Why value studies are such an important part of my process.

Value, put simply, is how light or how dark something is. It’s one of the most important elements of art, in my opinion.

It took me quite some time to really understand why a value study is so important. Getting the values right gives you a convincing painting. Value is much more important than colour to create something convincing.

My value sketches are done with a 4B pencil in a sketchbook.

Mariana's house, Stanford

Sometimes, once I’ve finished the value sketch, I might decide that I’m not convinced by the composition or that a different approach of the subject might make a better painting.

Value studies help me decide whether or not a painting will be visually appealing.

It’s also a practice run, and a chance to map out the big shapes for a quicker start to painting.

My step-by-step value study process.

  1. Crop my photographic reference to the composition that I like.
  2. Use this as reference to plot the parameters of the sketch.
  3. Sketch out the big shapes from life, referring back to the reference photo to check that I’m within my parameters.
  4. From life, start adding medium and smaller shapes within the big shapes.
  5. Using three values: (light, mid, dark) I fill in the shapes.
  6. I do this in graphite, a 4B or 6B pencil preferably.

A few value study examples

View from Zesty Lemon Restaurant
View from Zesty Lemon Restaurant
Tracy Algar - sketchbook value study
Kleinrivier late afternoon
Tracy Algar - sketchbook value study
Kleinrivier morning reflections
Tracy Algar - sketchbook value study
Kleinrivier evening reflections.
Tracy Algar - sketchbook value study
Kleinrivier evening light.
Tracy Algar - sketchbook value study
Kleinrivier tree reflections

Click here to see more value studies in my sketchbook.