a word used to describe how light or how dark a color is. Our eyes and our minds perceive the world around us based on lights and darks and how they relate to one another.

How to Measure Value

One way to measure value is by using a value scale. A value scale is usually a display of boxes with one color in the middle and variations of that color on either side. Progressively lighter versions of the color are on one side, and progressively darker versions of the color are on the other side. Below is a value scale for the color red…

red value scale

…and here is a value scale for blue…

blue value scale

…and another value scale for green.

green value scale

We call the lighter values tints and the darker values shades.

tints and shades

How a Value Scale Applies to a Drawing

Since drawing takes place on a two-dimensional surface of neutral color, it’s up to the artist to create an illusion of three dimensions. That means the viewer of the artwork needs to perceive form and depth. Knowledge of the value scale and careful placement of tints and shades helps the artist to achieve this.

In general, you should use tints for highlights and shades for shadows.

One way  to simplify the vast array of values that could be present in a drawing is to use a five-value scale. The five values on this scale are used for specific areas of an object to help develop that three-dimensional form for the object.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s look at a colored pencil drawing of a sphere to see how a five-value scale applies to it.

five value scale color sphere

The highlight on an object is the lightest value of the scale. It is of such a light value that it appears nearly or completely white. This is the spot where direct light is striking the object.

The next value on the scale which is slightly darker than the highlight is the reflected highlight. This tint consists of light bouncing back from surrounding surfaces. The reflected highlight is usually found along the edge of an object. It gives roundness to an object as it curves back toward darker, more shadowy areas.

The midtone is the true color of the object. Therefore, it has the middle value within the scale. This area of the object has neither light shining on it nor shadow cast upon it.

The first shade on the scale is called a core shadow. This simply indicates an area of shadow where the object is receding from the light source.

The final value of the scale is the cast shadow. This is where you will find the darkest values of the drawing, nearly black, since it represents that shadow that your object is casting onto a surface.

One thing you may notice about the object itself: there are no hard edges where one value stops and another value begins. Rather, there is a gradual transition from one value to the next. Remember this important detail when you are applying a value scale to your drawings!

I happen to be an affiliate for a very comprehensive course on colored pencils. It will teach you in greater detail about applying value to your colored pencil drawings, and much more. You can click here to learn more about it.

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