What is a Value Scale?
A value scale is a simple drawing tool that helps you see and draw values by comparison. The scale above has a sliding range of values on one edge and ten gradated sections on the other edge.
I’m aware that other artists use a value scale that is the opposite of mine, with No. 10 as the lightest value and No. 1 as the darkest. However, I use the photography value scale. I received a lot of my fine art training in photography, and this is the scale I use throughout my site.
How to use a Value Scale
Let’s say you’re drawing a portrait of someone with blond hair. From any distance away, hold the value scale next to the hair, squint your eyes, and, see what part of the gray scale matches. Then check the value against the drawing.
Take as many “readings” as you need too. For example you could check to see what value the highlights, mid-values, and shadows of the hair are.
How To Draw A Value Scale
If you’re trying out a new brand of drawing paper, it’s very useful to draw a value scale on it using the type of hatching you plan to use. You’ll see how the texture effects each value, and you’ll get a good idea of the values you can and can’t create on the paper.
- Draw 5 to 10 one inch squares.
- Leave the first square blank.
- Make the last square (No. 5 or 10) as dark as you can without squashing the grain of the paper. Here’s how:
– Fill the square using the softest pencil first (4B to 9B depending on the brand of pencil) and then go over that with the sharp tip of a harder pencil (2H to HB).
The harder lead will act like a “stump” and push the softer lead into the grain of the paper that it skipped over and make the value darker.
Repeat until the square is as dark as it can be without completely flattening the paper texture or grain.
- Gradate the middle squares into steps using a combination of pencils grades for each step.
– In other words, 2H, 3H,4H and 5H pencils won’t easily create one stepped value each and you won’t work like that anyway. Realistically, you’ll use whatever pencil you have in hand to start shading and then switch to another to darken the value, so it’s much more natural to create the steps with a combination of pencils.
- You can use the hard lead over softer lead technique for all values. For the lighter values, for example a “3” value, you could hatch a 4H over a 3H lead.
Here’s a chart with pencil grades and their general value ranges. (Each brand is different though, so test your pencils to find their range.)
Mid Gray and White Value Finder Cards
In some circumstances values fool the eye. For example, look at the right side edges of the squares on the value scale. They look as if they lighten as they get nearer the darker value beside them, and darker to the left where they approach the lighter value.
That’s an optical illusion.
Actually, those squares are solid gray. Surround any of them with a single value and you’ll clearly see that.
A “value finder card” is just a piece of paper with a hole cut in it that you can use to surround a questionable value with a known value.
Note: I call these “value finders.” If they have a proper name, I don’t know what it is. :)
Make the white finder out of the drawing paper you plan to use, since different brands come in a fairly large range of values.
A mid gray (No. 5 on the scale) is a quick way to spot check values. Just hold it up to see if a value is “lighter than” or “darker than”mid gray, and then check the drawing and adjust.