The Role of Values in Your Paintings

One of the aspects that make my paintings unique is the intense attention paid to values.

Sea Turtle Finished Painting

What are values? – the range of light and dark in your painting, also called “tone.”  We usually focus on the Hue (color) but the value can be even more important.  Here are two versions of Sea Turtle by Nancy Sklaney at Paintmyphoto



Here is the original and another with the values reduced.  The second one seems dull and not lifelike.

With the contrast reduced, dulling the contrast between light and dark

How do you discover what the values are?


Sea Turtle Black and White  Print a copy of your reference photo in black and white.

Grayscale with holes  Use a gray scale to map out your picture.  A gray scale is a chart from white to black in varying number of steps of gray in between without any apparent color.  I punch holes in mine so I can lay it on top of the black and white photo to identify the values.

gray scale match

Here’s an example of the gray scale on top of my picture and there is a match at 4 and 10

A good exercise is to map out the values on your black and white copy.

turtle map


Here’s a few values mapped on the turtle photo.


In the next post, I’ll talk about how to figure out what value your colors (hues) are and how to use them.

In the meantime, here’s a very nice article about values and hues at


3 thoughts on “The Role of Values in Your Paintings

  1. Mary Lomma March 7, 2015 / 5:04 pm

    This such a practical lesson and even tho I have been painting over 20 years I need to do this. I am doing it! Thank you Sheryl! You are a blessing to me.


  2. Karen June 7, 2016 / 1:12 pm

    Did you make the gray scale yourself and did you use ink, markers, printer or something else?


    • sherylwil June 7, 2016 / 1:13 pm

      I download the grayscale image off the internet and then punch holes in it.


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