View Full Version : Value versus color....how do I figure this out?

10-31-2002, 04:47 PM
I've in the midst of reading Harley Brown's book "Eternal Truths for Every Artist". I've been enjoying it throughly and have just come to the section on value. Certainly one can understand value to be, the light and dark and all tones ranging from black to white. I can understand that. Where I run into problems is introducing color. I have the hardest time trying to decide where a color falls within a specific value range. Is it just me, or do others have the same problem? And if it is just me....can someone please point me in the right direction to developing my ability to "see" where the color should fall. I've been wanting to arrange my pastels in color groups by value range and I have the most difficult of times doing this.

Harley states that once you have determined your values...you can use, even the most bizarre of color combinations and as long as the values are correct, it most likely will work. He has several examples of this in his book and indeed, they do work.

I was just wondering if I'm the only one out here floundering with this problem?

Katherine J
10-31-2002, 05:40 PM
Nope, Karen, you aren't alone out there! I'm just looking at a piece I think I've finished, but there's an area where I think the colors are too much the same value. I end up going more on gut feeling which may not be good. However, I don't know for sure. I wonder if any out there does organize their pastels by value. I think that would be a real challenge for me. I'm anxious to see what others say.

Katherine J
10-31-2002, 05:59 PM
Karen I notice Jackie gave a nice example of value in her pastel box in the thread you recommended to someone:


10-31-2002, 06:01 PM
Karen -
you must be psychic or something. :D

I'm trying to figure out the same thing. I'm working on a portrait and I know I don't have enough values in the correct colours.

I have to work out "temperature" shifts as well to distinguish from the sunlit and shadowed. :confused:

Anyhow- here's what I'm going to do. Make up a simple chart (grid) of colours with the name and tint written. (I have a small set of sticks so it shouldn't take long).

I then plan to scan this in and convert to grayscale. Hopefully this should give me a better idea of the "values" of the colours.

Haven't tried this yet - so I don't know if it will work.

I too am curious to see what other folks say.

10-31-2002, 06:12 PM
Originally posted by Katherine J
Karen I notice Jackie gave a nice example of value in her pastel box in the thread you recommended to someone:


Cross posting going on here. Katherine posted her second reply while I was typing mine. No doubt Jackie's advice will be better. Except

I can't open the link - comes up with a document not found ???

10-31-2002, 06:20 PM
That link is:


Yeah I saw that too in Jackie's box and that is what I'd like to do as well. I've been trying but I angst over my decisions as to what color falls into what value range.

melaleuca...what a great idea using the convert to grey scale option!...I handn't even thought of that. I may try a few colors and see how that works. My problem tho is I go from digital photo to pc (no scanner) so I don't know if that will really give the "true" color.

Well I feel a bit better now knowing that I'm not the sole color/value challenged person here! :D I can't wait to see what others have to say as well!!

11-01-2002, 03:27 AM
Aha, I thought, as I began to read this post, I will be able to help here, good.

Then someone beat me to it.

You are absolutely right about the greyscale. I used to get my students to tear strips out of a magazine, a colour page, so that they had a long strip of coloured paper, about 1-2" wide, made up of all different colours. Then, they had to copy that strip, just using shades of grey. Then, they had to photocopy the two strips, side by side, so that they were both "greyscale", and see how they compared.

You can do this both ways .... you can also create a long line of grey squares or circles or any shapes you like, different shades of grey, and alongside this line, work with colours which you feel will match, in tone/value (same thing, different continents!), the greys you have painted.

It is very easy when you have a strip which goes from very light grey to very dark grey, and underneath it, you paint very light green through to very dark green.

Do that first.

Then, the harder exercise is to use random colours!!

All of you who have problems with the tone of colours, should do these exercises. They are really helpful. When you have "got" the whole idea, yu will feel as though your eyes have been opened very wide, and you will see colour afresh.

Finally - another simple way to check values in a painting is to screw up your eyes as tight as possible. This tends to eliminate colour somewhat, and leave you with the main light, medium and dark values. Anything which jars should pop out at you.

As far as my box was concerned, the post won't help you that much unless you decide to sort your own box out in the same way. You simply sort your colours out into basic LIGHT, MEDIUM, AND DARK tones. So - I had light blues, medium blues, and dark blues; light green, medium green and dark green. You can all do that, I know you can. It's the mediums which can be slightly tricky ... there are lots of slightly different, medium values. The exercises will help you with this.


11-01-2002, 06:09 AM
Great thread. Ive always gone on gut feeling or at times comparing the colours I plan to use against each other on a separate piece of paper. I will have to start doing those exercises Jackie.

11-01-2002, 10:40 AM
Hello all.....a while ago a teacher gave me two great tools that you can make yourself.

A grey value scale. Start with a mat board or illustration board. Make yourself a grey scale out of some type of permanent medium....like ink, or acrylic. The lightest being white...the darkest black. Mine has 10 steps. My card is like 5x7 and the squares are about 1" sq. When you get done with painting your squares...take a hole punch...and punch a hole in the middle of each square. When you want to know the value of a certain color, place your value finder on top of the color...and move till you find the right value.

