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

Keeping my sanity!

Juggling family life can be a challenge especially when you are creative. Sometimes when the need arises and the creative urge is calling, you are mid-flight on the school run or helping with homework. The school holidays are the most challenging - play dates, bored children and Mum’s café always open.

The summer before last I was determined not to surrender to the humdrum off domestic life and amble about in creative frustration but find a way to paint/draw if I had a few minutes of ‘me’ time.

As a result I organised a quick go-to kit which I could whip out at a moment’s notice and paint straight away. A kit which could fit into a bag and I could carry anywhere – hassle free and discrete. Invention out of necessity. Necessity for my sanity!

So I ‘invented’ my plein air pencil case. Borrowing my son’s pencil case I sought out my essential art equipment which could fit easily inside. Quality of products wasn’t a priority. My purpose was compact and quick access. After a few trials of my plein air pencil case, I found I kept including the following things:

What is in my current pencil case.

Pencil case
2B Pencil
Stanley knife/ or pencil sharpener
Small watercolour sketchbook (300gsm)
Small set of watercolours
3 small brushes
Felt-tip pen
Small cardboard view finder

Since my invention I have completed 5 small sketchbooks and found my sanity has returned. I only need 10-15 minutes to draw. I draw anything from landscape to still life. Labouring away at a work isn’t the goal. Capturing a moment is the purpose. I keep all the works. Even the not successful ones, as they serve as the most important learning tool.

My method is to draw a QUICK pencil outline, then I use watercolour in a relaxed approach. Once dry, I draw over the top with a black marker. The marker is great as each line is a commitment. You can’t rub it out! If you have been a student you will know how much I dislike erasures, so I only use it under extreme situations. I like to see the journey of all the marks made. These marks make the work more interesting.


I will be including this kit in my suitcase when I go to Italy in June.

I hope this helps any frustrated creative soul!  Keep the pencil case in your bag and take it out when the urge arises. You could be on the train on the way to work or waiting for the kids while they do sport. The possibilities are endless.

I’d love to hear about your successes with your little kit. Please feel free to drop me a line.

Yours in art,

Bec x