Monday Morning Art School: practice seeing values

Value is the most important dimension of color. Here’s an exercise to help you see it better.
On the left, color strips. On the right, monochrome approximations of those colors. Photo courtesy of Kyle Buckland.

This week’s exercise is brought to you by outstanding painter and teacher Kyle Buckland. He graciously allowed me to share it with my class and you.

A simple value scale.

Value in color theory is how light or dark something is on a scale of white to black (with white being the highest value and black being the lowest value). It’s the hardest dimension of color to match, but it’s also the most important. It’s what we register first when we look at a painting.

“You can never do enough of this type of training the eyes,” wrote Kyle. He’s right.
I made you this approximation of Kyle’s stripes, or you can paint your own.
Kyle ran a series of colors across a sheet of paper, as above. You can either copy his technique and make your own stripes, or you can print the image I made, above. A PDF is here.
I printed this on a color laser printer on card stock. If you have an inkjet printer, you may need to spray it with fixative to prevent the ink from bleeding into your greys.
You’re going to make a series of stripes on the right, matching the value of the color on the left as closely as you can get with grey paint. Use acrylic if you have it; gouache or oils otherwise. If all you have is watercolor, you’re going to have to make a separate card and set it next to this one. 
Kyle converted his photo to black and white to demonstrate his close matches. Photo courtesy of Kyle Buckland.
When you’re done with this exercise, I’d like you to photograph it with your cell phone and camera and delete the color information; i.e. turn it into black-and-white. (On my cell phone, I go to picture editing and a b/w filter pops up automatically.)
Cameras can be wrong in value assignments. Both the yellow and green are way off.
Compare your stripes. If you’re way off, repeat this exercise until you’re more accurate. However, this comes with a caveat. The human eye is subjective and not everyone sees value the same way. Software is also in some ways subjective, since it was programmed by humans. In the sample above, yellow is obviously the highest-value color on the wheel. But Photoshop perceives it as darker than orange. Your camera and your eye may disagree.
Why is value so important? It creates a structure for the painting to flow through. If there are dark values in an organized pattern, synchronized with mid-range and light passages, your finished piece will draw the viewer in.