Hitting the right value

Tone, Value and Hue are important words for any artist who wants to paint realistically. “Tone” in art it refers to light and shadow.  There are three basic tone divisions:  Dark, light and middle tones. Middle tones are any of the tones between extreme light and darkest shadow.  Even with a bare minimum of only three tones — light, medium and dark — you can make a satisfactory picture.

"A Long Way Home" watercolor by Pat Rayman.

“A Long Way Home” watercolor by Pat Rayman.

Tones are important in both black and white drawing and color painting, as well as monochromatic work (work done using variations of only one color).  The scale of tones is referred to as “value,” and the artist must be able to judge the value of any particular middle tone — whether it is closer to light or dark, or falls exactly between the two.  Think of value as being like a piano keyboard.  Pure white is the highest note; pure black is the lowest note; and the middle values are everything in between!  The artist’s job is to decide where on that “keyboard” a specific value falls.

To get a better idea of value, go outdoors and squint your eyes almost to the point of closing them.  You will see the world is now basically two tones — the part that is lit by the sun and the part which is not.  Now open your eyes a bit and notice that in each of these two divisions there are other tones.  These are the middle tones, and the artist’s job is to decide whether they are closer to being part of the light or part of the shadow.

“Hue” is how we refer to colors such as red, yellow, blue, etc.  You can use color to symbolize things — blue for sky or water, red for apple, green for grass, etc.  But in painting, it really doesn’t matter what hue you use as long as you get the values right.  You can paint a purple cow, and if you have the values correct the viewer will probably not only accept it, but sometimes people will see the cow in the painting  as being a “normal” cow color rather than being purple.

So the artist will often be concerned less with color than with value.  He will think “What VALUE is the color?Is it closer to the light side or the shadow side?” 

If you want to paint realistically, the value of each color must be judged properly to make the lights and shadows look natural.  Two red apples, although they are both red, will have completely different values if one apple is in the sunshine and the other is in the shade.  A red apple and a green pear, besides being different colors, may be different in value — but they may be identical in value while still being different colors.

A helpful way of seeing the relative value of two different colors (or the same color in shade and in light) is to make a value finder.  Use a paper punch to make two holes about an inch apart in a piece of white cardboard.  Move this finder back and forth from your eye until parts of each object are seen independently through the two holes.  By judging each little circle of color against the white of the finder, you can see if one color is darker, lighter, or the same value as the other.

Remember the old artist’s adage:  “You have to have darks in order to have light.”  Values, with all their subtleties of tones and colors, give the artist a never-ending source of visual delight.   If you understand values, you can play with color (remember that purple cow!), create paintings made with only one color, and make your black-and-white drawings truly impressive.

Source: Art-to-Art Palette Journal/Paint Box Section/print

Published by on June 2016. Filed under Art-to-Art Palette Journal, Paint Box Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed