In the world of painting, mastering the interplay of lights and darks, also known as values, is essential for creating dynamic paintings.

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The Art of Contrast

Understanding lights and darks

In the world of painting, mastering the interplay of lights and darks, also known as values, is essential for creating depth, interest and dimension in your paintings. Understanding the importance of lights and darks goes beyond mere technical skill; it’s about capturing the essence and above all the mood of your subject matter.


The building blocks

Lights and Darks are the building blocks of form and structure in a painting. I believe that clear values are 80% of the success rate of a painting. If you strategically place highlights and darks you can sculpt shapes and convey volume on a 2-dimensional surface. Whether you are painting a dramatic landscape, a portrait, or a sill life, manipulating values effectively will elevate your painting from flat and boring to dynamic and captivating. I actually feel it is sculpting a painting when I make a value sketch. It takes time to make a good value underpainting, but once it’s done, you can stop the painting at any time. 

Moreover, lights and darks play a crucial role in establishing the mood and atmosphere of a. painting.

Creating Interest

Set an intention before you start your painting. Do you want a moody dark painting or a vibrant colorful light painting. Go for the 2/3 and 1/3 rule to create interest. Never 50/50. That’s boring.

Bright highlights and deep shadows can evoke a sense of drama and intensity. Make your darks way darker than you see them. Softer transitions between values can create a more serene and tranquil ambiance. The contrast between light and dark can lead the viewer’s eye through the composition and enhance the overall interest.

Understanding values also allows you to create a sense of balance and harmony in your paintings. By carefully controlling the distribution of lights and darks, you can create a visual rhythm that adds interest and cohesion to the piece.

So, mastering the use of lights and darks is essential for creating compelling and dynamic paintings. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced artist, honing your skills in values will undoubtedly elevate your art work to new heights. 

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Author: Elisabeth Vismans

A creative bee and passionate Art Instructor inspiring creative experiences. 

Cert. Professional Coach, Cert. NLP Practitioner, Award-Winning Artist, Creative Program Developer.