Learn High-Key Value


Easy Subject and Composition For Study

This quick watercolor lesson shows the basic concepts of the high-key value compositions. Learn by working step-by-step to create a high-key cube study.

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This quick video goes step-by-step through creating a high-key value study with a simple cube study.

High-key Value Arrangement

 High-key value compositions are those that include values from the lighter end of the value scale – pure white through light gray. Sometimes a high key arrangement includes darker values, but there will be very few dark areas.

In watercolor, we often find it easy to create high-key arrangements – often unintentionally. This is because the medium – water – is also our white. So, using enough water to keep our washes fluid means that we are adding water which automatically lightens our colors – and that their value ends up being in the lighter range of possible values.

Take a look at the study. Even without color, does the study impart a particular sensation of light, temperature or mood?

High-key value compositions are useful for:

  • Scenes that are brightly lit by the sun – think of the beach on a bright mid-summer day
  • Scenes where there is haze or mist
  • Scenes and compositions where we want to impart a feeling of warmth
  • Scenes where we want to impart a dream-like or fantasy quality

Experiment with a few of these studies. It will help you get a sense of how best to use high-key compositions for the subjects you paint.

Related Lessons

Value Basics