I now will paint a full-sized back, white and grey value study. It is very helpful to see the composition without the distraction of color. The design stands out and I can see if any areas need to be darkened or lightened to emphasize my focal point, and lead the viewer’s eye the way I want it to travel. I can also more easily see if the basic shapes of the composition are pleasing. If the composition doesn’t look good in black and white, it won’t look good in color.

I mix 9 shades of grey on my palette, starting with pure white and ending with pure black . I number these right on the palette, so I can identify them as I work . I might paint an area with grey #3 and say to myself “#3 is too light, let’s try #4.


I now tape a piece of tracing paper over my line drawing, and using the drawing beneath as a guide, start to paint. I keep it very loose and free. I don’t have to be precise at this point.

green-cloth-and-bowl-value-painting-unfinishedI let this initial attempt dry for a few days. I then go over it with a fresh coat of paint to make corrections. Inevitably, I get a lot of the values wrong the first time around, because its very hard to judge the darkness or lightness of an area until the whole is finished. I am constantly comparing one area to another. Once all the areas are painted, then judging becomes easier. Also, it is very difficult to paint sharp edges and smaller details into the wet paint of the first layer. Everything tends to smear and blend. Once the first layer is dry, the final touches adhere much better.