Value Contrast – Stage 1

Value differences are damn important. Identification of areas with different value may be the most critical mechanism by which our brain understands visual information. Fundamentally, one white shape becomes highlighted against a black background.

From what I have read, I consider value the main compositional tool, and also the most basic, not sketch (or lineart). Lineart allows us to understand what a drawing is, but we never see it in nature. The main thing that we see all around us is precisely that, differences in value.

I find it more than justified to begin this journey into color domination by entering first into the realm of value.

For this, I neglect everything else. Saturation, hue, realistic shadowing… all these things don’t even exist. And no. Not even lineart, not even drawing is allowed to me at this point.

Only black, white, and all the shades of grey in between. Is it not somewhat ironic, that I decide to begin learning color by omitting it completely and only using black and white?

What’s the first assignment? To get rid of all concerns besides value, I decide to take a picture that I like and is not too complex, and convert it into a lineart. Actually, I’m look for a lineart, but I don’t immediately find one that I like, so I take this picture by the wonderful artist Jenny Dolfen, and using a few photoshop tricks, I remove the color tonalities and only keep (roughly) the lineart.


(Note: This is not meant to be a tutorial, I won’t explain how I do everything that I do)

I want a premade lineart, of course, because I don’t want to make it myself at this point. Then I work under the lineart, using a brush with zero saturation and varying value.

I begin working under the following constraint:

  • Use value to separate different elements. Avoid two adjacent areas having the same value.

Simply because I assume that to define different adjacent objects, I need to use different values. If two adjacent areas share the same value there’s simply no contrast at all. After one hour or so, end up with this:


These characters are Gandalf, Galadriel, and Elrond (if you don’t know them, go flagellate yourself and then read The Lord of the Rings).

I observe some things in the process:

  • Don’t get obsessed with separating every single physical object with different values. Some objects work better by sharing one value, even if they are strictly speaking two different things. For example, Galadriel works better being mainly white with small shades of grey.
  • Use a hierarchy in applying ranges of value. At some point, I want to make each figure clearly distinguishable. Since Galadriel has to be a very light figure, I use in general darker values for the other two figures. This I call macro. At the same time, within each figure, I also establish certain contrasts of value (Gandalf’s beard, Elrond’s patterns in the clothes). This I call micro.
  • I feel that stronger value contrasts within one character give more complexity or duality (Gandalf, Elrond). Characters with more subtle contrasts seem to have more unity (Galadriel). Or I may just want to believe it. Value contrasts can be used to confer certain personality traits.

I feel like this was an useful exercise.

This is not all. By no means. There is still much about value. There’s still a dark mountain before me. A black mountain against a white sky.

I’ll be thinking about the next stage of the journey.


Posted on January 7, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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