by Lisa Larrabee
Value does all the work, but color gets all the credit. That phrase gets thrown around a lot, but what does that even mean?
We love color! Colors can be subtle or dazzling. Colors are powerful and can be used to get our attention or to communicate feelings. However, value relationships are often the foundation of a drawing or painting. Values can be essential to providing structure and to creating the illusion of light, form and depth.
Organize Colors by Value
If you look at this drawing in grayscale you will see that there is order to the values. That does not mean that the values are accurate to the reference. The original photo reference had much bolder, darker shadow shapes. I chose to stay in the mid to light value range with the dark color as an accent. Still, you can see that there is a sense of light and form of the subject as a result of the values having a sense of order and observation. The values are doing the work while the color gets to have all of the fun!
Artist TipYou can often discover weaknesses is your artwork by taking a digital photo and switching to grayscale. Looking at your work without color will help you identify how well you are grouping shapes by value. This can be used abstractly to analyze your overall composition and design. It can also help to see where colors may be deceiving you by creating light or dark values out of context when trying to depict representational light, form or depth. It is important to note that your artwork does not have to "work" in grayscale to be successful in color. There are many exceptional paintings that rely on color and temperature shifts that stay within a reduced value range. This can sometimes make a piece appear flat in grayscale, yet be mesmerizing in color. Viewing your work in grayscale is simply a tool you can use to help you see it differently.
Play with Color
- Choose a simple subject. I recommend a black-and-white reference, so you aren't influenced by color.
- Ensure you have a good range of value shapes from light to dark.
- Draw or transfer your subject onto your white or toned drawing paper.
- If it is helpful to you, lightly map outlines around values shapes.
- Select colors that include light, medium and dark values.
- Order your color choices by their value from dark to light.
- Use the color that corresponds with the value from your reference.
- Create the same subject multiple times to contrast the differences.