Establishing The Values and Keying Your Drawing

Feb 28, 2018 | Art Talk, Tutorial

You have just finished your line drawing, added your shadows shapes and it is time to move on, so what’s next? It’s time to Establish Your Values and Key Your Drawing.

How To Start The Value Stage

The Value Stage is about establishing the value range in your picture.

This is called “Keying”. Keying is determining the lightest light of your picture and your darkest dark.

The Value Scale separates light from dark, you can imagine it as steps in a gradient from white to dark. In the Studio we use the Wide Range, aiming to use all 9 values of the Value Scale to achieve the widest range possible.

The 9 Step Value Scale

Many Value Key Schemes

When keying our drawing we have a few options.

Wide Key

In this value scheme, we have the lights as light as they can go and the darks as dark as they can go. This is primarily the value system we use in class. You can see it in action in these two pictures by Bouguereau and Turner. The Darkest Darks and Lightest Light have been highlighted and placed side by side. The darks are nearly black and the lightest lights nearly white.

Medium Key

In these two pieces, by Whistler and Turner, the values are towards the mid range. The values hover in the middle of the scale with their lights are not very light, and their darks are not very dark.

High Key

In these pieces by Tuner and Alma Tadema, we observe a high value scheme. Their lights are very light, and their darks are light. The values hover on the light side of the value scale.

How To Key Your Figure Drawing

  • Fill in the shadows with a medium tone, roughly a step 5 value. This helps separate the lights from the shadows.
  • Add your darkest dark, a small amount, in one or two places.
  • Find your average shadow value, this always relates to your set up. Look at the model! 
  • Shade in all of your shadows. Go slow, be patient, and get a nice, flat, even tone. No variation in the darks whatsoever.

Practice Makes Perfect

  • Make your own Value Scale! We highly recommend copying the value scale as a way to practice as a step towards being able to see and control your values. This will help you gain better mastery of your chosen medium!
  • Can you key your favorite paintings? Can you find one example of each key? Do some artist gravitate towards specific keys? Observing artworks under this lens will sharpen your eye!
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