every artist needs to know how to use values in painting

Its fun painting with colors, but using values in painting is what makes successful paintings.

Values are the backbone of strong, attractive paintings! 

We can use any colors in our paintings, but values create the structure of our paintings.

We use values in a variety of ways. Value contrast is what separates objects, shows texture and creates aerial perspective or the form of objects.

Using a contrast in values in the painting's focal point is what draws the viewers into our artwork.

Learn how to use values in painting art.Light and dark values make a painting sing!

What are values in painting?

  • Values are the light and darkness of colors. The value scale in art has nine greys between white and black.
A nine point value scale in artThe value scale

how do we use values in painting?

  • When we are planning our paintings, concentrate on getting three different values into the painting.

We don't have to use all nine values in each painting. But make sure there is a contrast in values. That is what makes the painting attractive and readable.

Good composition says to vary the size of the elements in our paintings. Repetition is boring, so make each part of the painting a different size and a different value.

  1. The elephant is the largest and darkest element.
  2. The background is medium size and the lightest.
  3. The foreground is the smallest area with a medium tone.
How to use values in your painting for good composition.Each element is a different size and value.

learning to see values

  • What if our paintings were all the same value? They would look very flat. Without a difference between lights and darks, we could not see any of the forms in a painting.

Learn to see the lights and darks in your subject by squinting your eyes and then look. All the details will disappear and you will see the light and dark tones.

We ladies don't need any squint lines, so we just lower our eyelids, instead of squinting.

Squint and look at the left image. Do you see the lights and darks? You may see it better in the gray-scale image at the right.

Squint to see the lights and dark values.Squint your eyes and look.
Gray scale of the painting Two Stripies by artist Carol MayDid you see this?

practice seeing values

Lower your eyelids and look at the things around your room. Notice the light and darkness of different things in your room. Train your eyes to see the light and dark of the things around you.

Look when you are going down the road - as a passenger of course. Things will suddenly become more alive as you.

Duplicate what you see into the values in your paintings. It is lots of fun.

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values and aerial perspective

In nature things get lighter in the distance. This is called aerial perspective.

Particles in the air reflect light, thus making the distant objects appear lighter. On a very clear day you can see farther because there are fewer particles in the air.

Aerial perspective affects the values of colors.Aerial perspective affects the values of colors.

In the painting above aerial perspective is doing its job. The mountains in the background appear much lighter than the foreground landscape.

Artists can duplicate aerial perspective by adjusting the values. The values get lighter in the distance. So we adjust the light and dark values from the front to the back of our paintings.

the value of colors

Different colors reflect or absorb more or less light. Yellow reflects more light than any other color. The light bounces back off the color into our eyes. This makes yellow look lighter to us.

Purple is the darkest color. It adsorbs most of the light rays. Very little light bounces back to our eyes. So the color purple looks very dark to us.

There is no rule that says a person has to paint something its actual natural color. A painting will work if we use light against dark values.

Dolphins in nature are actually gray. Plain old gray is boring to me. I painted these dolphins pink and purple instead.

The values are what made the painting work, regardless or what colors were used.

gray-scale of Born Free dolphin painting by Carol MayGrey-scale showing the light and dark values

the best place to use values in painting

  • The focal area is the place to use your lightest lights and your darkest dark values. The strong contrast of lights and darks will automatically draw the eye to the area.

As much as I love color, a painting must have good contrast and a variety of values to be successful.

The high contrast between the bright, light wall of the back barn and the dark doorway draws in the viewers.

We also use more saturated colors in the focal area.

Using colors and values in painting is fun.Use highest contrast in the focal area.
The grey-scale shows the light and darkness of the colorsSee the contrast in the grey-scale.

The contrast of the values in painting, saturated colors, soft and hard edges plus detail are all tools the artist can use to draw the viewer's eyes into the focal area.

values make great paintings - you can do it!



learn more about painting

  • How to Mix Colors

    Learn how to mix colors. Mix your colors, don’t buy them. You will save money at the paint store. Create color harmony in your paintings by mixing your colors.

  • Focal Point In Art

    For painters this works like crazy. Create a focal point in art that attracts viewers into your paintings. Use colors, values, edges, detail, objects and more

  • Easy Composition in Art

    Take the stress out of composition in art. Use the rule of thirds and other easy tips in your paintings to create appealing paintings that draw in the viewers.