View Full Version : Help with Values

09-30-2016, 11:30 PM
I've read how important values are in nearly everything I've studied since taking up this hobby. I am now attempting to pay more attention to them instead of just painting what I see.

I've also read that as artists, we need to make the painting "better" than the photo...in other words, interpret.

So here's the next photo I'd like to paint. Please comment with your ideas:

1. Post a value drawing of it, if you have time and would like to. I have attempted one, but would like to see what more experienced artists see.

2. Suggest changes to the photo to "interpret" it. I am very drawn to all the bright colors...I didn't even notice the chair/table on the balcony at first. I thought of cropping out or replacing the tunnel and defunct machinery, but they both contain colors that make the scene pop for me--the blue and the bright green.

What/how would you crop? Would you crop at all? I think it is quite busy and therefore does need some simplification. Do you? If so, how would you simplify it?

Thanks! I hope we can all have a little fun with this.


10-01-2016, 11:05 AM
While we are working on this photo and how to simplify it and making value studies, I thought I would throw a few links at you! Every month, in Soft Pastel Talk, we have an activity thread called the Spotlight. Sometimes we just choose a subject and do some paintings, but other months we delve into various fundamentals of painting. We did a Spotlight on using value shapes to build your composition:


And a couple Spotlights on Simplifying:



A couple comments on your comments... While value is important to build the foundation of your paintings, there may indeed be paintings where color is more important. In this photo, there are almost no large value shapes. Squinting at the photo - (Squinting is a good idea) the only darker vales are scattered about the photo. The building walls are all about the same value. So being drawn to the bright colors may in fact be what will make this painting!

The fact there are so many scattered elements does mean that simplifying may be a very good idea! What you didn't notice at first is a good clue as to what is then not needed in the painting!


10-01-2016, 11:46 AM
The first question I would ask myself is - what is the main subject of the scene? What is it about this scene that attracts your artistic interest? In my opinion, the main element is the combination of the green shutters, the balcony and the plants on and around the balcony. Everything else can be simplified or eliminated.

This does not mean that those elements are what you think are most important. You may find the angles of buildings and their juxtaposition are what makes the scene. Or perhaps the green shutters are your center of interest and the green foliage around the balcony are of no interest and can be eliminated. Individual decisions like those are what makes each painter and each painting unique - even if we are looking at the same scene!

Here is what I did to simplify and try to create a bit clearer value shapes in the scene:



EDIT: I am having trouble figuring out what exactly is happening at the bottom of the pic with that tunnel. So, if I can't figure it out - then I get rid of it!

Donna T
10-01-2016, 02:49 PM
I probably simplified more than you'll like but I wanted to keep the focus on the balcony and shutters, like Don suggested. While I like the bold colors around the tunnel, that area seemed to demand too much attention. I used the blue from that area to create a sky and repeated the bright green in some leaves. I created some arched shapes with the greenery to repeat the arch of the door. My photoshop skills are so poor - I was unable to do what I wanted with the buildings in the background. That area could have some vague indications of windows added or it could be come the side of a hill. You have a lot of options with this photo depending on the look and mood you want to create.


10-01-2016, 04:27 PM
Don, thanks so much for those links. I admit I did not do a forum search for the terms; I've been doing a lot of reading, and felt I just needed to have a real example to work with. It will be great to enjoy those links!

I like both simplifications. My first instinct was to eliminate the tunnel and train (since I couldn't figure that out, either!) until I realized that I loved the colors.

I do like the juxtapositions of the roofs above...I just love the way they come together in all those angles, but with the same blue. Perhaps there is a way to combine the two simplifications.

I do love moving the blue to the sky, too, or making that into a more distant building.

Thank you!


10-01-2016, 05:39 PM
Although there are a lot of "near values" in what I see in your photo, I also see several ranges of values (or tones as they are called by some). One way for you to check this out is to either use your cell phone to take the image in the first place, or send the image to your cell phone in an email, and then save it to your photos there. Then take it to edit, and change the color to "tones" or a bit more contrast may be found in "mono". Either way you can see where the strengths and weaknesses are in the photo regarding values/tones. Eventually, you will train your eyes to see the differences without having to use this method.

Another good exercise is to select 3 various colors/hues of pastels that you think are the same value/tone. Select your cellphone's camera to show the various value/tones that you might want to photograph, and see how close you are to having chosen the same value/tone in various color/hues. For instance, students are often surprised to see that yellow isn't always the lightest value/tone, and blue isn't always the darkest.

