Improve Your Painting With A Simple Process

One Easy Way To Improve Your Paintings

You are probably avoiding the simple process that will improve your paintings. The process is value-sketching and the reason you avoid it is two-fold:  It takes time away from actually painting and, more importantly; the practice interferes with our impulse to paint what know or believe we know about our subject.

This lesson covers the process of creating value sketches to help simplify, and thereby strengthening, the underlying structure of  your painting.

The video discusses a simple method that works for both landscape and seascape paintings, and includes a step-by-step demonstration of the process.

What Is A Value Sketch?

A value sketch is generally a small – think “thumbnail” small – sketch that includes the major compositional shapes. By keeping it to a small size, we eliminate the potential for getting caught up in detail and nuance – because neither has much to do with creating a dynamic composition.

The shapes are drawn simply even though they include and absorb the recognizable – or “objective” – shapes.

To keep the value composition simple, the compositional shapes are filled with one of three values – light, middle, or dark.

Done well, a value sketch may reveal the contours or edges that help us recognize some of the objective shapes, but the ultimate goal is to convert an objective, three-dimensional scene composed of recognizble elements into simple arrangent of complex and interesting abstract (mostly non-recognizable) shapes filled with a consistent, single value.

Most importantly, we can use the value sketch as a guide when painting, helping us to stay focused on the underlying composition as well as keeping us on track with the value pattern we have designed.

Value Sketching In Practice

The concept seems and truly is very simple. In practice, it is more difficult, especially if value sketching is not part of your painting practice.

If it’s not, then there is a good chance your paintings still reflect some notion of what you actually see or believe you see in the subject. Usually this leads us to treat each element of our scene as a separate item, disconnected from the other elements that make up the scene.  Unfortunately, this approach rarely results in a truly dynamic painting, no matter how proficient the technique.

The value sketch itself is an invalueable tool which increases the chances of creating a well-composed, dynamic painting. More importantly, it allows the artist to see their subject in a different way while focusing attention on the artists’ fundamental responsibility: creating a dynamic design on a two-dimensional surface

Value Pattern Group 1

There are many common value patterns that appear repeatedly in great works of art. These are generally grouped and classified by the way shapes and values are massed or separated around the picture plane.

This lesson includes the patterns that are simplest to understand and construct. For this set the picture plane is divided into three planes of space  with a different value applied to each. For the sake of clarity, they are labeled Value Pattern #1. 

Simple Value Sketch Process

Value sketches can have complex arrangements of value, but they need not. Simple value patterns actually have great power when used as the the basis for a larger work.

This lesson focuses on a very simple process that works very well for landscape and seascape paintings. It’s quick, easy and takes only a couple of active steps.

If Value Sketching Is New To You…

… try this lesson first.  It is a simpler scene and a simpler version of the value sketching process.

What you’ll need:

  • Small piece of watercolor paper
  • Drawing layout from the download below. Or one of your own compositions
  • Neutral gray watercolor. Either a mixture of Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna, or diluted Ivory Black or Payne’s Gray

Now Think Six

The value sketch process in this lesson is a method of simplifying your composition by creating three mass shapes and adding one of three values to each.  Each value sketch created following this  process will result in one of only six different value patterns.  See if you can produce all six.


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Value To Color Practice

Another Value To Color  lesson shows how to convert a value sketch from the previous tutorial into a color study.

The idea is to use color while holding the values in each compositional shape.

One of the most important aspects of coverting value to color is to understand that each value shape will have a range of value.

The key is in controlling those values.

Related Lessons

More Value Sketching Lessons

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