Color value scales inspire artists to grow their skills

Pear in the City, detail, acrylic on board by Karen Gillis Taylor

One of the most exciting things about making or viewing art is discovering the range of color values at the artist’s fingertips. If you haven’t studied value scales before, take a minute to jump in with all your energy. Pear in the City is a playful painting with light and dark colors dancing all over the scene. It uses soft transitions from light to dark in some areas, and high contrast in others.

Single hue value scale, color blue

There are two concepts I use when considering value change in paintings or art quilts. Here is a simple, single hue value scale ranging from darkest blue to lightest, nearly white tint of blue.

Multi-hue color value scale

The second concept is the use of a multi-hue color value scale. When making a color palette to use in a painting, it’s useful to notice which of your chosen colors are darkest and which are lightest. Laying them down into a scale from dark to light helps the artist organize visual thinking at the beginning of a project. Observing, taking it all in, and then painting is a helpful process for me.

Sunglasses series by Wayne Thiebaud, with color palette in a value scale

I love this painting by Wayne Thiebaud from his Sunglasses series. There is a full range of values from dark to light using very toned color with a few bright notes. Wonderful balance and intrigue.

Ranking fabric choices for a quilt by value before starting the project

I use the same process of studying color value ranges when making an art quilt. It helps me get familiar with my elements at the start, paying special attention to the transitions between colors. If there is too big a jump between values I find another fabric to fit as the in-between shade.

Another color value scale in fabric

This second color value scale in fabric is a pretty assortment but doesn’t have a really light value. Next time you go to the fabric shop you might notice that middle values tend to dominate in fabric choices. One can still make a nicely colored quilt if the lightest value in the piece is also a brighter, more saturated hue.

In this detail from my art quilt, June blooms, you’ll notice there is still good value contrast as seen in the lower left corner with the dark maroon shape on top of the light blue. Richness of color and variety in saturation (dull versus bright colors) can make up for lack of really light values.

June Blooms art quilt, detail, KG Taylor

Noticing color value differences in a painting or art quilt opens up an entirely new dimension in the appreciation of art.


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4 Responses to “Color value scales inspire artists to grow their skills”

  1. nsturgill Says:

    Thank you for these insights!


  2. Gabriela LeBaron Says:

    I love the painting of the pear! Love that style. So glad I found your blog!


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