• malcolm jarvis

4 no-nonsense ways make value work for you.

Updated: Jan 8

1. Start with a strong value sketch.

My students have heard me say this time after time - believe it or not, value is more important than colour to the design and success of a painting. Creating a strong value pattern creates a robust underlying structure for a painting. The key is to keep to a narrow value scale - limiting the composition to just 3 or 4 value groups helps to create a cohesive and harmonious work.

2. Make your composition predominantly dark or predominately light.

Good design is based on the ratio of tone values. Just about the worst thing you can do is to have just two value groups split 50/50 in your composition. All three value groups – dark, mid and light - must be present and one of those values MUST dominate taking up about 60% of the painting's surface. Of the remaining two value groups, one should clearly dominate over the other, leaving the third value to act as a small accent creating contrast that draws the eye to the centre of interest. In other words, the dominant value must be greater than the other two values combined. I have a personal mantra: ‘60.25.15’. (60% of the painting’s surface for the dominant value group, 25% for the next value group and 15% the final value group).

3. Use three distinct values of each main colour.

Try to avoid lightening with white and darkening with black. Instead lighten your colours with an equally intense lighter hue and darken with an equally intense darker hue.

4. Use maximum contrast in value to create a definite, strong centre of interest.

The human eye is drawn to striking differences. As artists we can take advantage of that to draw the viewer in to the area that we want to be the centre of interest by placing the most contrast in value there. It’s also not a bad idea to place smaller, less dominant areas of high contrast in a couple of other places in the composition to help draw the viewer’s eye around.

Whether you are an abstract painter or a representational painter, these 4 no-nonsense ways of putting value to work will stand you in good stead.

Don't forget the rule of dominant value!





I'm Malcolm, a painter, tutor, lecturer and workshop instructor living in South Norfolk.

My years of painting experience have taught me to loosen-up, let go of fear and paint spontaneously.

My philosophy is ‘less is more’.

  • Fewer brushes for livelier, quicker painting.

  • Fewer paints for easy, straightforward colour mixing.

  • Fewer techniques for optimal results.​

But that doesn’t mean I ignore the basic fundamentals and principles upon which I believe all good painting should be based: shape, value, colour, edges and centre of interest.

​These foundations underpin all my work. If you want to paint portraits, abstracts, still life or landscapes, the same foundations apply; they will give you a solid basis for anything you choose to paint, regardless of subject or medium.

It is my intention to talk about these fundamentals in a straight-forward, no-nonsense, jargon-free way in this blog and to encourage you incorporate them into your work.

Thank you for visiting!

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