How to Draw a Value Scale

How to draw a value scale

One of the best ways to become familiar with values is to draw a value scale.

Value is defined as how light or dark something is, and is used in drawing to depict light and shadow. Without light and shadow we could not draw (or see) anything, so it is difficult to overstate the importance of this concept! (Read all about value here.)

Mood, atmosphere, composition, and the believability of the image: they all rely on value. If your value structure falls apart, so does your picture!

The Value Scale

The value scale is a system of organizing values. It consists of nine values ranging from white to black, with several shades of gray in between. These shades of gray make up the “meat” of a drawing, and help to create the illusion of depth and three-dimensionality.

Why Draw a Value Scale?

Drawing by Antonio Lopez Garcia

This exercise is more challenging than you might think! It can be quite difficult to determine how much darker one value should be than the previous one, and to create nine equal  steps of values without looking at a completed scale.

This exercise is all about comparing values, which trains your eye to see subtle value changes.

Your ability to see and draw these value shifts will determine how convincingly you can create form, depth, space and atmosphere in your drawings.

This exercise will improve your eye, making you a more sensitive observer. You will also gain control of your drawing materials and learn how to draw an even gradation, which is, in essence, what a value scale is.

Recommended Materials

A sturdy drawing board, a sheet of good quality drawing paper (such as Strathmore 400 Drawing paper), a selection of drawing pencils (HB, 2B, 4B and 6B), and a kneaded eraser are all the materials that you will need for this exercise. 

A word about pencils...
In this demo, I am using charcoal pencils. However, you can use any kind of pencil that you wish to become more familiar with - charcoal, graphite, conte, etc. My only recommendation is to use a black pencil as opposed to a colored one, because the purpose of this exercise is to learn about value, and this is much easier to do when it is isolated from color.

Before you begin...
Set yourself up for success by creating a clean, organized drawing area. Tape or clip a piece of drawing paper (I am using Strathmore 400 Drawing) to a sturdy drawing board, and make sure that your pencils are sharpened.

How to Draw a Value Scale

1. Using a ruler, draw nine equally sized and spaced boxes.

2. When you begin a drawing, in order to accurately capture the relationships between the values, you first establish your lightest and darkest values. That way, you have two points of reference to which you can compare all the other values.

Use the same process when drawing the value scale, and begin by establishing the lightest value (value 1) and the darkest value (value 9). Since I am using white paper I leave the value 1 box blank, and use a 6B pencil to fill in the value 9 box. Do not worry if it is not perfectly even at this point.

3. We now have the two extremes of our value range: white and black.

The next step is to establish the middle value: value 5.

Estimate how dark value 5 should be by imagining what it might look like to blend 50% white with 50% black.

Later on, when you have drawn in more values on the scale, it will be easier to tell how accurate you were, and darken or lighten value 5 as necessary.

Since you will probably have to adjust your values, do not worry about making them perfectly even at this point.

4. Now that you have an estimated middle value, you can choose to either begin with value 2 or value 8 and work inwards towards value 5. I began with value 2.

Fill in the box evenly enough to get a sense of the overall value.

Helpful Hint:

The neighbouring values on the scale should be similar enough to each other that when you put them side by side and squint your eyes way down: they almost merge together. For example, squint your eyes and look:

Notice that it becomes difficult to tell exactly where the boundaries are between the neighbouring values. Use this technique to help you judge the accuracy of your values as you draw the value scale.

5. Continue filling in values 3 and 4 on your scale, constantly evaluating the accuracy of your existing values. For example, in the image above I noticed that my value 5 box was too dark. I lightened it using the technique described below.

Adjusting the Values Using a Kneaded Eraser

During this exercise you will most likely use your kneaded eraser just as much as your pencil. You can think of the kneaded eraser as a white pencil that can be shaped into various forms to help you adjust your values.

For example, if I have to lighten an entire value box, I can flatten the kneaded eraser and use it to very lightly brush across a wide area.

It will take some practice to do this evenly, but it is a great technique once you get the hang of it. Kneaded erasers can also be shaped into points resembling the point of a pencil, and used to pick out individual dark "spots" within a value.

Continue filling in values 6 through 8, adjusting the values until you have a completed scale!

F R E E  D O W N L O A D

Value is one of the essential elements of Realistic Drawing. 
Download the free Elements of Realistic Drawing E-Book to learn about the rest!

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