Values in art – What are they?

Art values & what are they?

I was asked for my opinion on values, in relation to art, in the Create, Share, Develop group on my Facebook page

 What are values and how do I, as an artist, use them?

My understanding of values is related to shades, lights and darks, contrast of colours and how they blend with each other. Let’s talk of it, for the sake of this blog, from a graphite pencil point of view, so therefore, shades of grey.

Nothing is ever just black and white in my opinion. There will always be, to some degree, shades of grey. The same will go for colours, you will have your dark colours blending in to your light, and you need to build the various shades to give a 3D look, otherwise a piece can look disjointed and flat (unless this is the look you are going for!)

The theme for my art group this month is “New Life” and my challenge for those involved is to draw an egg. Simple, no? Well it can be, but when you really break it down you will see the varying degrees of greys that are actually needed to give a more 3D look to your object. These are your values.

Let’s look at my egg drawing in a little more detail and see how I created it.

Tools used for this piece;

Staedtler graphite pencils, range 2H, HB, 2B, 4B and 6B
Tissue paper to blend
Sketch book
A photograph of an egg 😀

Values of art blog
Values of art – the egg

Things to consider when drawing anything.

  • Consider your light source direction.
Values of art in an egg drawing
Figure 1

In order for there to be dark, there must be light, and from light to dark there are many shades, or values.

For this drawing my light source is coming from the left. In figure 1 you can see my arrow showing the direction of light. The lightest values will be further towards the light source, darkest values further away.  Now lets see where our lightest spots are…

Look for you light spots

Values of art in a drawing
Figure 2

In figure 2 I have circled the lightest sections of the egg.

Circle 1 shows the lightest value.

This is the area being hit with direct light from my light source. Notice how it still has some shading in there for the most part, it is not all pure white, only the smallest of areas is actually white. In my animal portraits the only thing to be pure white is the light spot in the eyes, everything else will have some type of shading.

Circle 2 is the next lightest spot.

This includes some reflection from the surface from which the egg is stood on. Again, it has shading but the value is slightly darker than the first circle.

Now notice circle 3, it’s actually on the darkest side of the egg.

“Say what?!” I hear you cry! Yes, the darkest side of your object, the side which has those darkest values, has a light spot!  This is, again, reflection from the surface that your egg is stood on. Light reflects off of most surfaces. The light from my lamp would have hit the ceiling and cupboards around it and been bouncing around the room. Therefore, some of it is bound to be reflected back up on to the rear of the egg.  This also creates a type of dark band which you can see in between circles 2 and 3 starting at the bottom and working up towards the top right, gradually fading as it goes.

Look for your darkest values….

….and build your shades up to it.

Don’t go in there like a bull in a china shop with your darkest pencil!  Start with a lighter shades and add to them gradually.  All my egg has a 2H base layer then a gradual build up of HB, 2B, 4B and finally 6B.  Each layer was blended with the tissue and added to again.  My final layer is from the 2H pencil, this seems to blend everything together.

Note the direction of the lines.  For some reason, I am guessing lower quality of paper and pencil (or not drawing for a number weeks because of the shoulder and being out of practise!), I couldn’t blend these lines out perfectly, however they are a great way of showing that you need to shade with the shape of your object to make it 3D.  Shade with straight lines and your object will look flat.  This, however, is for another blog entirely!

The idea, for realism art at least, is to use a wide range of pencil grades to gradually build graphite up into the tooth of the paper, with the ultimate goal being a soft, well blended drawing.  Type of paper will affect the end result too.  Your best bet is to simply experiment and see what works for you.

Background values and the effects on the egg

So now you have an idea about values, basically the shading/contrast of your drawing, what about the background?

Do you add anything or not and, if so, what do you add? Let’s take a look at the effects of the darkest and lightest values (plain black and white) on our egg.




So we have a plain black or white background and then mixed black/white background as examples.

What do you notice?  Which background best shows up the lightest values?  Which best shows up the darkest?  Do the lighter values stand out better against the black?  Do the darker values stand out better on the whiter?

Hopefully, you can see that the lightest values are more vibrant against the darkest background and visa versa. This is very important for any of your artwork – knowing when to add a darker or lighter background to benefit the lightest and darkest values of your work will help you to make your art “pop” and appear more 3D.

Think of a light spot reflection in an eye. It looks whiter against the black pupil. A wrinkle will look darker and deeper against a light tone. A tooth will look brighter against a darker background and so on.

This takes practise and is something I am still learning to do myself in all of my works, so don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work for you straight away.

Fool of an eye!

Sometimes the eye is fooled by how you set out your values and backgrounds too and you can utilise this. Take a look at this image;

Board showing gradients of shade

See the 7 small grey squares and the 2 small grey rectangles on the right?

Are they all the same colour grey or different?  Are they solid grey or gradients?

Would you believe me if I said they are all the same colour grey with no gradient effects either?! I certainly wouldn’t be lying! This is how we can fool our audience’s eyes into believing different values or tones of a picture by simply adjusting the values around our object.

Grayscale and value finders can be a very handy little tool to have.   It makes it easier for you to compare the values of your photo so you can more easily transfer these into your drawing.   You can buy value finders online but you can also make one, print it out and laminate it.

So there we have it. Values are tones and contrasts, lights and shades.  How we layer those values against each other, how we apply them to our canvas, will affect how our audience sees our art and the effects you can create.

Now, go draw and experiment with those values!……

To view my work clink on this link:  gallery
To join the Facebook group click here: Create, Share, Develop

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