Value in Painting

In art, value is the lightness or darkness that can be distinguished in a painting. It is thought that value is more important than color to the design and success of a painting or drawing. As a matter of fact, value has nothing to do with color. It has only to do with how light or dark the color is.

Without value variations we could not even see the subject. In the dark or intense light or even grey fog, for example, nothing can be discerned.

Additionally, it is though that if we get the value right, the color can be off and the painting will still work. This may not always be the case, but most frequently it is.

Characteristics of Value

Value in painting is important because it describes the scene in ways that colors cannot. In a representational painting, value plays the role of describing three important characteristics of the subject:

  1. Whether the subject has dimensions or is flat.
  2. What kind of smoothness or roughness the surface of the subject has.
  3. Where the light source is coming from and how bright it is.

Paintings do not need color to play these different roles.

Ann Hart Marquis-Through the Window-value in painting

Through the Window, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 x 1.5, 2010. ©Ann Hart Marquis

Now look at the same painting, without the color:

Ann Hart Marquis-Through the Window-value in painting

Through the Window-black and white

Notice that without the color we still read the shape and form of the interior of the room and the tree. We still understand the texture of the drapes, flowers and leaves. We know that the sun is located high in the sky and off to the left.

Value, then, makes it possible for us to know what we’re looking at. Without clear values in a painting, objects will appear flat, lifeless, and uninteresting.

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