value in art definition and examples infographic-min

What is Value Element in Art? Definition, Examples and Significance

Let’s learn about one of the seven art elements – value. This article will dive into value definition and its significance, examples of value in art history, and the relationship between value and color.

Read on for a deep dive into value, one of the most essential elements of art.

What is Value in Art?

Value in art refers to the lightness or darkness of colors or tones used in an artwork. It’s the range of values between pure white and pure black, as seen on the value scale.

Artists use this range to create contrast, depth, and form in their compositions.

Value is widely recognized as a crucial factor that can determine the success of a painting, and often is considered even more important than color, but the two art elements are inherently connected.

Because of its relationship with color, however, value can initially be a confusing concept to grasp. Next, we’ll learn about the relationship between value and color, and how they are distinct.

The 7 Elements of Art

Value is one of the elements of art, not the principles of art. You can learn about each principle of art and element of art in the linked articles below:

  1. Line
  2. Color
  3. Form
  4. Shape
  5. Value (we are learning about value now!)
  6. Texture
  7. Space

The 7 Principles of Art

  1. Balance
  2. Contrast and Emphasis
  3. Movement and Rhythm
  4. Unity and Variety
  5. Harmony
  6. Pattern 
  7. Proportions and Scale

The Relationship Between Value and Color

Color and value are similar yet distinctive concepts in art.

The art element of color refers to the visual perception of different wavelengths of light, which results in our eyes being able to see the spectrum of hues such as red, blue, or green. In comparison, value as an art element pertains to a color’s range of lightness or darkness.

Looking at the color wheel in grayscale is an effective way to view the values of color:

color wheel and grayscale wheel visual example to explain value

Color can be confused with value because the intensity of a color can affect how light or dark it appears. For instance, a low-intensity color may appear lighter, while a high-intensity color may seem darker because of its brightness.

Value is independent of color, however, because it can be used to create contrast and depth in an artwork regardless of the specific hues used.

Other distinguishing qualities of value are tint, tone, and shade. While hue is pure color, tint, tone, and shade of a hue are created with color values.

  • Tint is the hue mixed with white.
  • Tone is the hue mixed with gray.
  • Shade is the hue mixed with black.

An artist can use two colors that look completely different but have the same value.

On the other hand, an artist could also use one color, like blue, that has multiple different values.

Understanding the difference between color and value in art is important for artists to effectively use these elements in their artwork, since they each play unique roles in creating visual interest and the impact that a work has.

One of the best books on the subject of color for artists, in my opinion, is “Color and Light” by James Gurney. You should look into it for some incredible art and straightforward color and value theories and tips.


Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter (Volume 2) (James Gurney Art)

Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter (Volume 2) (James Gurney Art)

A highly acclaimed art instruction book that explores the essential concepts of color and light in painting. The book explains how to make objects look realistic by using the right colors and lighting effects. It includes beautiful paintings by the author and is a helpful resource for artists who want to improve their skills in using colors and values.

From my experience, value is often more important for the final artwork than hue. Still, they work together in harmony to create exceptional work.

One handy tool you could use when getting started is a color wheel you can carry with you anywhere. A good one will have some explanations as well as values on it.


Mini Artist COLOR WHEEL Packaged

Mini Artist COLOR WHEEL Packaged

This double-sided color wheel demonstrates relationships between colors, allowing you to visualize the results of color mixing and understand primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. It helps identify complementary, split complementary, and triadic colors, and displays grayscale values.

You can see 20 other best Color Theory Books and Companion Tools for Artists here.

The Value Scale

Denman Ross created a value scale back in 1907 that is still utilized by artists today (as mentioned in this article).

The value scale is a visual representation of the range of values from pure white to pure black, with endless shades of gray in between.

This scale, which often features a range of one to nine or one to 10 values, is used by artists as a tool to understand and manipulate the art element of value in their work, and to see how the highlights and shadows relate to one another.

As shown in the example below, the value scale can be easily created by using a series of evenly spaced steps that display the gradual progression from the lightest value (white) to the darkest value (black).

