Understanding Colour Values

Colour values are explained with the help of a colour wheel.

In order to maximise the effectiveness of colours in your artwork, it is important to have at least minimum knowledge of correct colour application. Of course, while you can always look up for a colour palette generator online, nothing beats first-hand knowledge and understanding of colour values.

A bad colour palette can completely destroy your masterpiece, regardless of the subject matter. No self-respecting artist would carelessly splash precious paints on the canvas just for the sake of vibrancy.

There are a lot of terminology and concepts related to colour theory, such as Hue, Chroma, Saturation etc, but the focus here will be specifically on understanding colour values. The term “colour value” refers to the degree of lightness or darkness that a colour possess. Lighter colours is said to have a high value, while darker colours will have a lower value. Thus, white is the highest possible value of a colour, and vice versa for black.

A good painting should manipulate the colour palette to include lower and higher colour values together. On the other hand, this will vary depending on the mood you want to convey, the subject matter, composition, so on and so forth. Combining colours with similar values, for example, can make a painting very lively if you choose the right combination.

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For artists who are just starting to play with paints, it is a good idea to balance your colour values during the earlier stages of you exploration. You can always break the rules later on in your future artistic experimentations. 

Before playing with the values, you need to first decide on your colour palettes. Some artists may prefer to simply pick and use any colour they fancy as their painting progress, but in general, preparation is your best friend. For this purpose, you might want to have a colour wheel or chart nearby, to make the process of picking a colour scheme easier.

Once you have decided on specific colours for the picture, adjust the value by mixing it with other colours to get a higher or lower value as you wish. For example, if you have a vibrant red paint and you want to lower its value without changing the colour completely, you can mix the paint with a little of other colours that have low value.

Adding just white or black is the easiest way to play with values, but you might find this to be boring and unchallenging after awhile. So do your creative side a favour and start mixing other colours as well.

For a basic palette of navy blue and dark brown, for example, you can lighten it up by adding yellow or orange. You can also mix in white at the same time to lighten your palette without changing the initial colour too much.

When you get a nice mix of colour, don’t simply believe you eyes. Test it out by dabbing a small patch on a paper, not your main canvas, and hold up your colour wheel against it. See if your target colour really matches the colour than you intended to get. All this knowledge is useless unless you actually try it out, so stop reading now, take out your art materials, and have fun!

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