Basic Art Element — Value

Basic Art Element — Value
Value as a basic art element is evident in this painting by Teresa Bernard.

Value is a basic element of art that refers to the gradual change of lightness or darkness of a color. It is created when a light source shines upon an object creating highlights, form shadows, and cast shadows.

Value is most evident on the grayscale, where black is represented as the lowest or darkest, and white is represented as the highest or lightest value. Or, more simply said, they are the various shades of grey between white and black. Artists use them to create highlights and shadows (shading) in objects and create depth in their paintings or drawings.

basic art element value


Colors have value too. Changing the value of a color is as simple as adding black or white to it. Some colors, like yellow and orange, are naturally light in value.

The Benefits of Value in an Oil Painting

Successful paintings have a full range of value. This means that there are ample amounts of both light values and dark values. Paintings that possess a full range of values tend to stand out more and are more pleasing to the eye.

emphasis in artValue creates contrast and adds emphasis.

The human eye tends to be drawn to areas of high contrast. High contrast occurs when lighter elements are placed directly next to much darker ones, creating a dramatic effect. This technique is used to draw attention to specific areas of a painting that the artist wants to emphasize, thus creating a focal point. For example, a light figure on a dark background will become the center of attention, and a dark figure on a primarily white background will command the eye’s attention as well.

Value creates the illusion of depth.

shading graphicValue is an important tool to suggest roundness or depth. It helps create depth within by making an object look three-dimensional, or a landscape appear to recede into the distance. Light values make elements feel like they are further away, and dark values make them seem closer.

Value creates an opportunity to set the mood.

    • Low-key — These are paintings that exhibit mostly dark values and very few lights. Low-key paintings have very little contrast and seem to communicate a depressing, sad, or mysterious mood. Paintings with predominantly dark values often convey a sense of the nocturnal and secretive, of things hidden just beyond sight.
    • High-key — These are paintings that feature mostly light values and very few darks. There isn’t much contrast in a high-key painting. Usually, these paintings possess a light, happy mood. Female portraits are often high-key as they can convey delicacy, innocence, and dreaminess.

Using both high and low-key colors in a painting can create contrast which often feels dramatic or exciting.

Additional Reading

Using Atmospheric Perspective To Create Depth in Your Paintings

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

Basic Elements of Art, The(An Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1    |    Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value — You are here.

Want More Art Lessons?

When you are finished with the Basic Art Elements lessons, why not move on to the Good Design Principles? To get started click on  The Principles of Good Design: An Introduction

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