Value Drawing : The Bridge between Line Drawing and Painting – How to do it

Value drawing is a great way to learn how to read values (how light or dark a tone is).

Line drawing gets you started in visual art. Value drawing, also called “mass drawing,” takes you further. It bridges the gap between drawing and painting.

General's Charcoal Pencil Drawing Kit No. 15

In a line drawing, the edges indicate the contours. Mass drawing defines the volume of the form and play of light on it. When done right, it teaches the sequence that will later be used for applying oil paints.

So if you are serious about learning to paint well, learning to read values is a must-have skill.



Suggested exercises for value drawing

Value painting is done best with pencil or charcoal. Soft or medium hardness charcoals work well for this. You will have to try different brands as I found early on that not all charcoals are equal. So, be choosy about your tools!

A line drawing is usually done on white paper with dark pencil or charcoal. A value drawing,on the other hand, often begins as a line drawing on toned paper with charcoal and white charcoal.

Some artists prefer to use white paper, which they then cover with powdered charcoal.

You can then add lines and use a kneaded eraser to wipe out areas for light spots and highlights. Either way works.


This drawing is done on the white paper, covered with charcoal. The highlights show once the charcoal is removed with a kneaded eraser.

3 pears on white paper

One exercise I find particularly challenging is to dispense with the line drawing completely and create the mass drawing directly.

Instead of drawing contour lines, in this exercise you use a large soft charcoal exclusively. Use the sides to lay down blocks of values. Don't use the tips of the! This way you are not tempted to draw any fine lines.

If you don't have suitable charcoal, then use a soft-leaded pencil to hatch or cross hatch until the desired area is saturated and then smooth it out with a soft brush




Below is an example of a value drawing on toned paper created with a broad piece of charcoal. For this drawing, I refrained from drawing lines where changes of tones occur. I just blocked in the rough contour of the form, and then I started right into creating the values.

3 pears on toned paper

A good habit to develop is, when creating a tonal drawing, start from the dark values first.

Then move onto the middle tones, then the light tones, and finally the highlights.

Adopting such a methodical approach prepares you for painting in oils. This, however, is not a fixed rule.

Once you become proficient with 'going from the darkest to the lightest', you vary things however you like.

For example, I now usually start with two or three broad values in my drawings. These divide the composition into light and shadowy regions.

Next, I proceed to divide the two values into more values. On toned paper, the tone of the paper itself serves as a middle third tone between my light and dark tones.

Speaking of breaking the rules...sometimes I even start with two values first and then add the brightest light tone (when I get really excited about those juicy sparkling highlights!)

This way I know how my values should oscillate between the darkest dark and the brightest light.




When I first studied drawing, I worked at this type of value drawing for a long while before I was 'allowed' to paint.

If you have not done value drawings on toned paper before, you may find yourself hooked on it. It's so nice that you do not have to fight the white all the time. Also, it seems to make it easier to get the tonal relationships right

Working from the darkest tones to the lightest forces me to slow down and take the time to compare tones carefully. I use a similar process when painting with oils, pastels, and oil pastels. It has become automatic.

In oil painting, you will sometimes hear the term 'grisaille', meaning a painting done entirely in shades of gray. It's the oil equivalent of the tonal drawing. A strong tonal drawing almost always leads to a strong painting even though colors are not “right.”

So never underestimate the lessons you will learn from value drawing.

Some of the painters I know had to do this kind of study for a long time before they were allowed to touch colors. You might think, “What a grueling process! I just want to paint!” But there simply is no short cut if you want your paintings to really capture your subject.






It pays to have everything at your finger tip when the drawing bug strikes............

Cretacolor Charcoal Drawing Set




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