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Part 4: The value of values

values Feb 27, 2021

It's the value of values finale! We've now covered what 'values' are in watercolour, why we need them, what things can look like if we get them wrong, value charts - now it's time to learn about value studies!


What is a value study?

An exercise pre-painting to figure out the values in your painting and make note of them before starting. This could involve sketching something from scratch and shading areas in with a pencil, or doing a loose monochromatic version of the painting beforehand. It doesn't have to take up much time at all.

You can use the 1-5 scale of 100%, 75%, 50%, 25% and 1% we talked about last week, or, you could also just identify 'light', 'medium' and 'dark' values if you wanted to simplify further. 'The Colour Wheel Company' produces a 'gray scale value finder' tool to help with this exact study. I found mine at an art store in the US a few years ago.

Why should we bother with a value study?

  • takes the distraction of colour away
  • helps us choose the correct tones for our painting
  • helps us create better contrast 
  • helps us create more realistic and dimensional paintings
  • gives us a chance to play with composition and decide what we could leave out of the final piece
  • better informs our highlights and shadows
  • can save us time in the long run - less chance of stuffing up the final piece!

Not interested in sketching and shading?

Honestly, same. When it comes to watercolour, I just wanna PAINT. This is why I work off black and white reference photos. It's a super simple way to get a quick look at where the highlights and shadows are, without bright colours confusing me. I provide colour AND black and white reference photos for TWA students for this exact reason.

That concludes the value of values series!