Tag Archives: design

Value Sketches

The Reference Photo I will Use to Create the Flag Painting

The Reference Photo I will Use to Create the Flag Painting

After deciding which flag photo reference I would use for my painting, I then transferred the image from the photo onto drawing paper, which then gets transferred one last time to my watercolor paper.  Lots of steps, I know.  However, in the long run, if I ever decide to do this painting again in the future, the drawing is preserved and ready to go.

For my art style, the labor is all on the front end of the process.  When I finally get to pick up a paintbrush and apply paint, it all goes pretty quickly.  After having transferred the drawing from my drawing paper to the watercolor paper, I now set all of this aside, and begin doing value sketches.  Since I focus on macro-paintings, (close up views of any single object)  I typically will only break down my value sketches into three values, dark, medium and light.   Those values inserted into the background, middle ground and foreground will give me 8 combinations from which to chose on how to proceed with the composition.

Another sheet of plain paper is pulled out, and I create 8 blank squares approximating the size and shape of the parameters of my watercolor paper.  Then, I sketch in only the rough shapes of my composition.  I do not put in any details.  It isn’t a sky, a flag pole and a flag I am drawing in, but rather, a rectangular shape, a long line, and a square.  I do that within each square – again, tracing paper comes in mighty handy at this point.

The rest of my time is spent shading in the different combinations of values within the compositional shapes.

Four of the 8 Value Sketches I did, I have narrowed down to two

Four of the 8 Value Sketches I did, I have narrowed down to two

I am drawn to two of the value sketches, the two on the bottom because I think they are compositionally strong, and provide greatest potential for impact.  The first bottom left sketch  has a dark foreground, medium background and light middle ground.  The sketch next to it  has a medium foreground, a dark background and a light middle ground.   After some contemplation, I have decided to go with the bottom left value sketch: dark value foreground, medium value background and light value middle ground, with the center of interest and focal point going into the light middle ground.

That’s the plan for this painting….but, you know what they say, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”  Let’s hope that isn’t the case with this painting plan.

Stay tuned for the next step the actual painting process.



The Elements of Art

Whether an art enthusiast or an artist, having a basic understanding of art composition is important and will make the art experience a better one.   Of course, the casual art observer to the most accomplished artist knows if they like a painting, no additional training or information is needed.  It basically becomes a question of taste.  However, to really appreciate what we see when we view a piece of art, a general base of knowledge is helpful.  The basic building blocks for art are known as the Elements of Design.

When an artist skillfully manipulates these building blocks they create a cohesive piece of art work.

An example of the use of line in Art

The first element of design is the line.  It is either a visible or implied pathway connecting  two points.  The line is used in art to move the viewer (you) through the painting.



Next is the design element shape is a representation of a two dimensional object, and it will look flat.

Example of “Shape” being used in composition

Form is another element of design and it is the representation of the look and feel of a three dimensional object on a two dimensional surface.  All objects have either shape or form, with form being three dimensional and shape looking flat.

This is an example of Form

The next element of design is color and is pretty well recognized by the everyday art observer.  However, what is not so well known about color is how strong of an impact it can have on the viewer. 

The color wheel

Value is the next element and it addresses the lightness or darkness of a color.   Many artist consider value to be more important in the composition of a painting then even color.

Use of Value

Use of Value

Texture refers to the qualities of an objects surface, is it smooth, shiny, rough etc….

Use of Texture

Use of Texture






Use of Space. Foreground, Middle ground and Background

Last but not least comes space and this is the area contained between the edges of a painting. It is the space between objects and is all around us.




Not every painting will have all seven elements of design within them, nor should they.  Strong artists, usually will pick 2 or 3 of these design elements to incorporate into their compositions, and if they are handled well the painting will be a strong work of art.

As you can see, being familiar with the elements of design  will help both the artist to compose a strong painting and the viewer to appreciate what they observe in a painting.  In future blogs, I will explore the elements of design more in depth.  You definitely don’t want to miss out on this free educational series that will make your art experience even better.  To receive the next edition simply fill in your email address and subscribe.