The Value of Value

As an art student, I had a brief encounter with the design element of value. It wasn’t until I enrolled in a photography class that the meaning and usefulness of studying value began to sink in. The presence of “the darkest darks, lightest lights and the in-betweens” in a black and white photo can make or break the overall impact. It is highly impactful to use all the steps on the value scale in an artwork.

<Edward Weston: Pepper No. 30

To some artists, this may seem elementary, but when we get into working with color, the same principle holds true. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to throw everything we’ve learned about value out the window when color comes on the scene. It’s easy to become mesmerized by the huge range of color choices. That’s why I like to make value studies before I get into a big project. It’s worth every minute of time spent.

A ten-step value scale in greens

Photoshop value and color studies for the painting, “Moonville.”

If a color painting has good value interest and contrast, it will pass the values test when its color is converted to grayscale in Photoshop. Good contrast and a wide range of values are important.

(detail from “Art Deco Dawn,” acrylic, KG Taylor)

Place your value swatches touching or overlapping with little or no white space in between. Shapes with distinct values are easier to compare if they touch.


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