Lessons I Have Learned That Proved to be of "Value"

In most of the classes I have taken I have gotten critiques about improving the “values” in my work because it would make a huge shift in my projects. Recently, I started taking the critiques to heart and started focusing in on how to improve the values of the colors I use. Here is the thing - I was not sure what “value” really meant.

I spent some time researching and taking myself on a personal value study to really understand value. Since I am not professionally trained as an artist, I have been very confused about what value is. I just assumed it was the contrast in the art. So, when someone said improve your values, I just thought that meant add some highlights to make the dark area look darker and increase the contrast.

Well, in my recent research I discovered I was so wrong. LOL. I mean I was kind of close--but not really. This is what I have learned recently about value. Value is not as complicated or dramatic as I was making it. Value is simply this, it is the lightness or the darkness of a color. Yep, that is it, no complications, when looking at a color, when it is adjusted towards white it has a lighter value and vice versa when adjusted towards black it has a darker value. Understanding this, I now can comprehend how many artists create a beautiful work of art with multiple values of just one color. I set out to try my hand at doing just that by exploring a few projects using only one color. Here’s what I learned along the way.

I love using colored pencils. The beauty of colored pencils is layering different colors on top of each other to create a beautiful color is one of my favorite things about pencils. So, taking on a project using one color with a single pencil is baffling for me. I took the challenge seriously and decided to figure out how I could create a range (values) of color from this one pencil. To create the lightest values of the color, I decided I needed to use the white of the paper in combination with my pencil (with light pressure). Normally I use many layers of pencil but in this project in the areas where the values needed to be lightest, I only used one or two thin layers. Pencil pressure was a key factor for me to create the right value. If I put down too many layers the value became too dark.

I also learned that every color has a max value. What I mean is that once I lay down enough layers that totally fill in the tooth of the paper that will be the darkest (highest value) that I can get from the pencil without adding in black. Even colors that seem to be dark like blues can only go so far on the value scale. Burnishing does nothing to make it darker it just makes the color more saturated. Here is where I struggled with what value really is. Typically, when I want to make a color darker, I would add a layer of its complement color. Here is where I got stuck—adding the complement is not actually darkening (lowering the value of) the color. The complement is changing the color. It took me awhile to get past this in my head! Although it might not a bad thing to change the color, but I had to realize it was shifting the color to a new color. Changing the color was not my objective for this project.

The only way to make the color darker is to add black to the color. This is how you keep the color but make that color darker (lowering its value). Once I figured this out, I was able to really create depth that makes sense. It was a struggle to pick up the black pencil. So many artists shun people who use black in their art because it deadens the color. The challenge of using black is to layer the color with the black to bring the life back into the color. When using color pencil, you can layer enough to basically blend the colors together to get that color darker with the black but still read the color without looking like there are streaks of black. Again, the trick here is the pencil pressure and paying attention to the value you want to achieve. When I need to lower the value of a color with the addition of black, I will sandwich the black between the color I’m adjusting. So, if I am adding black to a blue, my layers would be blue/black until I get to the value I am after, ending with a layer of blue.

After practicing several projects with one multiple values of one color, I was able to create a few that were successful, and of course there were some that were not. I learned a lot from each of these but now I feel comfortable with adding the right value in my projects. Kathy taught me a neat trick that is super useful. To use a value finder and isolate spots on your reference to understand the right values across your project. I found this process super helpful to plan out not only my colors but what value these colors need to be at to achieve the level of realism I want. This value study was a great experience that will stick with me forever.

What's happening in the Corner . . .

Did you make a New Year's resolution to put coloring back into your life? But now you aren't sure where to start. Why not join with fellow colorers as we focus our attention on creating more realism in our projects as we put the "value" of color into our practice as we start the new year.

If you are reading this after we moved on to the next technique, you can find the Work-at-Your-Own-Pace Practice for Value here.

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