When artists talk about value what do they mean?
t’s not how much someone will pay for their paintings. Value is the light or darkness of a color. It is sometimes referred to as one of the elements of design. If you want to think of a picture that has only value think of a black and white movie. My favorite is It‘s a Wonderful Life. Have you ever thought how amazing it is that even though there is no color you can still tell everything that is going on? For example when George is running down the street yelling “Merry Christmas, you wonderful old building and loan!” you can see the lights of the street, the snow, and you know it’s night time. Lights and darks are what give things form and allow your brain to see what is around you. Thus color is not relevant when you want to make a representational image.
So if you are creating a painting and you don’t have your values right the image is never going to look the way you want it to. I love working with value. When you take the color out of your design and just focus on light and dark it’s so much easier to know what is or isn’t working. If you haven’t done it before spend some time just painting or drawing in black and white. You’ll be surprised at the results.
Value can Make or Break an Image
When I was in college I took an oil painting class. For one assignment we had to paint an image and couldn’t use the right colors. In fact we had to use crazy-mixed-up-nothing-we-actually-saw-in-real-life colors. The values, however, had to be absolutely correct. Here is my painting. (Isn’t that brave of me posting some of my college art. Yes it is. Thank you very much.)
This assignment was absolutely painful to my brain but as you can see, without the correct values the painting wouldn’t look like anything. You can probably also see that I have been painting and drawing my old Raggedy Anne doll for many years.
My grandma made it. Yep…
…and moving on. If you have a painting that’s not working spend some time looking at the values. Maybe you have something too light or too dark. Chances are, if it’s not your drawing that is off, it’s the values.
Have you tried to create anything in Black and White? How did you like working without color?