The Value in Value

Update time…value: what is it? why is it important? 


The lightness or darkness of tones or colors. White is the lightest value; black is the darkest. The value halfway between these extremes is called middle gray.

This is the traditionally taught definition for art classes. The lightness and darkness of tones and colors. That’s the language I was searching for in my proposal. Very good! 

Now that we have the definition, it’s time for a quick lesson in value! 

Value charts, I’m taking myself back to my intro level class Art 160. 

Value charts are easy. Basically you take you material, draw some boxes, and create a gradient that moves from the darkest dark to the lightest light. It’s a great way to teach about methods for shading in drawing classes, especially when working in black and white mediums. It helps the creator to learn how much pressure to put on their material, and the kind of stroke they want to create their desired mark and shade/tint. They also come to realize very quickly how difficult it can be creating these variations; I lesson I remember struggling with when I was challenged to make one that had 20 boxes for one material back in high school (sadly I not longer have this chart, guess I could test myself to make it again though in my free time. ;)) 

Now that’s just black and white value… becomes increasingly more difficult when you add more color into the mix. 

Here’s one example of a color value chart I took from an artist’s Pinterest page for one of his paintings.

Color value charts are effected by three main principles:

  • Hue: name of color 
  • Value: hue’s lightness and darkness (a color’s value changes when white or black is added) 
  • Intensity: quality of brightness and purity (high intensity= color is strong and bright; low intensity= color is faint and dull) 

Okay, in all honesty name (hue) doesn’t really effect it, but it effects the artist’s perception of what the color will be so I included it. Like sea-foam green, teal, Caribbean green, aquamarine, turquoise, tiffany blue, cyan, and robin’s egg all have every similar definitions in color— a combination of blue and green, yet the name influence you to produce a certain feel/idea/memory for that color, right? Case in point. (I may research this more specifically later, could be interesting to see what is out there on this topic, especially marketing wise) 

Value: So the main difference here is that with the addition of color, the value changes depending on the amount of white and black added to the color. It is what changes the color red to pink or burgundy depending on the amount of light or dark added. While adding black and white is a good starting point for making additional tints and shades of a color, there are alternative ways that can prevent you from getting a mucky greenish yellow (this is what happens when you add black to yellow, see image below) 

I’ll come back to this thought. 

Intensity: Intensity refers to how much pure pigment is in the color itself. It ranges from bright light neon to dark somber dull colors. Often this changes are made not by adding white or black to the originial color but rather from adding other colors, like it’s compliment. This is where we get the image of the traditional color wheel:

The “original/pure” color is the top one on the wheel, it’s the basic value of the color. From there the wheel shows colors that change in both value and intensity. Some tones are made from simply adding black or white. I have found though that by mixing a color with it’s complement instead of black, you achieve a richer color, one that has more depth into the intensity of it’s darkness. A great example of this is again shown when looking at the color yellow. When adding it’s compliment purple, stead of getting that gross yellow-green we get when adding black, we instead see a more golden, ochre color, more commonly seen in nature. The intensity in this case has decreased from the bright original yellow, to a more brown/or sometimes grey toned yellow. Having the brown/grey undertones to color is a great example of lesser intensity, it becomes closer to a neutral.


Alright. Now why is value important?

It changes the way we read the colors, objects. It adds or takes away dimension.

Perfect example right here. This is the first value drawing I had to do in an art class back in high school. See without the changes in value, this is literally a circle with a horizontal line behind it. Add some shading, and TADA we have a sphere on a table!! 

Value adds dimension, tricks our eyes into seeing into a 2D space when we are really just looking at an flat piece of paper. While this is just in black and white, the same goes for when we add color into the mix: 

Aaron Print

Here’s a layered relief print I made in high school. I used the same red ink base for the 12 different layers, but added light or dark to each layer to create dimension into the piece. If I had just used reprinted with the same color over and over again, it would be a very boring red square instead of the portrait we see here. It becomes a color study, a dynamic space for the viewers eyes to move between the contrasts of the shadows and highlights in the image.



So there you have it, value and it’s importance. I may come back to this and add even more as my exploration leads me to new conclusions. 



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