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Using Value In Your Paintings

When working with color, the billions and billions of colors you can make by combining primary, secondary and tertiary hues are just the tip of the iceberg.

Value is the relative lightness or darkness of a color. There is a value scale (or greyscale) that illustrates this quite nicely. Imagine that you have a ladder with 11 rungs on it. {Note: Some people use a 10 step value scale or use #1 to start or watever, but that is a minor point.] You could paint the bottom one pure white and number it "0". Then you could paint the top rung pure black and number it "10". Next mix 50% black and 50% white and put it on rung #5. This is the grey that is the exact middle - halfway between black and white.

Mixing other proportionate amounts of black and white will fill in the other rungs. Just so you don't have to mix all of the values, check out this link: http://www.toadhollowstudio.com/value_scale.html . It has a value scale, a grey value finder and a white value finder you can print out for free and explains how to use them!

Now - let's use all of those different values. All colors can be mixed in different values which can then be compared to the values on the greyscale. It is important to understand how to use value to bring interest into your work. Without darks and lights, most works will be uninteresting.

Think of Thomas Kinkade's beautiful paintings. He really uses sparks of value to guide your eye around and into the work. The draw is unavoidable. You must look at the light he wants you to see.

Place darks next to lights to give vibrant interest. Or blend the darks into the lights, having medium values in between that make gently curved surfaces.

A value 5 yellow used next to a value 7 or 8 red will bring the yellow right to the front. To deepen a color's value, you can mix it with it's complimentary color - the color directly across from it on the color wheel. The compliment of yellow (primary color) is violet (secondary color); the compliment of green is red.

Incidentally, working with yellow is a special case. Most colors can be darkened by using the compliment, an earthtone or black. But yellow doesn't behave in the same way. You can use the compliment, but if you use black, you will end up with a green. If you use an earthtone, you may also end up with an entirely different color from what you expected, like peach. It is safer to use violet to deepen a yellow.

Experiment with values. Try playing up the contrast between light and dark values. Learn to relate the greyscale values to colors you are using so you can easily incorporate those sparks of light into your work, too.

If you would like to learn more about greys and how they are used, try this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray

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