What is Value in Drawing: A Beginners’ Guide

“Your darkest light always has to be lighter than your lightest shadow and vice versa.” 

-Kevin Murphy

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If you've ever had to ask yourself, 'what is value in drawing?', this this article is for you!  In this video, you will learn how to assign values to an image before drawing it. Read about the five steps included in this process below.

Step 1: Identify Shadows And Lights 

To begin assigning values in a drawing or painting you need to understand what value means in art. So let's start with a definition of what is value in drawing: 

Value in art is the darkness or lightness of a tone or color.  Value is one of the 3 building blocks of art and is best visualized as a scale or gradient, from dark to light.

At Evolve we use a value scale with four categories:

Extreme shadow
Moderate shadow
Moderate light
Extreme light

The first step in assigning values is to label our shadows as shadows and our lights as lights. To begin we label all our shadows as such:

what is value in drawing

Next, we label all of our lights.

Then, find extreme shadows 

Step 2: Identify Extreme Shadows

Once we've found all our shadows and lights, is to find our darkest shadow. In this example, the shadow cast from the cat is our darkest value. 

Step 3: Identify Moderate Shadows 

Step 3: After we've found our darkest shadow we need to find our lightest shadow. We label our lightest shadow "moderate shadow." Now we compare the remaining shadows to see whether they are closer in value to our extreme or moderate shadow. Whichever value they are closer to is what they get labeled.

Step 4: Identify Moderate Lights

Step 4: Next, you'll move on and find your darkest light which we'll label "moderate light." For instance, in this image the darkest light is found on the black pot. 

Step 5: Identify Extreme Lights

Step 5: In conclusion, step five is to find your lightest light. Here you can see that it's found on the cat's back. The value on the red ball is also very light meaning it will also be rendered as an extreme light. The remaining lights that are closest to this value will be labeled "extreme light." The lights closest to your moderate light value will be labeled "moderate light."

Final Thoughts on Knowing What is Value in Drawing 

Learning the 5 steps on how to assign values to an image before you start drawing will drastically improve your drawings.

Consider building a still life box when learning to assess values on objects in real life.   A still life box can help control the light thereby making the values easier to assess and also help train your eye to know what to look for.

Apply what you've learned: Imagine you were drawing this image and you had to decide the value of the table top. You know it's a light value - but do you think it's a moderate or extreme value? Why?

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  1. Loved the class, Piper! Fun and thorough — it was a great refresher for me. I really appreciate the time and resources you guys invest to put these classes online for those of us who cannot join in real time due to time difference.

  2. This was a great refresher. I keep forgeting that and extream light is not white or the highlight it is the value without the highlights. Piper is always excelent at clarifying answers to questions or when giving feedback.

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