Without value we see absolutely nothing.At night, if we lose electric power and there is no moonlight, you can see nothing but black. And in a snowstorm in the arctic, you can see nothing at all but white. Only where there is a distinguishable difference between light and dark do we see what's around us. The stronger the difference, the clearer we see it.
So value--the full range of lights and darks--is the most important element of all those in our visual vocabulary. It is the one upon which all others depend. Without it, the others cannot exist.
And value just might be the most often discussed element of all. So rather than explain it, let's take a look at seven ways artists use it.
(1) Value can give a paintings a key--high key, middle key and low key.
(2) Value gradation can communicate three-dimensional volume.
Oil painting by Carol Marine shows 3-D illusion of volume in pitcher and orange.
(3) Value contrast can show the difference between light and shadow...
Carolyn Anderson's oil painting shows the location of the light source by how she contrasts her lights and shadows.
(4) Value can be used to create visual pathsJennifer McChristian's "Brown Barn" uses light from the sky, then upon the background buildings, then on the middle ground at the edge of the barn, then to the lower left corner back through the flecks of light within the barn to help route our attention throughout the painting.
(5) Aerial perspective is about creating distance with value or depth on space.Marc Hanson's painting shows how making background trees lighter makes them appear further back into the distance.
(6) Value can be used to create focal pointsKarin Jurick's "A Date With Art" uses the contrast of the light sculpture against the dark painting and wall to create the painting's focal point.
(7) Value can be used to control edges
Carolyn Anderson's use of background light merging into the light on the baby's shoulder as well as the baby's hand merging into the shadows around it--both create lost edges that unify the painting and make it more intriguing.
Perhaps the best way to understand how value works is to squint and study what happens in shadow areas vs what happens in areas of light.