View Full Version : value challenged & need help

Lynne Vokatis
04-13-2009, 01:04 AM
hi everybody. i have been drawing and painting all my life. i have a two year art degree and im still stuck on values. is there a thread that could help?or maybe someone can start one.value challenge:rolleyes: . over the years ive had alot of starts and stops.... good stuff and alot to burn up:evil: . ive worked in every media... but i love pastel the best.but i think i need more difference in values. and not sure sometime like what"punch up the values"means.i think i get colors values and hues all jumbled together and just gets muddled. i reaaly have been paying attention to the critiques on the threads...but still cant really apply it to my own!so im looking for somehelpfull hands.im going to post a few of my older works in different mediuims as well as a few pastels too. any c&c's are wholly welcome and appreciated.hard critiques too. im really looking for ideas where ive succeeded or failed value wise.so have look and any ideas would be great and i hope someone would start a value challenge:) lynne

04-13-2009, 01:26 AM
Hi Lynne: Your watercolours are beautiful. There's a problem with values in these? Thanks for starting this....will watch and learn. Struggling with values myself.

Paula Ford
04-13-2009, 01:27 AM
Lynne, The two lighthouse paintings you've got great values, but the rest of your paintings, I think, are just lacking in dark values.

Some time just sit down and exagerate the darks and lights in a simple piece and see what you come up with. Experimentation always worked for me.

I'm sure the other teachers will come along and explain it much better than I can.

04-13-2009, 04:31 AM
I agree that the watercolors look good. I like the cat also.
The one with the beach houses you could lighten the sky and darken the shadows under the houses. That would make them (the houses) the center of interest. Right now the main focal points are divided between the flowers and the houses, you should emphasize one or the other.
The trees are really good but a little flat. But again there is not a defined center of interest. Pick the area that you want to be the main center of interest and make the darks darker/ the lights lighter/ the colors brighter/ the edges sharper/ or put complimentary colors next to each other, etc. But dont do ALL the above, or it will stick out too much! I would bring out the V shaped trees on the middle left and thier shadows. They are in an interesting position compositionally. The background is nice and soft giving a good sense of depth, so I would slightly darken the shadows and lighten the highlights on those two trees. And I would use well defined edges, not soft blurry ones. Then the other foreground trees would be a secondary interest.

I have been trying to learn how to use more color in my paintings, ( alot of Pastel Artists are really good at this!!!) And I am finding the secret is using the right VALUES!

04-13-2009, 08:48 AM
Hi Lynne!
I also struggle with values. I purchased a 3 in 1 viewfinder and found that it helped me to really "see" the different values in my composition. Squinting is another quick method that works well.
Best of luck,

Kathryn Wilson
04-13-2009, 08:48 AM
If you have a photo manipulation program like Photoshop, you can create a grey scale image and see where your values are lacking. I took the liberty of changing the last one for you:


You will notice that the values are too close together in this painting - you need a good balance of lights and darks, together with a binding middle value.

Practice doing a value sketch before you start a painting, concentrating on where your darks and lights are - those will punch up your paintings. Your first image of the lighthouse has a good balance of both, as does your watercolor painting of the racehorse.

04-13-2009, 09:12 AM
I struggle with values myself. I do think I'm getting better with them but have to really work at it. I often find myself with too many mid-values, and have to really push myself to go for darker darks and lighter lights - but when I do I'm much more pleased with the result. Using grayscale on digital versions of your paintings is indeed a wonderful way to see the values. You can also play with changing the values also, punching up darks and lights, to see what difference it can make, as I did here with two of your paintings (plus the grayscale version that Kathryn posted). I just used Picasa to do these - free download, and idiotically easy to use.

04-13-2009, 10:18 AM
Everyone's suggestion about using software to turn a scan of your painting into a black+white image is good. You can see instantly what your value pattern is. And if it's strong enough to hold the image together.

If you don't want to mess around with scanning and the software involved to convert your scan to black+white, you might want to invest in a "Compose It Grid, Red Tinted Value Finder" (http://www.dickblick.com/products/compose-it-grids-with-value-finder/). The red filter gets rid of all colors other than red and, again, you can instantly see the value range of a painting (or a view or scene that you're looking at).

