What are values in painting?

In my last post I asked the question: What is a good painting? I didn’t speak about the technical points of painting and drawing-  composition, value, colour, mark making - as I personally feel the intent of the work is paramount.

Yet, like a baking a good cake, all these other components are really important too. There is the beautiful dance between, colour, composition, marks and value which help create a harmonious artwork.

My friend and fellow artist, Jon Hayes, and I have recently been discussing the importance of ‘values’ in a good painting. He feels (and rightly so) that if the values of a painting are not there then the painting will not be successful.

Values are an interesting subject and I don’t mean the cost of an artwork!

 A value is the light – darkness of the work.

Take away the colour/hue/chroma of the work and you are left with a grisaille or grey scale of the work.

Up until now what eluded me was not the idea of black-white but the importance of the balance.

At art school, a part from drawing and painting, I studied photography. 6 years in a black and white darkroom helped me understand 50 shades of grey! The success of an image hinged on the journey of either black or white in an image. You only have black and white to help with the composition. No colour to distract you.

Nature Sublime 2016, soft pastel on Fabriano paper, 56 x 76 cm
Galerie Belimage

Nature Sublime 2016, soft pastel on Fabriano paper, 56 x 76 cm
* TONAL version

Grey scale

Grey scale

When you turn a colour image into black and white, all you see are shapes and tonal values. If the tonal journey of either one is not there, then the image will not be successful.

This means, even if you have a high (light) key or low (dark) key painting, you must include a journey of the corresponding value to help the eye travel through the work.

It doesn’t mean you need a perfect balance of all greys but a journey of dark or light to help the eye stay inside and not travel outside the work. (This is also of the utmost importance when drawing with charcoal.)

Tonal values are important for composition because they not only help create depth (3D), they support the focal point as the eye is naturally drawn towards light tones.

There isn’t a day when I don’t learn something more about art making.

I hope this has helped many people out there who are still scratching their heads about values and their importance.

Thank you Jon and thank YOU for sharing this journey with me.

Please feel free to like and comment below.

Yours in art,

Bec x

“Various Storms and Saints: paintings and drawings from Hunter Valley, Australia and Tuscany, Italy” is currently on at Galerie Belimage, Switzerland.
Please view Australian works here.
Contact the gallery for more information: info@belimage.ch