• Carolyn Land

The Value, of Value!

“A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black, because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light.”                                                                                                     Leonardo da Vinci

Someone asked, after last week’s Blog: “Why do you set your pastel box up in order of value, isn’t that difficult?”   Pastel artist do it because value is so important to a painting, but not just pastel paintings. It is important to any painting, in any medium or style. Yes, it is difficult, but becomes easier to do each year, and it is a great study in value.  If you have trouble with value and you want to understand it better, buy yourself a box of 64 crayons, divide them into color families, and then arrange them in order of value from darkest to lightest.

It really does not matter what color you paint an object as long as the value is correct.  Color might be the most attractive quality of a painting, but believe it or not, value is more important than color, to the design and success of any painting.

Value scale of Village in the French Alps by FL artist Carolyn Land

Village in the French Alps


Without value variations, we could not even see the subject. To quote Richard McKinley pastel artist and author: “Value is King”.

In the world of painting, color is what viewers will notice most often, therefore the value of each color is important in determining the success of the composition.  Think of a black and white photograph or movie. All you see is made visible by value contrast. Color is totally an extra benefit to understanding what is going on.

So, why is value so important?:

-Value is used to create a focal point within a painting or drawing. The human eye is immediately drawn to a light element against a dark element, so this becomes a center of interest.

Pastel painting by FL artist Carolyn Land

Village in the French Alps


-Value change can also create the illusion of depth.  The further away something is the the lighter it is.

-Value gives objects volume or the illusion of the third-dimension which is form. It creates the visual structure of an image.

Painting does what we cannot do – it brings a three-dimensional world into a two-dimensional plane.” Chuck Jones

Whether we realize it or not, there is a definite “value pattern” in every good painting that knits every shape together while keeping our eyes interested.  If I feel I am having trouble with a painting I frequently take a photograph of it,  and turn it into a black and white photograph, to see if I have strong enough values, and where my problem is.  The shades of gray are the different values within the painting, and you want them to be interesting. Color is mostly a matter of choice, but value is factual!

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