• Shawn Dell Joyce artist

Back to Basics-Values

"Value does all the work, color gets all the credit!"


In my Classical Training for Artists class at Dunedin Fine Art Center we are studying Values this week, along with the concepts of Line & Shape. In art, line and shape describe form, but values make it solid and real. Think of the difference between a circle and a sphere:




A circle is a simple line drawing of a shape. A sphere is a 3D object. The difference between the two is values.


Values does for art what grammar does for language. Without grammar, words and sentences wouldn't hold together to make cohesive statements and communicate an idea. Same goes for values. The patterns of lights and darks and subtle gradations between the two describe the shape of what you are looking at.


If you want something to look dimensional, it needs to have at least 3 values (dark, medium and light). That will make it look 3D. If you want to achieve the illusion of realism then you need to have 5 or more values in work.


When you have good values, you can stand at a distance and the work will communicate the idea of the shape and form. Usually about 6 feet away from the painting is a good distance.


If you don't have good values, the work looks flat, cartoon-like and has no real form or shape.

A good way to practice values is 3D drawing. There are a number of great tutorials on YouTube that show you how to start of and shade to create a 3D drawing. I used to teach children the concept of values and shading by making 3D drawings.


If this doesn't float your boat, then practice values with single object studies like fruit or basic shapes like this:


The more you practice capturing values, the more you train your eyes to see the subtle play of light on a form. This is the main practice of artists-to capture light. Light falls logically on different shapes. Humans have to be trained to see this, as our brains are too busy to notice such minutia.


Light logic is the way light hits an object and wraps around it, describing the form. Beginning artists generally have no real concept of light logic and tend to make shapes flat with no real sense of where the light is coming from. Everything seems to be lit the same all over. More experienced artists study where the light is coming from (or invent it!) and use that to create a focal point and guide you through the composition.



Light logic shows us that the darkest values are usually the cast shadow under the object (not the lighter shadow that stretches away from the object). Next dark is the form shadow or crest shadow which shows you the rounded shape of the object. This is something you have to be trained to see-an untrained eye would miss it. Around the edges of this shadow is the middle value or "local color" which is the actual color of the object, not in light and not in shadow. After it, comes the light values; starting with the reflected light. This is light bouncing off the tablecloth and onto the underside of the object. It's another value that you would not normally see, and need to be taught to see. The lightest light is usually the highlight or bright shiny spot on the object.


You can spend a lifetime studying light logic. Once you become attuned to light, you start to notice the play of light and dark everywhere you look. Things like reflected light start appearing everywhere; in shadows on trees, underside of the chin of the person you are talking to, side of the house in shade. You begin to look at life differently, and see the way an artist sees. Cast shadows transfix me. I paint them with my eyes.


If you get your values correct at the beginning of your painting, everything else will fall into place. This is one of the single, most important concepts of art. In my opinion, it is the most basic. It is the foundation that all the other concepts are built on. It's also worth going back to if you haven't nailed it yet in your painting.


Here's my demo painting for our first class in Classical Training for Artists using subtractive painting technique and showing 5 values:





Happy painting!

124 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All