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Value Exploration


Students will experiment with creating value in a drawing

Grade Level




Big Idea

Value describes how light or dark a color appears. Artists can create value in a drawing by using more or less pressure on their drawing tool.

Essential Question

How can I create different values in a drawing?

  • Slide Deck
  • Teaching Guide
  • Teaching Tools

Materials and Tools

  • Pencil, pen or crayon
  • Paper or cardboard


Students will understand that:

  • Value is how light or dark a color appears.
  • Value can be adjusted in by using more or less pressure on a drawing tool.

Students will be able to:

  • Use value to create a value scale.
  • Use value to create a continuous value scale.
  • Use value to create an experimental drawing.


Value in art describes how light or dark a color appears. Artists use value to make their work more interesting and to create different effects.

To create different values in a drawing, we can apply different amounts of pressure to our drawing tool. Pressing hard with your pencil, pen or crayon will create a darker, or more saturated, value. Adding layers will make dark values even darker, or more saturated. Applying less pressure will create a lighter value.

Create a Value Scale

Step 1: Draw a long rectangle.

Have students draw a long rectangle and divide it into 6 equal parts. Have them number each box from 1-6.

Step 2: Fill in Box 6.

Fill box 6 completely and evenly with your darkest value by pressing firmly on your pencil. Demonstrate going over the value in different directions, adding more layers.

Step 3: Fill in box 2.

Leave box 1 white. Fill box 2 with the lightest value you can make by pressing very gently with the pencil. There should be a noticeable difference between the saturation in box 2 and 6.

Step 4: Finish your value scale.

To create a smooth transition of values between boxes 1 and 6, demonstrate continuing to fill each box with the appropriate value.

Encourage students to adjust their values as they work or even to start another scale if needed.

Create a Continuous Value Scale

Demonstrate using a pencil to create a continuous value scale. Start by transitioning from dark to light (saturated to white), then from light to dark (white to saturated).

Experimental Drawing with Value

Step 1: Draw 3-5 overlapping shapes.

Draw shapes that vary in style and size. This will create many new shapes to practice adding value.

Step 2: Add a range of value in one shape.

Demonstrate adding a full range of value to one of the shapes. Continue to fill the rest of your composition creating smooth transitions.

Reflection Questions for Discussion

  • What is a new technique that you practiced today?
  • How do you imagine that you might use this technique to add value to a drawing in the future?


Value in art describes how light or dark a color appears.

Transition describes the change from one value to another.

Saturation refers to how pure, or intense, a color is.


Vija Celmins, Untitled (Ocean), from the portfolio Untitled, 1975; lithograph, 12.5in. x 16.5in.; Collection SFMOMA
Laurie Fendrich, from Drawings 2013, 2013; Conté on Arches watercolor paper, 24 in. x 18 in.

Look at how other artists work with value to get you ideas and inspiration. 

Check out these artists who use value in their work: 

Vija Clemins

Laurie Fendrich

Joyce Pensato

Giorgio Morandi

  • How do these artists use value similarly/different?
  • Which artists use smooth transitions? How does it affect their drawing? 
  • Which artist’s work do you like the most? Why?


Value Exploration
Written by Matt Mahler

Lesson Development
Julie Applebaum, Senior Director
Andrea Burgay, Associate Director

Studio in a School NYC
Hasna Muhammad, Ed.D., Chair, Board of Directors, Studio in a School Association
Alison Scott-Williams, President, Studio in a School NYC

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