Understanding and mastering the use of light and dark values is essential for any artist. The ability to create contrast can make your subjects appear more dynamic or realistic, bringing them to life on the page. This technique becomes even more critical when drawing objects under different lighting conditions. Here’s how you can harness the power of light and dark values to elevate your artwork.

Understanding Values

Values refer to the lightness or darkness of a colour. In drawing, values are crucial because they define the form and depth of your subject. A well-balanced use of light and dark values can create a sense of volume and space, making your drawing appear three-dimensional.

Observing Light and Shadow

To master light and dark values, start by observing how light interacts with objects in the real world. Notice where the light source is coming from and how it affects the surfaces of the objects. Identify the highlights (the lightest areas), midtones (the middle values), and shadows (the darkest areas). Pay attention to how the light wraps around the form and where the shadows fall.

Creating a Value Scale

A value scale is a tool that can help you practice and understand different values. Create a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the lightest value (white) and 10 being the darkest value (black). Fill in the steps between with gradually darker shades. This scale can serve as a reference when you’re shading your drawings, helping you achieve a full range of values.

Using Contrast to Your Advantage

Contrast is the difference between light and dark values. High contrast (a stark difference between light and dark areas) can make your subject pop and draw the viewer’s eye to specific parts of your drawing. Low contrast (subtle differences between values) can create a softer, more subdued effect. Use high contrast to highlight focal points and low contrast for areas of less importance.

Drawing Under Different Lighting Conditions

  • Direct Light: When the light source is strong and direct, it creates sharp shadows and bright highlights. Use high contrast to depict this scenario.
  • Diffuse Light: Overcast days or indirect light sources create softer shadows and more even lighting. Use a wider range of midtones and less contrast.
  • Backlighting: The light source is behind the subject, creating a silhouette effect. The subject will be dark against a lighter background, requiring careful attention to edges and shapes.

Practicing with Still Life

Set up a still life arrangement with a strong light source. Practice observing and drawing the light and shadow patterns. Start with simple objects and gradually move to more complex arrangements. Use your value scale to check the range of values in your drawing.

Applying Light and Dark Values to Different Media

Whether you’re using graphite, charcoal, ink, or digital tools, understanding values is key. Each medium has its own way of achieving light and dark values, but the principles remain the same. Experiment with different techniques to find what works best for you.

Mastering the use of light and dark values is a foundational skill that can dramatically improve your drawings. By observing light and shadow, creating a value scale, and practicing shading techniques, you can create stunning contrast that makes your subjects pop off the page.