values

are the backbone of successful paintings



I love colors, but values are what make a successful painting. Paintings must have a variation between lights and darks.

Using colors in painting is fun.It's fun painting with colors!
Using values when paintingLights and darks make a painting sing!

what are values?

It's the light and darkness of colors. Some colors are lighter. Some colors are darker and many fall in between.

Someone devised a scale with nine parts. White is on one end and black is on the other end of the scale. All of the nine variations of gray are in between white and black.

It used to be taught that you had to use all of the gradations between white and black to have a good painting.

It's true that by the time a painting is completed all nine of the variations are somewhere in the painting.

A simplified value scaleMy Version Of The Scale

I simplify the scale into three parts.

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

The rest of the nine will automatically happen as you are painting.

I like to divide a painting into about three different parts. Each part will be a different value; light, medium or dark.

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

The dark elephant is the largest. The light background is the medium size. The foreground with the medium tone 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 lights and darks.

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

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?

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

practice seeing

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 your paintings. Lots of fun.

values in nature

In nature things get lighter as they go back into the distance. This is called aerial perspective.

Actually particles in the air reflect light, thus making the distant objects appear lighter.

Sometimes on a very clear day you can see farther into the distance. That is because there are fewer particles in the air to reflect the light.

In the painting at the right the mountains in the background are much lighter than the foreground hill.

Aerial perspective is doing its job and we duplicate it in paintings.

Springtime painting by Carol May shows aerial perspective.This painting has aerial perspective.

But as an artist we don't have to paint reality. Photographs show reality. Artists have the liberty of using their "artistic license".

We can bend the natural laws to make our paintings more interesting.

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.

As artists we have an artistic license. We don't have to follow the laws of nature. We can change things to suit our artistic eye.

I love color and a painting will work no matter what colors you use. It will work as long as you use light against dark.

Dolphins are actually gray. Plain old gray is boring to me. So I changed it out and painted the mother dolphin purple. And I painted the baby dolphin pink and turquoise.

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

The baby dolphin shows up even though the mother and baby are overlapping each other. It works because pink is a lighter color than purple. The color variation separated the two dolphins.

Look at the painting in color. Lower your eyelids and look at it. Did you see what shows in the gray scale of the painting?

painting with values

The focal area is the center of interest in your painting. This 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. A painting may have more than one focal area. But always use your lightest lights and darkest darks in the main focal area.

gray scale of Bluebird painting art by Carol MaySee the contrast in the grey-scale.

See how I made the background lighter behind the bird's back. I also added light to his chest to accentuate it. And the background behind the bird's chest is darker. All this along with more saturated colors draws the eye to the focal area.

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

You can do it! Have fun painting!

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