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Tips: How to see value

We all know that value is what gives an image depth, but many people have a problem seeing it. When you look at a subject you can easily see light and dark and maybe an occasional medium value. The trick is to notice other value changes, the more subtle ones. Because this is what will make your painting more interesting.

I know that many artists talk about values as numbers, I can never remember which way it goes 0-10 dark to light  / 0 - 10  light to dark.  Everyone seems to approach the scale a little differently. Either way the scale below will give you an idea of the range of value that can be used. 

For instance - See what I mean  

Values are very important to a painting but I don't think you need to feel that you have to remember which way or what number a value is. I think it is much more important to just start to have an awareness of them and intuitively begin to incorporate them into your work.

When painting my basic rule is:  For landscapes due to atmospheric conditions, darker colors in the foreground and lighter colors in the background to create distance. But sometimes there can be clouds, which can cast darker shadows on the mountains so occasionally changes may be needed. For flowers I approach it differently it is actually backwards, I usually have my lighter colors in the foreground and darker colors in the background to create impact. Dramatic value changes from dark to light or light to dark can help give the viewer a starting point that leads them through different values into the distance.
Value Example from my "Watercolor Essentials" Book   W/C 140 lb CP paper

How to see value
If you have been painting for a while you probably can just look at an object and see the subtle value changes without any problem. But for those of you that are just starting out and are looking for an easier way to see or understand value all you have to do is use any RED transparent film, acetate or hard plastic to eliminate all color and reveal only the values. This works well if you are plein air painting, doing a still life or looking at a photograph.

If you quilt you may already be aware of this nifty little tool that works for both quilting and painting.  You can get the Ruby Beholder available through quilting stores or online suppliers. If you would rather make your own that works too, go to your local Tap plastics and get a small piece of red Plexiglas and you ready to go.

The Ruby Beholder available through quilting stores or online suppliers

When working from photographs another very simple way to see value is to make a black and white  copy. This way you will be able to see the subtle value changes that you might not have noticed when looking at the color image.


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