Michele Clamp Art

Value Studies

otherMichele ClampComment

I’ve been watching the fabulous Paul Foxton on youtube who has some mesmerizing videos on the Munsell color system and judging and painting color and value. Having watched him measure value using the Munsell color chips and paint perfect spheres and blocks in oils I thought ‘that doesn’t look too hard’. There’s always room for sharpening up your value judgement skills so I thought I’d have a go in watercolor.

I found this value scale and printed out a few. These are for measuring values from 1 (black) to 10 (white) so you know which area is which value.

I then squandered $7 at Amazon to buy some 2 inch wooden blocks and painted them in acrylic. One white (10) , one black (1) and two mid values (3 and 5). I didn’t have a light box handy so I cobbled together a floor and backdrop from some old watercolor block backing board.

The task was to paint a white block (and its background) by

a) first identifying the value using the value scale.

b) Mixing up the right value in watercolor

c) Painting the relevant plane with said value.

Boy was this hard. At least with oil you can directly compare whether you’ve mixed the right color. With watercolor you have to mix it, look at the consistency and flow, paint a little square on the paper, wait for it to dry, and then check whether you have the right color. I’ve ended up with a lot of notes on how the paint looks and flows on the palette and how that translates into value. It’s turned into a bit of a game. Say I want a mid value - 6. I mix up what I think is a 6, paint a little square and put my guess next to it in pencil. When it’s dried I measure it using the value scale and see how close I get. It’s hard.

These are my notes from my latest attempt :

I don’t have the full range yet but this is what I have so far :

10 - No paint - just the white of the paper. This one’s easy.

9 - Water consistency, transparent on the palette, brush doesn’t leave tracks.

8 - Water consistency, translucent on the palette, brush doesn’t leave tracks.

7 - Milk consistency, opaque on the palette, brush doesn’t leave tracks

6 . - Light cream consistency and flows on the palette. brush leaves tracks through the paint.

5 - Light cream consistency and flows slowly on the palette. Brush leaves tracks and the paint is opaque in pools.

4 - Nothing yet

3 . - Heavy cream consistency. Leaves tracks when the palette is flat. Flows v slowly across the palette.

2 and 1 - Haven’t done these yet.


I’ve shamelessly borrowed the water/milk/cream descriptions from Joseph Zbukvic and they do work well.

Of course these descriptions only apply to this color and probably vary between paint brands so there’s a long way to go.

It’s actually quite fun and each little block only takes 10 minutes of so. Even over a single day I’ve improved my mixing skills.