Value Sketch Process

Create A Value Composition Plan For A Rocky Shore Seascape Painting

Power From Simplicity

Follow this tutorial and discover the compositional power that lies within a bunch of simple shapes joined with a simple set and arrangement of values. 

When we are painting, it is often difficult to ignore those mental impluses which lead us to believe we are creating real objects on our paper.  In fact, we are not! As artists, the only thing we can do is to create some shapes and then add value and color to them.

The power and dynamism of our painting relies on our compositional ability – beginning with the ability to divide the space contained within the borders of our paper in a pleasing, if not eye-catching way. Certainly, for the representational painter, the objective of the painting is often to create a credible ‘illusion’ of reality. 

In our minds, this means attention to details and minutiae. In practice, concentrating on the overall arrangement of a very few large shapes that are filled with consistent (if not constant) levels of light, dark, or middle-gray values.

 From Objective Elements To  Abstract Shapes

All dynamic painting compositions are built on a foundation of shape and value.  Usually, the underlying composition includes just a handful of shapes with well-defined value.  

In this lesson, we start with a simple drawing of our scene with large shapes that include the major elements – sky, water, distant land, rocky island and rocky shorelines.

One of the objectives in the value sketch is to simplify the value shapes to as few as possible. In this case, we have three big value shapes – one in the foreground, one in the middle ground, and one in the background. 

This is one of the simplest ways to arrange values for successful paintings, yet it is timeless and has been used by artists for hundreds of years. As the sketch proceeds, it will be obvious that, to create large, simple value shapes, we must combine individual elements – or portions of them – together within the larger value shapes. 

In essence, we are creating abstract shapes by combining the objective shapes – the ‘real’ elements we are trying to represent in our painting.

What You’ll Need:

  • Simple line drawing of the scene – download below
  • Value Scale – any that you have will do or make one with this lesson – Five Step Value Scale
  • Sketchbook or loose paper and a 2B pencil



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In this lesson we turn one of the Value Composition Sketches into a finished painting.  

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