Two Reasons Why Values (Lights and Darks) Are so Important in Paintings

Imagine music without a clear melody. . . In art, a close equivalent to that would be a painting without clear values or colors. Just as the notes and rhythms of a melody lead us through a musical piece, it is value and color that move us through a painting.
But what exactly are the roles of these two indispensable elements? Let’s start off by taking a look at value.

The role of values in a painting

Value is a term we use to refer to lights and darks in a painting and this is the most important of all the visual elements. The value helps us to describe the depth and intensity of the painting. If we get the value right, the color can be off and the painting will still work.

Values describe the scene in ways that colors cannot

In a representational painting, value plays the role of describing three important characteristics of the subject

Value describes whether the item has volume or is flat and where the light source is located. How dull or bright it is.  
Painting by Lili Pell in full Color
Same painting using a Grey Scale value

Without the color we still read the shape and form of the sheep and tree; we still understand the texture of the sheep, grass and foliage; and we know that the sun is located low in the sky and off to the right. Value, then, makes it possible for us to know what we’re looking at.

Without clear values in a painting, objects will appear flat, lifeless, and uninteresting.  

Using Notan to describe value

Notan makes it easier to see how the dark and light follow and link to one another throughout the painting. It helps to determine the strength of the structure. Value helps us to follow a path through the painting and that can only be determined by using a grey scale value
Vermeer observed the location of the light source and used it to create and appealing and interesting visual picture.

Notan and grey scale is essential to create good visual imagery. No good artists should attempt to design their painting without these.

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