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Painting Tips From the Aureolin Art Studio
Do You Have Good Values?
Color “values” are key design elements for a strong and successful painting. Good values make excellent paintings!
What are values?
“Value” refers to the lightness or darkness of a color, judged on a “1 to 10” scale.
Most colors in your pallet are middle values ranging from 4 to 6, and it is the middle values that will hold or pull your painting together. However, to create a successful painting you also need to use the glowing light values and the rich, dark values.
Why is it important to use a variety of values?
For any particular color, it’s best to use between 5 and 10 values in your painting. To understand why, think about playing the keys on a piano. To play a beautiful melody you need to include a wide variety of keys. If you only paint in the mid-value range, you’ll end up with a flat shape that has no form. Plus, when values are painted effectively, they can direct the eye in and around the painting.
When I judge a show or critique a student painting, I always take a close look at the color values used. Does the painting use a wide range of values? Are the values used to best effect?
Tips for working with color values

  • Preserve the light values Look at your reference photo and ask yourself, “What are my lights, and how am I going to preserve them?” Options include negative painting around the lights or using masking fluid.

  • Enrich the dark values – Squint at your reference photo and see where your darks are. Decide if you need to go back and darken or glaze an area to enrich the darks.

  • Make the most of the middle values – The middle values are everything in between your lights and darks. These will pull your painting together, so you’ll want to pay close attention to them as well.

  • Paint with a value scale – Use this value scale to ensure you are pulling several values into your painting.

A great way to practice using values

Wherever your skill set is, I highly recommend that each year you go back to the basics and paint both a value scale and a monochromatic painting based on a black and white photo. A monochromatic painting is a painting made using just one color. (Avoid using yellow for the exercise because it’s too close to white.) Doing this will help you strengthen your ability to really look and see subtle value changes and shapes.
My YouTube video, “Basic Watercolor – Value Study” will give you a review. Value Study Exercise
Or for more in-depth instruction, take my full, FREE lesson, “Values: Turn One Color into a Variety of Shades .”
We all want to improve our painting skills. Mastering the use of values is an easy way to enrich and improve your paintings. And it’s fun, too!
John Singer Sarget Watercolor Master
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