Learning to see colors as values is not easy. In fact, I believe it is a trained skill. It is also something many of us, myself included, resist doing because it takes time and concentration. However, the use of values is one of the most important elements in creating effective paintings. Some artists will state, and you have probably heard this, that values are more important than color.
Why is Seeing Colors as Values Difficult?
1. Our visual dictionaries get in the way. What I mean by this, is that we all carry a predisposed ideas of colors and values in our brains. If we don’t stop and really LOOK at a color and its value, we may not see it accurately.
2. There are several hues/values/intensities within a small area, which makes it difficult to determine the value of a color.
3. In my humble opinion, I have not experienced or read very many good resources on this topic. Like the topic of color, the teaching becomes confusing very quickly. If you know of a good resource, please share it.
The Value Scale
We all know that values range from white to black, with gradual steps in between. These scales can run from 0-10, 0-9, 0-5, etc. There is no right or wrong number of steps in a value scale. And to add a little confusion into the mix, some say the “0” is white and others say “0” is black. I like to follow the color theory founder Albert Munsell, who gave us the Munsell Color System of hue, value and chroma. His value scale usually ranges from 0-10 with “0” representing white. In this graphic of the Munsell Color System, it ranges from 0-8.
Personally, I prefer to use an odd number of steps because I like knowing the exact middle gray value.
Two Exercises for Seeing Colors as Values
- Mix a middle gray value – see Value 5 above – and paint seven swatches of this value as you see here. They are about 1/2″ x 1″, but can be larger as per your preference.
Next, with your colors of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple and a cerulean blue, match each color with this middle gray value. The results may look something like this.
2. Now do the reverse. Paint a swatch of each of your colors right out of the tube.
Next, mix a value that matches each tube color.
It isn’t easy to do and feels a tad tedious, but do you understand how you are training your eye? The two most difficult hues are usually yellow and orange. Why? Because neither of them carries a dark value.
What are some “seeing colors as values” exercises that you have done? I would love to learn about them. Please share in the comment box below.
Seeing colors as values is tricky. A very helpful tip is too use your camera and change the color photo to a black and white photo. I do this often when evaluating my paintings. Here is an example of seeing the values of the color purple…these are pastels. Interesting, eh?
If you found this article helpful, please share it with other interested artists.
Colorfully and gratefully yours,