Painting in value is the use of one color, usually a neutral one, broken down into lights and darks. For an artist, the importance of defining values within your painting cannot be emphasized enough. While the idea doesn’t always make an artist jump up and down, a great deal can be learned by eliminating color. Recently, I accepted a challenge to paint in value only. Although it was not necessary to define gray as my value, it was the color I chose to tackle this challenge. I photographed some pottery I own and adore, then downloaded it to my photo software and converted the photo to black and white. Using the photo, I painted darks to lights, defining each shape by its value. It was like a puzzle, each value joined to the next to create a complete subject. By eliminating the color I was free to focus on the lights, darks and shapes. The results were so pleasing to me that, after adding a few defining highlights, I opted to leave the painting as it was.
Some artists will use this technique as an underpainting, or first layer painting, to set the relationship of values for adding color later. After completing the value stage, an artist can go on to layer glazes of color, matching the values already set. Some popular types of underpainting include Grisaille and Verdaccio. Both of these styles use limited monochrome palettes; they were very popular with the fresco technique that is associated with the Italian renaissance period.
After completing the challenge I found that I thoroughly enjoyed it. The simplicity of it was extremely freeing. One thing that stood out for me was how the process forced me to slow down and focus on getting the values right. The rush to have color meet the canvas was not pressing me to move on, potentially compromising the balance of the painting. While I will not be abandoning color in my paintings, I will be practicing this technique regularly. It gets me closer to my goal of perfecting my art.