Here is another one: Take a mat board...already cut to an opening of 3 1/2 by 5"...or whatever size you want. Take a piece of red plastic (like the plastic you would find on those report covers with the sliding plastic holder) Cut a piece of red plastic to fit the opening in your mat...and glue together. Now look through it....you will see all the colors in the room converted to gray scale. This is a great tool for pleinaire...or looking at your own finished paintings to see if you have enough values.

I use both tools extensively!!!


11-01-2002, 11:24 AM
Thank you all for your really great suggestions!! I'll be trying these this weekend. I want to develop that skill that Jackie talked about.....seeing colors afresh!! :D

11-01-2002, 10:45 PM
If you have a digital camera, you can click on the black/white...mine has a grayscale...but they may not all have that option and take a look at what you're working on. Even take a photo and pop it onto your monitor to take a better look!

When I'm working outside, I have a red filter (like a red piece of cellophane) that I can look thru and see the values more clearly...it takes all the color out of the scene...reduces it to values.

11-02-2002, 02:01 PM
I took an oil painting class with Frank Covino. His main emphasis is VALUE, VALUE, VALUE. He has made a value pallett (a board with the 9 values) that is wonderful. Every color is mixed using this pallett board. I find it very difficult to match values with colors other than the black and white :D. He can just look at a painting and tell you the values to use. He also mentioned that this comes with a lot of experience. Anyway, you can purchase his pallett at www.portrait-art.com It's expensive ($30 I think) but worth it.

Karen--you should try to take his class. Coming to Cameron Park (up Hwy 50) next May. Lot of people from out-of-town attend.

Shirl (the color-challenged person)

11-02-2002, 05:24 PM
All the above tips have been well proven. There is another, try turning the picture upside down and if possible look at it via a mirror. Any wrong tones do tend to stick out.

Another way is talking to the picture! When doing far distance, think of whispering, then as you get to the mid distance talk and for the forground SHOUT! I advise this method for studio work only otherwise you may get carted away!!

Also remember that the further away the subject, the colder and paler it becomes.

I hope this is useful.

11-02-2002, 09:25 PM
Originally posted by JohnnyRed
....Another way is talking to the picture! When doing far distance, think of whispering, then as you get to the mid distance talk and for the forground SHOUT! I advise this method for studio work only otherwise you may get carted away!!.....

hehehe....love that bit of advice! :D

11-03-2002, 09:52 AM
Johnnyred ... although what you say is essentially right, (the bit about the colder and paler), it is one of those "rules" which can be broken. I have a book here of Roger de Grey's work (he's a Royal Academician), and he uses, very often, the same tones (values) in the foreground of a painting, as he uses in the far distance. And yet, there is an amazing sense of space in his pictures. This is because he uses a wonderfully clever way of creating the space by change of scale, rather than by aerial perspective.
Also, I have a brochure of the work of John Miller, and lo and behold, there was a picture of a quiet bay, with a huge stretch of white sand in the foreground, and along the distant horizon - a thin strip of really bright orange!! And yet, the sense of space was undeniable. Another, called Summer Above Zennor, had a large dull orange foreground field, and a brilliant hot orange-coloured small hill on the horizon - which did NOT shoot forward. Quite extraordinary.

So - provided you understand not just about tone (value for our US cousins) but also about weight and proportion of shapes, you can still create distance, even when you break the rules.

This is slightly getting away from the main thrust of this thread, which is how to see colour as value. All the advice given to date is excellent, although I do sometimes wonder about the business of looking through a piece of red perspex at the landscape. This may well reduce the colours to simple tones ... but this is only helpful if you want to paint a monochrome landscape!!!

There is really no huge secret or difficult issue here. It is just a question of really using your eyes, instead of just guessing at what to put down. You all know perfectly well the difference between a light green, a medium green, and a dark green. So you DO understand values. If you are getting things "wrong" in your paintings, with uncomfortable passages of colour or tone, it is because you are making it up, painting what you think is there, rather than using really good observation. THIS IS AN UNDENIABLE TRUTH.

If you are working from photos, you have to remembver that the camera tells lies. Distant hills/trees etc, will often look darker than if seen with the naked eye - this is one of the main problems of working from photos. The camera will "flatten" the scene. This is why it really helps to spend a good deal of time working from life before going on to work from photos, which is fraught with dangerous traps for the unwary, or un-practiced. So - work from life often, and while you are at it ... really analyze what you are looking at, compare one part of your subject with another by asking yourself the question - "is this bit darker, or lighter than that bit? How much darker, or lighter?" and all will be well. Honest.

11-03-2002, 10:41 AM
Jackie, what you say about rules and 'rules' is quite correct, of course. However, this must not detract from the artists own particular style of painting which is indeed unique. If we all start painting in anothers style and using their ideals and 'rules', then individul style will be lost. Once the Ground Rules have been learnt and understood, then 'modifying' them to suit individual styles can then begin.

But this is getting away from the reason of this thread. Your method of teaching tone is excellent, the way I was taught was before photocopiers were commonplace. The method then was (in watercolour), to take a pure colour and paint a square with it, then add water bit by bit and paint further squares down in sequence. This has been previously mentioned in the Grey Scale.

The second part of the exercise was then to do the same horizontally, but merging the tones into each other.

The final part was then to guage distance using this graded chart for landscapes. It worked well. It's a pity that on occasions I neglect to put it into practice!!

All in all, this has been a very good Thread for learning new techniques of determining colour values.