Hit the Right Values Every Time

30 Oct 2012

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


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