Friday, November 26, 2010

The Denman Ross Value Scale

A value scale is a way of describing how values change between black and white. One of the most well known is the Denman Ross nine step value scale.

This value scale of tones within art was devised in 1907 and was introduced in The painter's palette: a theory of tone relations, an instrument of expression by Denman Waldo Ross, Professor of Art at Harvard University and a trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

(You can read the book online and/or download various formats for a digitized version of this book by clicking the link in the title. This can be used for any fair use which is non-commercial. It's worth having a look at - but you would be forgiven for thinking that large parts look like they might be about trigonometry!)

You can see that one of the terms he uses to describe the different values is ' highlight' - which is one which artists use all the time.

The Denman Ross Value Scale

You can use these values when working out a composition. Try using just three values or five values.

Below you can:
  • create your own Denman Ross Value Scale
  • review value finders made by a couple of companies in the UK and USA.

How to create a Denman Ross Value Scale (a nine step value scale)

The way to create a nine step value scale is as follows:
  • start with white and black at either end of your nine value scale
  • mix a medium grey which is visually halfway between white and black
  • mix a light grey halfway between the mid grey and white
  • mix a dark grey halfway between the mid grey and black (you now have a total of 5 value steps)
  • create four intermediate greys at a value midway between each of the values you have so far
The interval between each value in the scale should be equal.

You can maximise the value of creating one for yourself if
  • you use the paper and media you regularly use 
  • which means you can easily transfer check values when creating drawings or paintings using the same paper and drawing or painting media.
It also gives you an appreciation of just how hard you have to work at creating some of those darks!

Grey Scale and Value Finder Aids

You can buy aids on Amazon which equate to this scale or alternatively make ones for yourself. The advantage of the manufactured aids are they more robust and easier to carry around with you.

The first aid is the Gray Scale and Value Finder made by the Color Wheel Company who make a number of useful aids for colour and composition studies. I prefer using this aid because it provides the scope to surround and isolate the tonal value from its near neighbours and to look at it in isolation against the printed tonal value.  It's also fairly robust - I've carried mine with me on my sketching travels all over the world and it's only very slightly dented!  I find it particularly useful when you are dealing with the extreme contrasts in very strong light when you need a baseline as your eyes struggle to adjust to the light

Gray Scale and Value Finder by the Color Wheel Company
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The second aid is the Tonal Value Finder made by the Teaching Art Company. It provides 10 values from black to white. The strip across the top is transparent which allows you to check the tonal value of what you can see with the strip

The Tonal Value Finder made by Teaching Art Ltd.
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THIS BLOG POST WAS UPDATED on 8th August 2019.

More information about tonal values

More links to information about tonal values and the Denman Ross Value Scale