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What is Value in Art? Fundamentals Explained with Examples

Image of a color chart (What is Value in Art?)

What is value in art and why is it important?

Simply put, value in art refers to the lightness or darkness of a color shading which is used to create the illusion of depth, form, and volume.

Value, light, and color all play a part in adding realism to an artwork and help bring forms and shapes to life.

Value is so important that we have it listed in our top 5 basic drawing skills that every beginner should know

>>>Jump to: Drawing Fundamentals Explained for Beginners

An example of value can be more easily broken down by viewing the shades and tones on a scale from light to dark.

The lightest lights will usually be used as highlights in an artwork whereas the darkest darks will be pure black. These will play a big part in exposing a form and giving depth and volume to a subject. 

When it comes to color, light, and value it’s important to keep the below in mind:

  • It’s possible for there to be two entirely different colors but both can share the same value
  • The value defines how light or dark a color can be 

Understanding this will help you immensely when shading your art works – check out our other tips to improve for beginners here

In this post we will break down value with examples, how to better understand and see value as well as exploring the other fundamentals of art:

Fundamentals of ArtCharacteristics
Perspectiverefers to the technique used to create the illusion of space and depth on a flat surface.
ColorThis element includes characteristics like hues, which are known as “pure” colors, the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, color temperatures like warm and cool, color value, color intensity, as well as shades, tints, and tones
Valuerefers to the tone or shade of a specific section or your drawing, the lightness or darkness or a color or tone.
Compositionis the arrangement of objects, shapes, elements in an artwork.
Linerefers to the different ways that lines can be used to create visual interest, convey meaning, and define form in a work of art.
ShapeShapes are based on two dimensions, measured by their length and width.
FormForms are based on three dimensions, namely, length, width, and height, and the well-known forms include cubes, spheres, cones, and more.
TextureTexture is sometimes described as the “surface quality” of a painting, sculpture, or any work of art, which can even imply the physical surface texture
SpaceThere are several types of space, namely, positive, negative, shallow, deep, two-dimensional, or three-dimensional, which all relate to the surrounding space in artwork
Table of Contents

    Why Is Value So Important in Art?

    Being a part of the elements means it has a significant role in something. So here are some reasons why value in art is so important.

    1. Adds Depth: Value creates depth and dimension in a painting, making it appear more realistic and three-dimensional.
    2. For Contrast: Contrast refers to an artwork’s difference between light and dark values. An artist may add visual appeal and highlight specific details or the focal point using value contrast.
    3. Establishing mood and atmosphere: Different atmospheres or feelings may be expressed through light and dark values. For instance, darker values might imply a more serious or cold look. In contrast, lighter ones could portray a positive mood.
    4. Realism – value allows the artist to capture how light engages with surfaces and creates a feeling of form and volume, making your drawings look real. 
    5. Improves composition: Value in art can improve how a piece is put together by giving depth and harmony. 

    Value and Color Explained

    Value and color are two vital elements in art and are closely related but have distinct concepts.

    The value in art describes how dark or bright the color is. On the other hand, color refers to the actual hue of an object or an artistic component. 

    When a color is stripped of all of its hues, what is left is its value. 

    To better understand their relationship, dark red can be lighter when you add its value. Light red can be darker when you reduce its value. In simple terms, the lesser the value, the lighter the color; the greater the value, the darker the color.

    Here is an example of a color value scale:

    Color value scale

    Using Value to Emphasize Subjects

    Value in art is used to emphasize subjects by creating contrast and establishing a focal point. It attracts the viewers’ attention and stands out from the background when contrasting values exist. 

    Regarding value, contrast refers to the difference between dark and light values. With that, an artist may create specific parts of a piece to stand out by arranging and using high contrast values.

    One example of an artwork that uses the value to emphasize the subject is “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt. 

    "The Night Watch" by Rembrandt
    “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt located at the Amsterdam Museum, via Wikimedia Commons

    This painting features a group of Dutch civic guards and their captain. High contrast values give attention to the captain as the main subject.

    Creating Illusion with Value

    The use of value is crucial in creating the illusion of depth, making a two-dimensional piece of art seem three-dimensional. Artists can achieve the impression of depth, space, and form by manipulating the values of colors.

    Shading is a technique that tricks the eye with value by using light-to-dark values or drawing with strong contrasts.

    Here is a video tutorial on value shading in layers:

    Achieving the impression of texture or movement using value is possible as well. Artists may convey the motion, roughness, or softness of a subject or object by using different values of the same color. 

    How to Better See and Understand Value

    The concept of value is crucial to appreciating art, yet it may take work to see and grasp for beginners. Nonetheless, there are a variety of techniques and exercises that improve your ability to understand what is value in art.

    Using or making a gradient or value scale is one approach. It involves gradually progressing light to dark values, such as a 10-step scale or a gradient from white to black. 

    Another technique is to practice your shading. 

    Using your graphite pencil or charcoal is best to avoid being confused with many colors and focus on value alone. 

    Practicing with greyscale would be helpful. Concentrating on value and its role in conveying depth and shape is easier when working only with shades of grey.

