use values in painting. they are the backbone of strong, attractive paintings

It’s fun painting with colors, but values in painting are what make successful paintings.

  • Use light and dark colors to create strong, attractive paintings.

What are values in painting?

  • Values are the variation of light and dark colors.

The value scale has white on one end and black on the other end with greys in between.


Learn how to use values in painting, art by Carol MayThe light and dark values make a painting sing!

how do we use values in our paintings?

When you are planning your paintings, concentrate on getting three different values into the painting.

Good composition says to vary the size of the elements of your painting. Repetition is boring, so make each part a different size.

Each part will be a different size and value; light, medium or dark.

  • The dark elephant is the largest.
  • The light background is medium size.
  • The medium tone foreground is the smallest area.
Composing a painting with at least three different values.The Elements Are Different Sizes


learning to see

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 forms in a painting.

In order to see the lights and darks, squint your eyes and look. All the details will disappear and you will see only the light and dark tones.

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

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

Squint to see the lights and darks.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 darkness 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 paintings. It is lots of fun.


what do we see in nature?

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.

Springtime painting by Carol May shows aerial perspective.We paint the aerial perspective by adjusting the values.

In the painting above the mountains in the background are much lighter than the foreground.

Aerial perspective is doing its job. Artists duplicate the values in paintings by adjusting the light from the front to the back of the painting.





the value of colors

Different colors reflect or absorb more or less light. Yellow reflects the most light of any color. The light bounces back off the color into our eyes. This makes the color 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 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 as long as we use light against dark.

Dolphins 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 lights and darks

putting values in paintings

The focal area is the place to use your lightest lights and your darkest darks. The strong contrast of lights and darks automatically draws the eye to that area.

We also use more saturated colors in the focal area.

Using colors 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 high contrast between the bright, light wall of the back barn and the dark doorway draw the viewer into the painting.

The contrast of the values in the painting, along with saturated colors draws the viewer's eyes to the focal area.

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

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a handy tool to you help choose values

Gray Scale and Value Finder

View your subject thru the slots in the Gray Scale and determine what value to paint your subject.




You can do it! Have fun painting!

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