Module - Topic 4

Introduce | Learn | Apply


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Read the material below and any additional resources listed for this lesson..

Topic 4: What is value?

Interestingly, value can exist without line just like line can exist without value. Its the combination of the two that defines a drawing. Rembrandt's drawings are often a combination of the two elements of line and value. His value is created by the use of ink wash in most of the drawings above.

Look at the work of Sherrie McGraw, one of the finest drawing artists alive today. Her recent book on drawing THE LANGUAGE OF DRAWING is a masterful work that is already a classic. Her use and understanding of line and wash is a joy to see. Take a look at some more of her work here:

Sherrie McGraw

Monk in habit dress, by Sherrie McGraw, after Rembrandt

Monk © Sherrie McGraw

Value is the lightness or darkness of a color. You can get different values of a color by mixing its shades and tints.

Shades are dark values of a color. One usually makes shades by mixing a color with different amounts of black.

Tints are light values of a color. One usually makes tints by mixing a color with different amounts of white.

Artist Nita Leland says:

"Value is probably the first element of design you learned when you started drawing. It's all about the differences between light and dark that not only show your viewer what the light is doing, but also help to define the shapes of objects in your picture. It takes practice to be able to recognize correct values."

Artist Helen South says:

Don't use outlines for VALUE drawing!

The aim of realistic value drawing is to show the light and shadow and surface tones, creating a three-dimensional illusion. Outlines only define visible edges and don't tell us anything about light and dark. Linear drawing and value drawing are two different 'systems' of representation. Mixing up the two can be confusing, if realistic drawing is your aim.

Change your approach!

The work of Susan Manchester is a total study of combining line with tone to the point where line almost disappears. She "shifts out of line mode an thinks in tonal quality to achieve the drawings as seen below. The images on these pages are fine art drawing to be sure, but don't let that stop you from trying to achieve the level of sophistication that they do. They understand how to use their tools because they practice a whole lot! You need to do the same.

Drawing of flower with graphite by Sue Manchester

Susan Manchester - Graphite on Paper #1

When creating a value drawing, you need to shift out of line-drawing mode, and the best way to do this is to forbid yourself to draw a line, and focus on areas of value. You might use the lightest of lines to get down the basic shapes. From there, build up the shading. Often the 'outline' will be at the join between two different values, and is created by the contrast between the light and dark area.

Use the background to define foreground objects.Pay attention to drawing the shadows and background. Use them to provide contrast. A 'halo' of shading, like a vignette around the subject, is rarely successful. Leaving the background blank can work, but remember its okay to let an edge fade into the background - don't outline.

Value drawing is like painting in graphite, and although the process is different to using a brush, you need to think in terms of areas as opposed to lines. Shade the darks, observing the shape and value, shading carefully up to the edge of adjoining light areas. The astounding realism that we see in some images is this approach taken to a very high degree of detail, where the tonal values are closely observed and finely drawn.

Sometimes it can seem odd, drawing strange shapes across the smooth surface, or light value when you know the wine is dark, or letting the edge vanish against the background when you want to draw a line; but if you trust your eyes and try to capture what you see, a realistic drawing will emerge.

Susan Manchester - Graphite on Paper #2

Susan Manchester - Graphite on Paper #2

To see more of Susan's work click here:

Susan Manchester

Tools for the Job:

An H pencil should be as hard as you need for lightest tones; an HB will give you a good mid range, with B and 2B for darker shades. For very dark areas a 4 or 6 B might be needed.

Using the Pencil:

Keep your pencils sharp, and apply the tone with small rapid circular or sideways movement of the hand. Randomly varying the stopping/starting point of the shading will help avoid unwanted bands running through an area of shading. Use a slightly harder pencil to work back over an area done with a soft pencil, to even out the tone and fill the tooth of the paper. This also reduced the contrast in texture between the various grades of pencil. An eraser can be used to lift off highlights. I recommend that beginners avoid blending or smudging at first, but rather learn to get the most out of the pencil mark. Once you are confident with your shading, you might like to try using a paper stump to blend tones. Make sure you use a full range of tone - many beginners are afraid of dark tones, or jump from light to dark but miss the in-between steps.

©Helen South

Urban Street Drawing by Nicholas M. Raynolds

Urban Street Drawing by Nicholas M. Raynolds

Drawings like this one and hundreds more of this high quality technique of pencil and pen can be found and the famous John Pence Gallery in San Francisco

John Pence Gallery

My mantra for line drawing is simple:

Joe says:

Drawing begins with a single dot on a page. The dot continues until it becomes a line. The line becomes a flat shape and the shape becomes a 3Dform with the addition of value or tone which adds light and shadow. Finally strokes add texture which in turn adds variety to the surface and at last, color adds the rest!

Here is a student version of candlesticks that you can try to copy as an exercise using the simple strokes you have learned so far. This will get you started on your journey to becoming a master at line!

Student candle drawing exercise for pencil, pen and ink

Student exercise for pencil, pen and ink

GID Design Archives ©

Bingo! All you need is a little dot to begin with!

DESIGN DRAWING TIP: There is another type of drawing called LINE VALUE DRAWING. It is used by pen and ink artists and by designers of all types to describe form in space. This is the type of line we are concerned with. Variation in line and stroke are the keys to good graphic styling in DESIGN DRAWING

What Next?

Go to the next section of this lesson by clicking on the Topic 5 button below. In that section, you will add to what you've learned so far in this lesson.

Topic 5