Friday, 14 January 2011


I mentioned in my previous post that one of the areas I have been concentrating on in my work is value range. This is especially important in creating a depth of field and allowing different elements to read clearly one against the other.

I tend to work from back to front, and maintaining the right value range is one of the more challenging apsects. It is important for me to visualise the whole painting, even though I am only working on one small part of it. At the start this is even trickier as there is nothing else on the page against which to judge the values I am laying down.

I have developed techniques to assist me; the simplest is to first lay down paint in the areas of the lighest and darkest values. This then provides the ends of the spectrum I am working within. Additionally I usually create a loose digital value study of the line sketch, this helps reinforce the mental map I already have, besides aiding with the lighting scheme.

Fightback! - The Value Study.

Painting digitally one has the useful tool of being able to switch modes from full colour to greyscale, this gives a quick and simple check of the values. Clearly this tool isn't available to the traditional painter, but I have recently starting using a tool which approximates that approach: Artgizmos Selectatone Tonal Spectacles.

Selectatone Spectacles.

The spectacles are fitted with a red filter and by donning them it lets you look at a work in progress as a monchrome image. I have found this a very useful addition to the arsenal of approaches for helping determine the value range, and it is easier than standing at the other side of the room whilst squinting.


  1. :D Those are some funny spectacles. I can imagine that being helpful, I couldn't live without a "Desaturate" adjustment layer.

    Still, these would make an artist look more like an evil scientist. :P

  2. Those red lenses remind of the red night vision goggles they used is WWII (they wore them in the light to protect their night vision). Great value study- if you're interested I have a piece on my blog where I struggled with some similar issues. If you have time leave a comment.
    Cheers Tom

  3. haha, now that is a brilliant idea. Thanks Ralph!

  4. Ahh nice tip with the lenses, I was just taking pictures and converting to grayscale in photoshop, it was a pain.

  5. I tried painting greyscale first, and adding a color or overlay layer on top. But skin tone seems to be hard to achieve this way. Thus, like you, i only turn my painting greyscale to check the values. :)

    Btw, the spectacles seems cool!

  6. I've always admired the detail and texture in your paintings but they'e not always been easy to make out as scenes due to value issues. I seem to recall it's the one criticism of your work that I've presumed to make on DA, not that I am worthy to criticize.

    One of the best artists for nicely readable compositions is one Anne Stokes. I don't know if you've heard of her, but maybe you two should get together... Combined you two would make the perfect artist...

  7. Great post!

    That sounds like a really good idea - Establishing the extreme values and then working back within those set boundaries.

    I've found the Andrew Loomis section on Values in his book 'Creative Illustration' really interesting stuff (, he goes into great detail on value pattern strategies for different lighting conditions, and also explores use of Value as pattern in composition. The whole thing kind of makes me think about the parallel in how a driver shifts up and down gears in a car (clear, definitive, deliberate, stepped transitions and categories of tone with purpose). Definitely easier to say than to do though!

    I’ve tried looking through some of those blue and red 3D specs with one eye shut at photos in the past, in an attempt to analyse the how different materials/colours translate to a value scale - to try judge the degree of tonal difference between things under the lighting conditions in the photograph - which seemed to work ok, but those purpose built tonal spectacles look spectacular! And using them to judge how well values are working in a painting ‘on the go’ sounds like a brilliant idea.

  8. Jan: Thankfully they aren't worn in public - so the 'evil scientist' persona stays safely in my office - Bwahahaha!

    Tommi: Yes, and the modern night vision works similarly in that it creates a monochromatic image.

    Comment posted.

    Sean: I've certainly found them useful.

    Felipe: yep, that does sound like a pain, but whatever works...

    Vincent: A lot of artists do use an underpainting for this very reason, but as I like to build up washes of acrylic I have found a blanket monochromatic underpaint too intrusive - as have you.

    Gordon: Yes, you are not the only person to make a similar observation, and that is why in the last couple of years I have been working hard to address those issues. I certainly feel a lot happier with my current approach, and feel that is borne out in my paintings over the last 18 months+.

    I guess you are ribbing me about Anne - after all I am married to her ;)

    David: The spectacles do work well, but I am aware that a simple red filter is ultimately slightly crude, and that there is likely to be some distortion of the value as it shifts certain colours into the red monochrome*, but as a quick and easy tool it is very useful.

    *My physics isn't really up to answering this comprehensively.

    Thanks for all the comments.


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