Hit the Right Values Every Time

Perhaps the toughest skill that the artist painting outside must learn is the ability to judge values accurately, and then mix them in paint. The reason that this skill requires so much practice to get right is because our eyes and brains are constantly adjusting to the light, kind of like a video camera does. The values don't sit still, but change as we look from a light area into a shadow zone and so on. Squinting is one very helpful technique, as that reduces the contrast between values and helps us to see the large value masses more clearly.

We are always searching for useful painting tools, which will help plein air painters to learn faster, so when we saw the gray scale made by The Color Wheel Company, we recognized a great product which just needed a little tweaking to make it perfect for the outdoor artist. The features that make this scale so useful are the little windows in each patch of gray scale which allow the painter to sight through the scale to the subject. If the subject area is lighter or darker in value than the swatch, it is easy to identify.  Once the correct value is found, one need only to mix color to match the selected gray value to be right on the money every time. This scale was extremely helpful in teaching accurate value discrimination to our struggling students during our oil painting workshop in New Mexico. Our simple modifications shown here allow the gray scale to be attached to a painting box so that it can be used hands-free—an important feature when our hands are already occupied painting.

Materials you will need:  Heavy chipboard, scrap matboard, 3/4" self-adhesive velcro, packing tape.

Step 1 – Cut the gray scale apart horizontally.    

Step 2 – Cut a piece of heavy chipboard 1 3/4 x 12". Glue to back of scale leaving 3/4" below for self-adhesive velcro.

Step 3 – Adhere other side of self-adhesive velcro to top edge of pochade box or easel.

Step 4 – To protect gray scale, make a matboard envelope 12 1/2 x 3" with velcro closure.

Step 5 – Attach scale to velcro on top of pochade box or easel.

Step 1. Step 2.
Step 3. Step 4.
Step 5. Our modified gray scale in action!

You can purchase the Color Wheel Company gray scale, unmodified, directly from The Artist's Road Store.

–John and Ann

Related Posts:


Plein Air Painting Blog
John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.