I don’t like to use too many gizmos when painting in watercolor. Part of the whole attraction is its simplicity and portability. But there are a few things that can really help us hone our skills.
1. Value Scale
Yes I can hear everyone groan from here.
‘We *know* about value scales. We don’t need a stupid bit of card with gray squares on.’
True we do know about value scales and they’re not the most exciting thing. And yet it’s a fantastic tool to sharpen up our value perception. You don’t have to use it constantly and, over time, it gets brought out less and less.
(Note: If you’re doing a class with me make sure you have a value scale that goes from 0 = black to 10 = white. Some value scales go the other way and it will be confusing.)
My recommendation is this one from Paul Centore. Only $10 from ebay and has 1/2 steps too. And it’s wipe clean!
Other value scales on the market pale in comparison. They’re either not gray (huh?) or their value steps are not even, or both.
You can also print out a value scale although the accuracy will depend on your printer. For best results print on glossy photo paper. This will give you a much better range of values.
You can download the image below (click on it then right click to save) and print it out. It’ll be close.
And finally you can paint your own! This may take a few goes but it’s a great way to judge value. Start with white (10) at one end and black (1) at the other. Then try to mix a mid value 5 (might take you a few goes). Finally mix the two intermediate values 3 and 7. This won’t give you all the steps but it’s great practice.
This is a shameless plug for my ChromaMagic color tool. Upload any photo reference and you can find the hue, value, and chroma of any color within that image. And much, much, more!
Seriously – if you’re having trouble identifying values or colors this can really open your eyes. It’s amazing what’s out there that we have trouble perceiving.
And the web version is free!
3. Color Isolator
Its easy for our brains to lie to us when we look at a scene. The surrounding colors affect what our brain tells us is really there. A simple piece of mid-value gray card with a hole can really help us identify colors and values. Any piece of card would do but having it a mid value also helps us identify the value as well as the color. Use the image below as a template (click on the image and right click to download)