Four qualities of “Value”

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I’m sure many of you are familiar with the name and works of Andrew Loomis (1892-1959). If you’re a former commercial illustrator, as I was, you most likely have some of his books on your bookshelf…Fun With a Pencil, Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth, Drawing the Head and Hands, Successful Drawing, and Creative Illustration…and possibly others I don’t know about. He was a very successful illustrator, having his own studio in Chicago, but he was an even more successful author and teacher. His books are comprehensive and clearly written and sold in the hundreds of thousands. He studied under the tutelage of George Bridgman and Frank DuMond at the Art Students League of New York. His book Creative Illustration is one of my favorites. His chapter on tone  is a powerful confirmation and reminder of it’s importance for us painters.

Artist’s still debate with one another about which is more important…value or color. To me, there is no debate…it’s value. It’s the value that establishes mood, color only enhances it. Color of the wrong value will quickly destroy a painting’s overall unity. (Click images to enlarge)

Andrew Loomis

Creative Illustration by Andrew Loomis

This is such a great example of a color’s value. Just because a color is very bright, and therefore appears light, its actual value can surprise us.


When Andrew Loomis speaks of tone, referencing drawing and painting, he is referring to value. Loomis therefore describes tone as “the degree of value between white and black – the lightness or darkness of a value in relationship to other values.” He describes four essential properties of tone:


Four Essential Properties of Tone


1 – Intensity of light in relation to shadow. “All light and shadow bears relationship. The brighter the light the darker the shadow appears, by contrast. The lower the light the more nearly the shadow approaches the value appearing in the light. In a diffused light, the lights and shadows become diffused also. In a dim hazy light the lights and shadows are very close in value. So we find that the relationship of light to shadow depends entirely upon the intensity of the light.”

Julien Dupre – “A Shepherd and His Flock” – 25.5″ x 32.75″ – Oil


2 – Relationship of value to all adjacent tones. “The ‘patterns’ or areas within a picture bear a relationship to one another. If one area, for example, is two tones darker than another, it has a two-tone-darker relationship. It is this relationship that must be held. We can then place them anywhere in the scale so long as we keep them two tones apart. Thus we can key all the values high or low and still maintain the relationship.”

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot – “Evening Landscape” – Oil


3 – Identification of the nature and quality of light. “By the kind and relationship of values the picture takes on the kind and quality of light. If the values are right the subject appears to be in sunlight, daylight, or night light as the case may be. One part of a picture with wrong values may suggest a strong light – another part, a diffused light. This sets up an inconsistency with nature and makes a hodgepodge of your picture. All lighting must be consistent throughout, which means all values must fall within one of the intensities described and also be consistent, for only with true values can we paint light.”

Vasily Dmitrievich Polenov – “The Commander’s House in Brestovets” – Oil


4 – Incorporation of the influence of reflected light. “Shadows, besides having an intensity relationship to light which puts them so many tones below, are also subject to another influence. Everything upon which the light shines gives off some of that light in reflected light. So shadows cannot be made to fit any rule entirely. If light is shining on a white background, naturally some of that light will reflect into the shadows of objects near by. Nearly all shadows contain some reflected light in any daytime or natural light. Reflected light is really luminosity within the shadow.”

Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida – “Children on the Seashore” – 37.75″ x 50.75″ – Oil (Sorolla was a master of reflected light)



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