Looking at your painting upside down while squinting is also a trick that artists have used since time began to evaluate their value pattern and composition. And a very low tech method!

The main thing (as all the books and instructors say) is to get your eye and mind divorced from BOTH colors AND your subject and to be able to concentrate on the value patterns ALONE.

Good luck!


04-13-2009, 01:39 PM
Hi Lynn, I agree with what's been said already. AND I just had an AHA! (thanks, Scalloway)...I have Picasa for gallery use, but never had a clue how to use other tools with it. With a little exploration, I discovered how to change the look of the picture....to B&W, and contrasts, etc. (Took me a bit of finagaling to figure out how to get back to the original...LOL) I"M really not good with this new-fangled stuff...sigh...

but then I wonder how to use the changes one makes in the original scan...do you then go back and rework the original painting to get it to look more like what you've created? (That would make the most sense, I guess....) Anyway, I'm still a little confused how to use all these marvelous tools that come with the different programs...
Anyway, even the B&Ws come to life with the changes scalloway made...
Thanks for the learning tools,....

Adriana Meiss
04-13-2009, 02:55 PM
You seem to have gotten the correct values in your lighthouse pieces.

Of the paintings you had showed us, the ones I feel that need more value contrast are: the swimmer, the pine trees, the cat. I think the reason is that the main subject is closer to the viewer, therefore the need for more contrast.

Because the colors of painting of the cottage by the sea are soft and not too bright, I get the feeling that it's noon, so I wouldn't expect high contrast there. In this regard, I'm ambivalent about the pine trees... However, that's what I read from those paintings. If your intention was to depict other times of day, then you'll need to add darker values.

My suggestion: every now an then paint for fun or just to experiment. This way if you ruin a painting it won't matter, but you're likely to learn something.
For values, search the topic on notans that has been discussed in this forum.
I hope this helps,

Deborah Secor
04-13-2009, 05:01 PM
I have a couple of suggestions for you... First of all, I think it would be a good idea to look very carefully at the values you have in your palette of pastels. Lay out some paper towels and mark one end dark, the other end light. Then look at your palette (it's best if the colors are clean and well lit) and choose the darkest darks and lightest lights you see. Place them at opposite ends of the paper towels. Turn back to your palette and choose the darkest darks and lightest lights, placing them inboard of the first ones. Then go back to the palette and repeat this procedure until you simply do not have any darks or lights, but just a few middle range colors. You have loosely arranged the colors by value form dark to light this way.

Then use a value finder like this:
On a clean sheet of plain white copy paper, make a mark with your color and check its value by hovering the value finder over it. Squint like crazy until you can't tell the value of the color from the value of the gray, and slowly arrange your colors into values using it. This way you can see what values are missing from your palette. I don't necessarily use all 10, but perhaps find 5 values: light, medium-light, medium, medium-dark, and dark.

Once you've done that and arranged your palette by value (however you want to do that), take a photo and turn it to grayscale to check:


See how the cobalts 'fooled' me? Don't fret over such things. Color is perceived, and personally I see these cobalts as darks, finding they please me when they're built into areas of dark values. I suggest you trust your own eye over any mechanical means of discovering value, once you're secure in what value colors are...but until you feel secure, having a way to analyze value can be very helpful!

I suggest you also analyze the CONTRAST of values in your work. Usually when people say 'punch up the values' they're referring to using stronger contrast, as you've been shown here already in the photo manipulations. Oddly, you can use less contrast and still have a perfectly successful painting, but that's accomplished by controlling and using values well. For instance, you could have a high-key painting, using a range of very light colors in which the darkest dark might be a middle value 5 or 6. Or, conversely, you could paint quite low-key work where that 5-6 is the lightest light. So don't think you HAVE to have all 10 values in every painting. It's only important that you understand and use the values you choose to create a painting that expresses your subject best.

You might also make some experiments to help you find colors of the same or similar values. Here's a photograph that someone shared here one day, done by Albert Handell. He's shown light-light, medium-light, light-medium, dark- medium, medium-dark and dark-dark as his chosen values:

When the colors form one mass of the same value you know you can use them together, either side-by-side or atop one another.

