Value locates a colors approximate position in relation to white and black. A light color, such as yellow is high on the value scale (closer to white) whereas a dark color, such as violet or blue is low on the value scale (closer to black). Value distinction is one way to create contrast, and contrast is what is needed to enable us to identify things. Value contrast is the gradual change from light to dark in various places in a work of art. Value can be achieved through modulation, gradation, and shading.
One of the first exercises in value you need to do, is to create a value scale. I know, seems boring, and I can recall the sighs of fellow classmates when we all had to create a value scale. But it is important, and is one of those tiny little exercises that should be repeated, so that the budding artist can learn to achieve a gradual gradation with ease. And once that gradation is created with ease, you really do feel a sense of accomplishment from that alone.
A 9 Value Scale consists of three major value categories: low, middle, and high. The low value section of the scale consists of: black, low dark, and dark. The middle value section of the scale consists of: high dark, middle, and low light. The high value section of the scale consists of: low light, light, high light, and white. These nine values are arranged from black to white in the following order.
Create your value scale in your medium of preference (i.e., charcoal, watercolor, acrylic, etc.), but it does not hurt to practice in different mediums to get the feel of how each medium works.
Using charcoal: It is best to use one grade of charcoal, and preferably a soft grade. When using charcoal to create your scale the gradations are achieved by the gradual variation in pressure you apply to the charcoal onto the paper surface.
Using water color: All you need here is black and water. Black will be created without the addition of any water. White will be the paper. The gradations between can be achieved by either the addition of black to water, or water to the black pigment.
Using acrylic: You can either do the same as above to prepare a value scale in acrylic wash, or you can create one using black and white acylic. Laying the black at one end, the white at the other, and then mixing black into white to create your varying shades of grey.
Two Studies in Value
Below are two examples of my own work, which were each class assignments on the study of value.
The first one, titled "Opium", was an assigment in a drawing class. This piece was done in charcoal. While the assignment was to create a work that would show a definite value range, my personal goal was to achieve depth and a photorealistic appearance. There are some areas where the move from one value to another is a little harsher than I wanted, but I do still believe I achieved depth, photorealism (in perhaps a somewhat more expressive style), and there is a definite range of value.
The second one, titled "Clay Water Buffalo", was an assigment in a design class. This piece was done in marker and ink. The assignment was the same as the above, to create a study in value, but to do so utilizing the basic elements and principles of design with no necessary subject matter. I began by choosing three main shapes: a spiral, a pagoda shape, and the shape of a tiny water buffalo. Each of these are used throughout the design (repitition). I next chose to create the design as three designs which can be separate, but that are woven together as one to give the illusion of movement (repitition and variation). I've used line in a number of ways: mechanical, freehand, thick, thin, vertical, and diagonal. Stippling and crosshatch were used to add texture. This study also presents a range in value from white to black, in a design that utilizes each of the elements and principles of design, with the exception of color.