Organizing Values | Mindfulness in First Marks

Below is My Process of:

  •          Using a value scale to “ratio” observed values to drawing material.
  •          Finding a “Middle Zone” Value.
  •          Preparing a Shadow Pattern for practical use.

If you have not yet read my first blog post, please do so now.  In that article, I go over what a shadow pattern is, how to define one, and how to- somewhat- replicate one.

Beginning from the Basics - What is Value?

     If you read my previous blog post, you probably saw me throw around the word value a lot. And I need to back up a bit to clarify what it is:

The term Value refers to the relative lightness or darkness of an object.

Both pictures of the Mona Lisa contain value. The image on the left contains color

Look at these photos of the Mona Lisa.

The image on the left contains color, whereas the right image is Black and White.

Both pictures contain Value.

Value Ratios | How To Make One

     Let’s face it- figuring out what value you are seeing is hard. Trying to draw or paint a value is even harder. And when your subject is riddled with crazy surface texture, intense chromas, etc. - you can be thrown a mile off. Urggh.

     Before I get into how we can prepare the shadow pattern for actual use within a drawing, I want to get into how to make a ratio that balances the values we are capable of making with our materials- and the values observed on our subject.

     I highly recommend, before starting an artwork, establishing a value scale reference. I use value scales in my own process, and find them to be extremely helpful. 

Here is how I break it down for myself:

The value scale system I typically use consists of five blocks of drawn/painted value.

5-Step Value Scale | Black Charcoal on White Paper

5-Step Value Scale | Black Charcoal on White Paper

     On one end is my lightest light, and it represents the lightest value on my observed subject. The other end is my darkest dark, and it represents my darkest value on my observed subject. These two values are my anchors. They rein in all the values between.  


     Here is an example of a Charcoal Value Scale that is in sync with an observed subject. My drawn darkest dark and lightest light are in ratio to the observed subject. 


The Dreaded Middle Zone Value

     What is the Middle Zone Value? Let’s refer back to our shadow pattern exercise from the previous blog post.


     Do you remember observing this apple? You squinted at the apple, and found that it broke into a light pattern and a shadow pattern. But while doing so, you might have seen some values that… if they were just a teeny-tiny bit darker, could have been included into the dark pattern. And vise-versa- a very,very slight bit lighter, could have been included into the light pattern.

     In the placement of these values, you might have discovered some of them are teeter-tottering exactly on top of that divide between light pattern and shadow pattern.

     What do you do with these on-the-divide values? I place them in the shadow pattern, but mentally note them as being part of the “Middle Zone.”


     The center value of my scale and the observed Middle Zone Value become locked together. I now use this known relationship as an anchor- to decide where all the observed values should fall.


Note: I call it the Middle Zone Value for lack of a better term.

Crazy Examples of A Much-Needed Ratio

Value-ratios can be very helpful in specific situations. 

     Here is one of my favorite examples: Using a purple pencil on white paper. Below is a past sketch I created to illustrate its usefulness. I believe this is circa 2015.


     Obviously, a purple pencil cannot hit a near-black value in itself. We are missing some of our darkest values- which means we need to ratio our media to our subject. The white of the paper is an extreme light value, so at least we have somewhat of a range of drawable values.


Another Example--- Crosshatching:


Value Scale Reference – Is it Always Useful?

     If you are working from a black and white reference source, and you are using black and white media to replicate it- chances are, you are wondering how a value scale reference would be particularly handy.

A value scale reference is not always useful. It is not always helpful. It is simply a guiding tool, and nothing more.

Preparing your Shadow Pattern For Use Within Your Drawing

     In my last blog post, The Shadow Pattern | My First Step, I went over how to sort “light values” and “dark values” into two interlocking patterns. In that blog post, there is an exercise that goes over how to replicate and define an apple’s shadow pattern. It is a nice exercise.

…However. BACK UP.


This finished shadow pattern drawing of an apple is not an ideal start to a fully rendered drawing. The extremely dark outline will inevitably make it look stylized and represents a value that isn’t really around the observed subject.

     The point of harshly outlining the pattern in that exercise was to completely dedicate myself to a defined pattern. Not desirable in my actual working process.


     A good rule of thumb, I’ve found, is to aim for the middle value on your value scale when drawing your shadow pattern. All the might-be-light, might-be-darks of the Middle Zone will be contained within your shadow pattern, and it is a good base to build up from. It could also be considered somewhat of a third anchor, after the lightest light and darkest dark anchors.

    In Some Instances, the starting value of your shadow pattern does not matter-so long as it is dark. Here are two examples:

  • Mixing Black Charcoal and White Pastel on a well, textured surface (As in the Ani Art Academies Curriculum), you could completely fill the tooth of the paper with solid black material. Then, you can chisel areas away to their correct values with a white pastel.  
  • Oil Painting. You can set a shadow pattern to be a specific value, and then gradually lighten or darken it while working wet-into-wet. Or… you can simply wait for it to dry, and layer up the values. (The thought makes me cringe though- that could easily be a mess of sunken in areas and patchiness!)


I hope after reading all the above, you walk away with these tips:




If you have any questions, suggestions, or critiques, please feel free to reach out!