I've found it really is worth studying your own palette of colors to understand value, since arranging it is the first step to understanding value, and knowing where the colors/values lie in your palette, whatever arrangement you use, is absolutely essential! I hope some of this is helpful to you or others.


04-13-2009, 05:04 PM
One thing that I've been told to help with "punching up the values" is to darken the darks and lighten the lights. That will provide you with more contrast and will make the painting "pop".

04-13-2009, 06:46 PM
Excellent advice so far. I may add that I used my camera, set it to bw, and looked at the pastels and marks made on plain paper through the digital window/viewfinder (as that gives surer values than taking a colour photo and making it bw in the computer). I sorted the pastels, and then put them in boxes arranged according to value. I've separated warms and cools, but all the lightest values are side by side, and so on up to the darkest. The box actually is for keeping 'flies' (the kind used in fly-fishing), and the separators are moveable. Makes it *way* easier to paint. And also to find 'holes' in my palette. I'm lacking value 8 blues, so that's what I'll get next!

Lighthouses and horse looks good valuewise to me. Actually, some of the world's greatest paintings are made with two values, but they are farther apart than, say, your woodland scene. I've put bits of the value finder over your grayscaled woodland painting:


And then I made the finder into one long strip, with your values marked in red:


All your values are roughly gathered in the middle third of the finder. The two darks are so close they're basically one value. If you'd chosen a value step darker for the trunks, and one or two value steps lighter for the lights, then you'd have a great range of values. A few darks, and a few lights, and you can actually put them where your area of interest is, and nobody would ever say you need to push values. Push them apart more, is how I interpret it. And group them, you definitely do not need to have 10 values in one painting, that is at least 5 too many. Dark, medium, and light is often quite sufficient for a painting.


04-13-2009, 08:10 PM
Hi Lynne,

Wonderful advice you are getting here. I would like to respectfully add my two cents here.

One thing you might consider when composing your painting, when working from photos to working from life, try to decide what value will dominate. Let's say you have a photograph that has many values, scattered all over, you might decide to simplify the shapes as much as possible, settling with three or four values. Mabye the majority of the photo is a middle value, then select where the important darkest darks and lightest lights will go, and try not to break up the middle value areas with too much contrast. Same goes for a primarily dark piece or light piece. Try to make sure one of the values is the dominant one. This concept will help to strengthen the impact of a piece, helping it to read from well across the room.

Happy Painting,


Lynne Vokatis
04-13-2009, 11:05 PM
hi everyone. i just got home and turned on the computer!my goodness,i cant belive the response!ive just finished reading everything and want to go back to reread and print(at some point...still no printer).many many thanks,i do want to go back and post comments at some point but right now i just want to say a heartfelt thankyou:heart: :heart: :wave: .there is so much great information,help,advice...its wonderfull being on here. i hope i can put into effect what i even learned tonight!i hope this will be a help to lots of struggling value people .i can say this....i seriously need more pastels lol.thank you all!!!!!:clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: lynne

04-15-2009, 04:03 PM
Very good advice, Kim. Standing back and seeing how it looks across the room.

04-15-2009, 06:11 PM
I'm so glad you brought this up Lynne, the information given is so useful, to me and I'm sure many others. I have never understood how to use the value scale and suddenly thanks to Deborah's and Charlie's very concise explanations, it's now clear to me. I've searched for advice on this several times, but this is the first time I've come close to understanding how to use one. Thank you Deborah and Charlie.:clap:

04-16-2009, 12:17 AM

Deborah: I love the idea of taking a photo of the palatte and then looking at is in gray scale...black and white! Gotta' try that!:thumbsup:

Donna A
04-20-2009, 01:25 AM
Hi! There are a lot of good ideas here! The b/w photo, the Pastel Journal values card that Deborah also mentioned along with Charlie, Kim's thought's, plus (pardon, don't remember who added) b/w scanning---along with using the ViewFinder 50% gray with the small hole in the center---as well as some sort of deep red transparent film for checking value relationships. We do all those things (save the scanning)---here in classes and workshops and they really do help greatly!!!

I find that it helps using 2 or 3 different modes at the same time to cross-check if you are really having trouble! There are drawbacks to each so when we use more than one type of check, it can really make an even more powerful difference to the artist! Great thread! Take good care! Donna ;-}