Painting a Value Study

Ok, now that I have the composition planned, I like to do a small limited value study.

This is a 5×5 inch painting in a single colour, using only 5 major values. It helps to determine the values that will be used in the final painting.

First I mix a very dark grey (almost black) from ultramarine blue and burnt umber. Then I mix this with white to give five equally spaced values:


Then using one of the lightest values, I roughly sketch in the major shapes of the composition. No detail at this stage, just getting the placement right:



Next I take the darkest value and block in the darkest areas of the painting. At this stage I started to block in the nearest tower of the bridge before realising it would be tricky to paint the gradation of the sky behind the bridge, so I just rubbed that paint off with a paper towel so I could paint the sky and then come back to the bridge later. It’s good practice to paint large smooth backgrounds first, before you paint the details that need to sit in front of them!


After blocking in the sky and the water, I went back to the darkest value, and then went through each value in turn, blocking in every area until there was no blank canvas showing. Unfortunately I forgot to photograph any more stages…


Anyway, here’s the final value study:


This gives me a good basis from which I can do a colour study. That’s another small study of this size, where I will plan the colour scheme to be used in the final painting.

Again, I won’t just be copying the exact colours from the source photo, I’ll be adjusting everything to give a more pleasing end result.

You might think it seems like a hassle to do all these studies before a painting, but it makes it so much easier when you have already tested the values and colours, and then you just need to apply those to a larger canvas.

Stay tuned for the colour study, probably tomorrow if I get chance to paint it today!






  1. Sylvia Avatar

    “Lesson 2” — again good content; but please stop with the useless and computer-hanging videos…or else remove me from your emaillist.

    Your head-banging, and Leo, are NOT worth the bandwidth. They do NOT contribute anything to your otherwise very good demoing – except annoyance.


  2. H Norman Avatar
    H Norman

    Hello Dan, I am finding these demonstrations very informative and useful, thank you.
    Do you do “live” demonstrations?
    I belong to a painting group in Mexborough and we sometimes have funding for tutors.

    1. Dan Avatar

      Hi Hazel

      Thanks, glad you’re enjoying them!

      Live demos is not something I’ve ever done, and I’m not sure I’d be confident to do one at this stage, but I’ll certainly keep it in mind for the future! 🙂

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