I'm sorry I can't post examples of this, but for some unknown reason Windows 10 won't cooperate with Wet Canvas so I can select pictures to post. Most likely something I'm not doing, but I don't have the patience nor interest in actually working with this darn computer. If I could download from my iPad or iPhone on to Wet Canvas, I'd be a happy camper because I use both of those gadgets way more than I do Windows 10.

10-01-2016, 06:09 PM
Donna, I love your simplifications! Filling in that area under the balcony with greenery is a great idea! Plus your greenery is now linked from top to bottom of the painting! Much better solution!


10-10-2016, 06:37 PM
Hi everyone! I've finally had a chance to do a preliminary sketch of this piece (I am working one FT job and several PT jobs, so time is at a premium).

In fact, there are two: While I was waiting for answers to my original questions, I attempted a sketch. Then this weekend I was able to complete another one which I like very much incorporating some of the ideas suggested above. Here it is, along with the first sketch (the first sketch is much darker).


Sorry if you have to turn your head to see it!

I'm guessing, since the buildings have been edited to add some sky, that the light direction should change a bit from coming from directly above to coming from above and to the right slightly. This will change the highlights and shadows.

Is there anything I need to remember when shifting the shadows and highlights? The shadows will now have a bit of an angle to them, the bushes and plants will be backlit. Anything else? Might there be some of the balcony showing up in shadow on the yellow wall on the left?


10-14-2016, 03:29 PM
You started by commenting about values being important. They are. But you have been sidetracked into simplification of the composition, which does not tackle values.

Here is a value image...


now you can see the light, various mediums, and dark tones. That is what value is about.

Now I am going to sound a little harsh, but I promise you I have only good intentions for you......
...the idea of shifting the light, shadows, etc, is really not a good idea. Only a very experienced painter will be able to do this adequately. And even then, might well have quite a struggle. Making things up is probably the most difficult task any painter can have....and so even someone with experience will think twice before doing it. You would really, honestly, do better to find photo reference which is straightforward to work from. Then, you can concentrate on values, which was your very excellent goal to begin with.


10-14-2016, 04:56 PM
I meant to add...but got sidetracked.....I am assuming a lot here...ie your level of experience is really unknown to me except for what I can surmise from your value sketches....so perhaps you will be able to tackle this and make it work. You are thinking along the right lines in terms of direction of light and what you might have to do to create shadow areas. This is good thinking.

By all means, give it a go. However, if you are disappointed with your results, it is going to be because of lack of experience rather than lack of thought and preparation!

When doing a value sketch incidentally, it is a good idea to think in terms of big SHAPES rather than linear detail. See how the image on the left gives us no clue at all about values, while the image on the right makes the lights and darks much clearer. However, there are no mid tones - and it would be good to have those too.http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/14-Oct-2016/1805-thumbs_x_2.jpg

As you work on a value sketch, you have to ask yourself all the time....is this part lighter than what its next to? Yes? OK how much lighter? And is this bit darker than the bit ? How much darker? and so on....over the entire surface. If you leave parts out, with just outlines of "things" there, you have no way of assessing how it will look when you come to paint.

10-14-2016, 07:19 PM

I've rotated your sketches and tried to darken them a bit.


Hope you don't mind!

There's nothing wrong with your sketches, I might add, as they are still working out computational and linear issues. Perfectly OK to do these types of sketches as well!

But, as Jackie mentions, a value sketch is most useful when if is simplified into value shapes or areas. Here's a value sketch that could have been done for my earlier suggestion:


Here are a few links about value sketches:



I might add that not all references are easily made into value shapes and areas. Some may be more linear in nature.

Hope this helps,


10-15-2016, 04:15 PM
Dear Jackie and Don,

Thank you both for the comments! As I have mentioned, I really am quite a novice. I've read and read about value sketches... It seems a very difficult thing for me to separate from colors and lines even though I do know there's a difference. Your help is invaluable, and I am not in the least offended by your corrections, and am very grateful for your examples. They do truly help.

Thank you for rotating and darkening them, Don. To me, it doesn't look as if I've really totally missed the values when I compare your examples and my sketches; I just got sidetracked into simplification in my quest to find the big shapes.
I'll take Jackie's advice and keep the light direction the same for the sake of my inexperience. We'll see what happens! ;)

Thanks again