Practice: Value Gradient
Practice: Value Gradient
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The Shading Course – Fundamentals of Realism, Light & Shadow

Module 3 - How to Control Values

Practice: Value Gradient

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Overview

If you want realism in your work, you need to master seeing values and controlling your medium. That’s what the Value Gradient and Value Scale assignments are all about.

I recommend doing the Value Gradient first and the more difficult Value Scale second. The specific skills you will develop are edge control and the ability to create smooth tones. This is extremely valuable in realistic drawing and will allow you to resolve many drawing problems or avoid them altogether.

You can do one Value Gradient for each medium you work in. It’s ideal to do it when you first encounter a new medium, but it’s helpful at any skill level. Many experienced artists still practice Value Gradients to maintain their craftsmanship. If it’s good enough for them, it’s surely good enough for us!

Materials

  • A soft pencil for dark tones. I like a 2B. If you want to go darker, you can use a 3B or 4B. But be mindful that softer pencils produce more sheen. To avoid this, you might try a Staedtler Mars Lumograph pencil or a Faber Castell Pitt Graphite Matt.
  • A hard pencil for light tones. I like a 2H. If you only have an HB or H, they will work, as well.
  • A kneadable eraser and/or a mechanical eraser. 
  • A ruler. You can also use the edge of a book.
  • A piece of paper. You need a proper drawing paper, around 160 gsm (98 lb). Canson Mi-Teintes, Fabriano Roma, or Arches works well.

Duration

This project should take between 30 minutes and 3 hours to complete. The time depends a lot on your experience level with your medium. Do not rush through the value gradient and value scale assignments. If you are pressed for time, focus on the value gradient first. 

Things to keep in mind

  • If you work carefully and with clean hands, you will finish much quicker than trying to rush.
  • Keep “cleaning up” your gradient as you work, so it is free of texture/noise, and you can see the values clearly.
  • This will take time. Expect to invest at least 1 hour.

Steps

1) Draw a box

Use light lines to indicate the shape of your gradient.


2) Start with the dark extreme

Place your “darkest dark” on the left side of your gradient. The far right represents your “lightest light”, the paper value.


3) Establish a rough gradient

Grow out from black towards the middle value and establish a gradient. Keep your tone fairly clean/even. Is the gradation well-balanced overall?


4) Refine

Clean up the tones to make a smooth transition from left to right.


5) Finish

Finish the scale by sharpening the contour and evening out any irregularities. This can take a while! Be patient and really go for perfection.


Common Mistakes

1) Noise

❌ Do not rush and create a messy tone because it will limit how clearly you see the values.
Do create smooth tones. Here’s an article on how to do this.

2) Out of Balance

❌ Do not make the gradient too dark or too light overall.
Do keep it balanced.

3) Dark Outline

❌ Do not draw a dark or thick outline around the gradient. It’s distracting.
Do draw a subtle outline around the contour. This helps separate the light tones from the paper.



Successful Examples

How to Create Smooth Tones

Make sure to also read this article: www.dorian-iten.com/smooth-tones

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Former program director at Barcelona Academy of Art. Passionate about teaching solid craft and exploring the inner game of art.
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