The value scale is used to enhance the contrast, depth, and form in an artwork’s composition.

This visual range of light to dark hues provides the building blocks needed for an artist to add value contrast of light and shadow, give off the illusion of three-dimensional effects, and create emphasis in their work.

When referring to the value scale, the lightest tints, or whites, on the grayscale are known as “high-key” color ranges.

The darkest tones, or blacks, are known as “low-key” values, and are found on the darker end of the scale. Lastly, the intermediate grays are called “mid-range” values.

The value scale is an important tool for artists to understand and master, as it plays a crucial role in creating visual impact and adding dimensionality to their artwork.

It serves as a foundation for effectively using value as an element of art, and allows artists to control the perception of light and shadow in their compositions.

Accurate Values

As the name suggests, accurate values use the value scale and accurately record the lightness or darkness of a color in comparison to all other values and colors within the artwork.

These accurate values are typically determined by observing the way light falls on objects in the real world. It requires an understanding of the principles of light and shadow.

This is necessary when it comes to creating the illusion of three-dimensionality and realism.

➡️ Check out the Shading Course on Proko to learn more about how to draw realistic light and shadow, control tonal value and show realistic form.

Why is Value Important in Art?

Value is an important element in visual arts for multiple reasons, including both technical and expressive. It enables artists to produce visually compelling and emotionally stirring artworks.

Let’s take a look at a few of the many ways that value is used in art, which makes it an essential element for creatives to use.

How is Value Used in Art?

Contrast and Depth – Value adds contrast to a work of art, which helps to create definition in the forms, shapes, and objects within a piece.

Composition and Emphasis – Values are used to help guide the viewer’s eye to a focal point within the composition or create visual emphasis. Artists can use areas of light and dark values to direct attention or create a more dynamic composition.

Mood and Atmosphere – Value can influence the mood and atmosphere of a piece of art. Playing with value helps to evoke certain emotions or set the tone of their artwork.

Depending on the viewer’s interpretation, darker values can produce mysteriousness, drama, or somberness in an artwork.

In comparison, lighter values can make an artwork feel brighter, fresh, or peaceful.

Realism –  Value is an imperative tool used to create the illusion of three-dimensional form in two-dimensional art. Realism is achieved by using different values to represent highlights, shadows, and mid-tones in a painting or drawing.

Creative Concepts and Expression – Visual artists can use value to depict creative ideas, concepts, and emotions. Manipulating values to provoke a certain mood or express a specific message can convey symbolism, abstraction, or conceptual ideas in art.

➡️ Learn from Steve Huston at NMA about value, color wheel, complementary colors, temperature and intensity.

Techniques To Create Value In Art

Traditional art often uses techniques like shading, hatching, and cross-hatching to achieve a range of tones from pure white to pure black and everything in between.

Chiaroscuro Technique

Another technique, known as chiaroscuro, was often used during the Baroque period to create dramatic and visually striking effects through the manipulation of light and dark tonal values.

Juxtaposing bright whites against dark darks generates a powerful visual impact. One of the most renowned masters who utilized this technique was Caravaggio, famous for his candlelit scenes and breathtaking compositions.

Chiaroscuro Technique example: Caravaggio, The Denial of St. Peter
The Denial of St. Peter. by Caravaggio. via WikiCommons.

Caravaggio’s oil painting, such as “The Denial of St. Peter” shown above, is celebrated for the strong contrast between light and dark values.

The light source shining on the woman’s face creates a vivid focal point, while the darkest values evoke a sense of drama.

Chiaroscuro Technique example: Saint Jerome Writing-Caravaggio
Saint Jerome Writing-Caravaggio (1605-6). via WikiCommons.

The chiaroscuro technique is evident in Caravaggio’s famous oil painting “Saint Jerome Writing” as well, with its high contrast between the dark black background and the lighter values in the foreground.

Examples of Value in Art

Let’s examine a few depictions of how value is used in art by taking a look at the way famous painters have used the value element.