    And finally, studying artworks that make good use of value may improve your perception and understanding of the concept and generate ideas for your work. 

    After you’ve mastered drawing and using value in art, bringing color to the picture would be plain sailing.

    Value Scale

    The Denman Ross Value Scale by Mr Geo Neo
    The Denman Ross Value Scale by Mr Geo Neo from Illustrators’ Lounge

    A value scale is a tool that artists use to produce a range of values from light to dark to understand better, differentiate, and incorporate values into their work. 

    Artists may also utilize this scale to guide their selections on the tools and methods to get the desired effects and style, such as using a softer pencil for darker values and a harder pencil for lighter ones.

    Most scales consist of rectangular blocks, starting at the lightest value and ending at the darkest to the other end. 

    What Is an Example of Value in Art?

    "Girl with a Pearl Earring" by Johannes Vermeer
    Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

    “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer –  This portrait features strong value contrasts between light and shadow to create a sense of depth and realism.

    "Still Life with Apples and Oranges" by Paul Cézanne
    Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

    “Still Life with Apples and Oranges” by Paul CézanneCézanne used value to create the appearance of form and volume in the fruit. He used a range of values, from light to dark, to create the illusion of shadows and highlights on the fruit, giving them a sense of roundness and depth.

    "Luncheon of the Boating Party" by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
    Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

    “Luncheon of the Boating Party” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir By utilizing values, the painting creates a sense of light and atmosphere and emphasizes the objects’ textures and colors.

    "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp" by Rembrandt
    Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

    “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” by Rembrandt This artwork has several figures shown in a poorly lighted setting. There are strong contrasts between light and dark to create a dramatic effect.

    "Whistler's Mother" by James McNeill Whistler
    Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

    “Whistler’s Mother” by James McNeill WhistlerThis famous portrait shows a person in black and gray against a plain background. The slight differences in value are what gives the painting depth and form.

    Related Terms to Value

    Value: Value in art refers to the lightness or darkness of a color.  It is a crucial element in many disciplines, including art and photography, because it conveys a sense of depth, contrast, and texture. 

    Value Scale: A value scale is a tool artists use to produce and compare values from light to dark- sometimes in different colors. It typically consists of gray or black squares/rectangles arranged from lightest to darkest.

    Color: Color is used to describe the overall appearance of an item or surface as seen by the human eye. It combines several visual characteristics, such as hue, saturation, and brightness.

    Hue: Hue is a term that describes the pure pigment or spectrum color of an item or light source and is one of the attributes of color. 

    Light: Light can refer to both the physical phenomenon of illumination and the representation of light in a work of art. The tone and mood of a piece may be significantly affected by how an artist represents light. A drawing with bright colors and strong contrast may create a positive feel.

    Tints: A tint is a term used when a color has been made lighter by adding white. It is a helpful tool in producing a variety of shades and tones without affecting the hue of a color.

    What Are the Different Types of Value in Art?

    High-key:  This value in art refers to a color scheme that is primarily light in value and uses very few dark values, if at all. Landscape and still-life paintings often employ a high-key value to convey a feeling of lightness, openness, or optimism.

    Low-key: The low-key value is the darkest in the ranges. It is mainly used to evoke drama, mystery, or gloom in artworks.

    Mid-range: Mid-range values fall in the middle of the value scale, between the darkest and lightest. This range of values is often applied in artwork to convey a feeling of balance and harmony.

    7 Elements of Art 

    What Is Space in Art 

    Space in art refers to the 3-Dimensional illusion of distance, size, and scope within a 2-Dimensional work. It refers specifically to the space occupied by the subject matter, the space around them, and even the actual space where the artwork is.

    Texture in Art 

    Texture is the characteristic of an artwork’s surface, and it relates to how an artwork either feels or seems as if it would feel. It may vary from smooth to rough and grainy, and it can be utilized to give a feeling of depth, perspective, and tactile experience.

    Form in Art 

    Form refers to an object’s three-dimensional quality and structure, which is essential in creating a sense of depth and dimension. It is made through shape, space, volume, color, perspective, and other elements.

    Line in Art 

    A mark created by a point traveling across a surface is a Line. Lines may be straight, curved, thick, or thin; they can also vary in length and direction; these characteristics add to the definition of your shapes and forms.

    Color in Art 

    Color, which describes how light reflects off an object or surface, is one of the most expressive aspects of art. It gives life to your works, creates different moods and emotions, and illusions of light and shadow.

    Shape in Art

    The border or outline of an object or form is referred to as its shape, and it is a component of art that only has two dimensions. Shape may vary from basic geometric to intricate ones, giving an artwork a feeling of order, balance, and symmetry.

    What is Value in Art? – Conclusion

    Throughout this article, we have explored the basics of value in art. It includes the different types of value, how to use it to create depth and contrast, and examples of famous artworks demonstrating its importance. 

    Whether you are an experienced artist or just starting, value is a concept that can take your art to the next level. By mastering light and dark values, you can create a sense of space and perspective, adding depth and volume to your artwork.

    If you are an artist looking to learn more about value in art and other fundamental elements of art, schedule a discovery call with us today. 

    Thanks for reading, and see you at the next one!

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