• Shawn Dell Joyce artist

Color as Value

The Impressionists were on to something...

They treated color as value, and were pretty loose in their application of color. This was scandalous in the Paris salons of their day, but pretty accepted practice in today's art world. Picture Monet's "Waterlilies" and how he used so many colors that are not in normal lilies. Yet, the painting still "reads" like waterlilies because the values of the reds, oranges, blues, are the same as the value in life.


Monet's "Water lilies" check out the wild color!

When you learn to treat color as value, you can make interpret color and create colorful and Impressionistic paintings. One way to learn how to see color as value is to make value scales of each color. That means making boxes numbered from 1-5 (or more) and make a value chart using a pencil from dark to light. You can see that in the photo below.


Value sketch and value scale on the left. Value scale and sketch adding one color. Color scales on top.

Once you can see color as values, you can assign a numerical value to each color. For example, yellow might be a 2, orange a 3, red a 4, green/blue,violet 5 and so on. Then any color with a value of 3 can be substituted for another. This makes for some interesting paintings when you "play" with color instead of slavishly copying correct color from nature.


One of the fun projects I do with beginner painters in my classes is have them substitute color for value.


-print out a photo of your pet in black and white

-assign a value from 1-5 for each area

-lay out your palette and assign a value to each color; white/yellow=1, orange/yellow-green=2, red/blue/green=3, red violet/turquoise=4, violet/black =5


My friend Judy's pet "Alice"

-sketch the photo onto the canvas and jot down numbers for each area

-paint by number, substituting any color for the same value, allowing yourself to have some fun!


Here's a quick acrylic portrait I did for Judy based on her color choices and treating color as value.

Your finished product will still look like your pet, only far more colorful! Its a great way to play, and train your eyes to see color as value. Try it! Then post your results below and share it!


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