Claude Monet

“High-key” values in art (a limited range of high, or light, values) are often found in Claude Monet’s artwork, who was a renowned French Impressionist painter.

These values are associated with bright or well-lit areas in the composition and are used to create a sense of brightness, lightness, and openness.

In Monet’s “Waterloo Bridge, London, at Sunset” painting below, the light tones feature different colors but similar values, which gives the painting the impression of airiness.

Monet artwork as an example of using values in art: Waterloo Bridge, London, at Sunset (1901) by Claude Monet
Waterloo Bridge, London, at Sunset (1901) by Claude Monet.

When viewing the same painting in greyscale, the similarity in values becomes more apparent.

Although the values are considered “high-key” here, there is low contrast in “Waterloo Bridge, London, at Sunset” because the values within each color are only slightly different from each other.

Example of value in art: Waterloo Bridge, London, at Sunset (1901) by Claude Monet (digitally modified to showcase values)
Waterloo Bridge, London, at Sunset (1901) by Claude Monet. (digitally modified to showcase values in art)

During his extensive artistic career, Monet also created many paintings that had high contrast. An example is in the painting above, “Flowered Riverbank, Argenteuil.”

Here, Monet uses a diverse range of values, incorporating vibrant yellows and oranges that contrast against the dark foreground.

The result is a captivating glowing effect, with a striking contrast between the values that enhances the depth and visual appeal of the artwork.

Monet’s strategic use of values and a limited color palette creates luminosity and atmosphere, showcasing his talented skill in manipulating light and color.

example of value in art: Claude Monet, Flowered Riverbank, Argenteuil, 1877
Claude Monet, Flowered Riverbank, Argenteuil, 1877

Again, the greyscale version of the painting allows us to see the range of values used more easily.

Example of values: Claude Monet, Flowered Riverbank, Argenteuil, 1877 (digitally modified to showcase values)
Claude Monet, Flowered Riverbank, Argenteuil, 1877 (digitally modified to showcase values)

John Singer Sargent

One of the great artists of the 19th century, John Singer Sargent, displays “low-key” value in art within his famous painting “A Dinner Table at Night.”

Sargent’s deliberate use of a low-value range creates the warmth and ambiance of the deep red room below. The illumination of the three lamps under the reddish light evokes an intimate, inviting mood.

example of value in art: A Dinner Table at Night by John Singer Sargent. 1884.
A Dinner Table at Night by John Singer Sargent. 1884.

In the greyscale version of Sargent’s painting, we can see how the differing range of values and tone produces a strong contrast. The lamp on the left side is one of the main focal points, as the light source draws the viewer’s eye in.

example of value in art: A Dinner Table at Night by John Singer Sargent. 1884. (digitally modified to showcase values)
A Dinner Table at Night by John Singer Sargent. 1884. (digitally modified to showcase values)

Albrecht Dürer

Value is an essential element not only in paintings but in all forms of art. Albrecht Dürer masterfully exhibits his expertise in value contrast within his renowned 16th-century engraving “Saint Jerome in His Study.”

Below, we see Dürer’s skill in creating tonal (light and dark) contrasts, which brings the piece to life, adding three-dimensionality and the effect of realism.

example of value in engraving art Saint Jerome in His Study (1514) by Albrecht Dürer.
Saint Jerome in His Study (1514) by Albrecht Dürer.

Value Principle – Key Takeaways

Value is one of the key elements that artists use in their work. It focuses on the lightness or darkness of the colors or tones within an artwork.

Artists use value to make their work stand out by creating contrast, depth, and atmosphere.

The value scale is a crucial tool in art that helps artists enhance the contrast, depth, and form within their compositions.

Value and color are related but distinct art elements. Color is about how we perceive different wavelengths of light, which produces the hues we see. Value, on the other hand, is about the varying lightness or darkness of a color.

Value is important in art for many reasons. Artists use it to achieve different technical and expressive effects, which can make their art visually stunning and provoke emotions.

There are many ways to create value in art. Different methods include shading, hatching, cross-hatching, or the chiaroscuro technique.