Before beginning my painting, I like to paint a value study in black -and-white. Seeing the composition without the distraction of color helps me to judge it. I’ve found that getting the value relationships right makes a strong composition. I also use the study to refer to later while painting. To judge if a color I mix is the correct value, I can dab a bit of the paint right onto the study. If it’s the correct value, it’ll blend right in. If it’s too dark or too light, it jumps out! Below is a value study from an older painting. You can see the dabs of paint I was trying to judge.

To begin my value study, I mix up 9 values, from white to black, in even steps. I number them right on the palette. Having the different values numbered simplifies painting. If one is too dark, let’s say, when I put it down, I’ll think ‘#4 was too dark, let’s try #3.’

Next I tape a piece of tracing paper onto my drawing board. I’ll paint on this. It allows me to see the drawing underneath, so I don’t have to transfer the drawing to do my study.

I keep the painting very loose in the study. I’m just trying to get a quick sense of how the composition is working. I don’t need to paint the details. It’s hard to get all of the values correct right off the bat, because I don’t have a basis of comparison. Once I get all of the paint down, it’s easy to see what’s amiss. I’ll let this layer dry, so I can go back in a few days to make my corrections.

Above is the study after I worked on it a second time. It’s mostly correct. Now I’ll live with it for a while to see if I think the composition works in black-and-white. If so, I’ll go back and refine my drawing before transferring it to the canvas and begin painting!