VALUE vs. COLOUR…… Which is more important?

 by Georgia Mansur

tonal values, mixing colour, color vs.. valuesWork in Progress~ Toned Canvas, blocking in the major shapes and darks.

‘Like in LIFE, if you get your values right, the rest is easy!’

First of all lets talk about VALUE ~ some artists refer to this as TONE and it can also be referred to as TONAL VALUE…. now that we have the terminology out of the way~ what does that actually mean?

I understand value/tone as the relative lightness to darkness in your painting, ranging from white to black (and everything in between). Generally this can be simplified or assigned a number to indicate its lightness to darkness on a scale of 0-10 (0 = White, 10 = Black).Value is the foundation or framework that underpins your painting and creates form and space.

note** The dark might seem too dark in value under the bridge but it ensures I have range to work with adjusting the other values since my lightest value is in the sky (but is not white).

values vs colour in paintings

WIP~ Seeing Values Correctly

Value and Colour are both important but VALUE is KING!!! They must work together for the painting to work. Value is what helps us to reduce complex subjects into understandable shapes and patterns. By joining the shapes together to make larger unified areas or massing our shapes into several larger shapes we can make our work stronger and give it the structure it needs to make the other parts look good.

‘One of the fundamental truths the artist must learn is that larger simpler shapes and masses convey the essence of a subject better than its details. Simplification and massing bring visual order out of chaos and create clarity from ambiguity. Don’t paint the leaves, paint the large shapes of light and dark that the leaves create.’ ~ Mitch Albala

Details and colour can add interest or draw the eye to a particular place but it must remain subordinate to the overall value  relationships and masses. In painting, EVERYTHING IS RELATIVE. Whether you are talking about Values or Colour, you can only judge a value or colour next to something else. Comparing shapes in context to what is is near is the way to determine its true value. Keep asking yourself, ‘is it lighter or darker?’ when you are looking at say, the trees compared to the hills or the sky.

Often students say they are having trouble with mixing their colours but when you look at it carefully, it is really a problem with incorrect values. If you can begin to see value changes, your work will improve out of sight.  Even if you can simplify your major shapes down to 3 or 4 tonal values you will see a big change in your progress.

There are a few great tools out there to help you see correct values in the field. I personally like the Value Viewer designed by my dear friend Lori Putnam’s very clever husband, Mark. It is an App for your phone or iPad  that works somewhat like an old black and white polaroid camera did in the old days~ giving  you immediate feedback by showing your subject in colour, black and white, and grey scale to distinguish its values. Another one I really like is Peggi Kroll Roberts MVP Value Viewer ~ this tool has several goodies on a lanyard that you can use to determine your composition but the best thing in my opinion is the red acetate screen, which knocks out all colour so you can see your subject without being confused by local colour. It just makes seeing the values easier without the added dimension of colour. In the studio you can use a black and white photocopy to see similar effects or you can even set your digital camera to black and white setting~ all are great in helping you simplify the process of seeing the values correctly.

Well, all these tools are great but…….the tried and true, low-tech way to see tonal value is by SQUINTING your eyes! Sure, you may get some wrinkles and crows feet but it will be worth it to see accurate values that will improve your paintings. Squinting eliminates detail and helps you see what is important. Like I said in the beginning, ‘Like in LIFE, if you get your values right, the rest is EASY!’

 mixing correct values, colour mixing‘ The Crossing’ by Georgia Mansur, Acrylic on Linen, Available. Email for more info,

*** HOT TIP*** I have  designed a method to help my students see value when they are mixing colour. It is pretty simple really, all you need is a sheet of glass or plexiglass/perspex and about 4 or 5 paint chips from the paint or hardware store. I install the paint chips under the glass on a neutral grey background and have the students to mix their colours on top of the disc of the value they wish to create. This helps them to see that if they can mix the colour and have it be the same value as the disc they can mix the right value in the right colour every time! Here is a picture of what I am talking about in a format that can be used for oils or acrylics:

how to mix correct values and colours

Mix your colours in the correct value every time with my simple method.  Mix your colours in the correct value every time with my simple method.

If you enjoyed this article I hope you will subscribe to my blog,, make comments, share it, and enjoy your painting process! Join me at one of my upcoming workshops around the world ~ I have a lot more to share with you in person! Email me for more information: and feel free to check out my website:

Artist in Residence, Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort, Blue Mountains Australia 2012/14

Mudgee NSW Australia Painting Lessons,  5 weeks beginning 11 Feb 2014

Carmel Plein Air, Carmel Calif 3/4/5 April 2014

Le vieux Couvent Workshop, Frayssinet France 4-14 Aug 2014

Italian Plein Air Workshop, The Watermill, Tuscany Italy 16-23 Aug 2014

Creativity Mixed Media Workshop, Oxford UK 28 Sept to 5 Oct 2014

Plein Air Croatia, Island of Korcula, 2-11 Sept, 2014

Plein Air Workshop, Arles, France 15-22 Sept 2014

*New workshop locations in Western Australia for 2014:

– Perth 9-11 June

-Broome 21-26 June

– Port Hedland 28/29 June

Artist in Residence, Cable Beach Resort, Broome WA, Australia July 2014




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