The World of Watercolor: Color Value In Art

Posted by on May 9, 2014 in Painting | Comments


Today, let’s talk about value. When we speak of color value in art we refer to the levels of darkness and lightness of any particular color. Watercolors are very versatile when it comes to value. Depending on the amount of water you use to pick up a color, you can achieve a very saturated brushstroke, a very sheer brushstroke or anything in between.

When you are starting out with watercolors, one of the more frustrating issues you may encounter is difficulties knowing how much water to use with your paints. I am going to show you a simple exercise that will help you gain control over the amount of water you use to mix a color that, in turn, will help you get the exact value you want when painting.

Check out our other posts in our watercolor series: “The Wold of Watercolor: Color Transparency” and “The World of Watercolor: Basic Watercolor Palette Colors“.

Cotman Watercolors

Here’s how to master color value in your watercolor paintings!

What you will need:

Step 1

Watercolor permanent rose

For this demo, I am using Phthalo Blue and Permanent Rose, both in tube form, so I begin by putting some paint onto my palette. If you are using a color in pan form, you want to do the same by picking up a generous amount of watercolor and placing it on your palette. We will be gradually watering down this color until it’s practically clear in order to create a gradient of all its possible values. First, lets make the value gradient for Phthalo Blue.

Step 2

Watercolor Palette Phthalo Blue

Using your brush, pick up your color of choice (in this case Phthalo Blue) in its most saturated form and paint the first swatch of your value scale on the sheet of watercolor paper.

Step 3

watercolor value water

After you paint the first swatch of the gradient, add a small amount of water to the color on your palette to slightly water it down and create the next value on the scale. Continue mixing in more and more water to your palette after you paint each new rectangle. It will begin to look something like this:

Watercolor value gradient scale

For the first three or four swatches, the difference in value will be barely noticeable but don’t worry, this is OK. After you keep watering down the color, the gradient will advance and begin to look lighter.

watercolor gradient phthalo blue

Step 4

Keep repeating this simple process for a few more rectangles, until the color on your palette is completely watered down and almost clear. Usually, you’ll reach this point after about 14 or 15 swatches of the same color. Remember to let it dry!

watercolor value study

Now you can repeat this exercise with any other of your most used colors, like I did with Permanent Rose.

watercolor value study

If you wanted to, you could extend the gradient even further by mixing the pure color with a dark neutral tint like black — this will create darker tones without changing the hue of the color.

What else would you like to learn about using watercolor paints?