Grooving with the Greyscale

Grooving with the Greyscale

What Is Tone or Value In Art?

Tone-Value in art is how light or dark something is on a scale of white to black (with white being the highest value and black being the lowest value).

This is one of the most important variables in painting, more important than your choice of color (hue).

The viewer should be able to read your painting easily and this is where tone-value works to make things readable.

Look at the image below. It shows 3 landscapes - first in colour and then as greyscale images. Even though the colour has been removed the scene is still easily recognisable. This is the fundamental strength of tone-value. It is the strongest element in art.

Two colours may look different in hue but they may be of the same tone-value - ie they may be as light or as dark as each other. So using them next to each other would result in not much of a contrast.

Two colours can also be very tonally far apart - for example - yellow is tonally very, very light - whereas violet is an extremely dark hue (colour).

Also know that you can have many different values of the same hue. These are called tints and shades. You can produce tints of a color by adding water to dilute and shades by adding black or the complement of that colour.

The Value Scale

Below is a scale of values ranging from 1 to 10

The number of values between white and black are of course in reality infinite. We could spend a lifetime making finer and finer distinctions!!! So for SIMPLICITY artists reduce the range to a scale of 1 to 9 or 10.

You can roughly assign any colour in your painting at some point on this scale.

You do not need to utilize all values in this scale. Many artists prefer to use just a limited value range, which can promote harmony in the painting.

Every color has an underlying tone-value somewhere between white and black.

How We'll Improve Your Understanding Of Tone-Value

The best way to improve your understanding of tone-value in art is to draw without color - we will do this on thi scourse in 3 ways

1 using Posca opaque paint markers on acetate

2 using Touchnew Greyscale Sketch markers on Yupo paper

3 using Touchnew Greyscale Sketch markers on Stonehenge paper

Doing these 3 activities will re-train your eye like nothing else to reduce the complexity of color and forces you to think in terms of light and dark.

Being able to THINK in TERMS of LIGHT and DARK is the artist's holy grail!

When you have nailed tone-value you can confidently work in colour. In order to understand color it is essential that you understand value.


I hope this post helps you understand what tone-value in art means and why it is so important.

If you can understand and employ the balance between light and dark, then most of the graft is done in your paintings!

You then have more freedom to paint with verve and aplomb and employ unique colour choices because you can follow your tonal-value road-map.

For additional info on using the greyscale value finder tool - this is a good resource from J D Hillbery-

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