Quick Tip: Compressing the Value Scale

Not long ago I wrote a post on using value and value scales. In that post, I discussed the using a value scale covering the full value spectrum, from white to black and the all shades in between. This value range is a great way to create the illusion form, but you don't have to use the full range in value as you draw or paint. You can reduce the range of value to varying degrees for different effects. In fact many contemporary artists use this technique with great results.
Value scale


Aftermath No 1, Hsuan-Chi Chen, oil on panel,  6 x 6, 2010  
Here is an example of a painting where the artist purposely used only the lighter values. Notice that the shadows are just lighter than the value of the middle tone of the full value spectrum. 

Here she uses just a touch of white for the highlight and keeps the darkest part of the shadow light. The painting is now relying more on color and less on value. She may be doing this to suggest mood, or it maybe as a part of her narrative.  Regardless of reason, the artist felt it was important to reduce the range in vale for this painting.

Below is an example of the value scale the artist used. Notice how narrow the range is.  

There is no set guideline for how you reduce your value range. It is completely up to you. You may decide to use the darker side of the range or you may decide to use almost the whole spectrum, just leaving out one end or the other. 

Value range of painting above
Remember the full range of value allows for easier representation of form, but you do not have to use the full range.  Reducing the value is used for different reasons outside of creating form, such as creating mood.You can try reducing the ranges in different ways to play around with effect, maybe you will find something that works for you.


Image of Aftermath No 1, by Hsuan-Chi Chen is used with permission for more on her work visit http://www.hsuanchi.com/