Value Portraits

Big Bang

Students will break down a portrait into a minimum of 3 equally spaced value tones to represent highlights, midtones, and shadows in a monochromatic tempera painting.

Step 1:  Choose an Image

Choose a portrait that displays a wide range of tones.  Enlarge the photo to a full page.  Adjust to grayscale and/or print to a grayscale printer. 

Note: Depending on the photo, adjustments can be made to the brightness and contrast using an image editing program such as Photoshop or even Microsoft Word.



Step 2:  Define and Refine the Design

Put your printed image into a plastic sleeve.  Using an overhead marker, trace the areas (shapes) that consist of highlights and then shadows.  The areas in between will define your midtone.

Make any adjustments necessary to refine and balance your image. Look for large areas of one value or undefined edges.  Be sure to close all shapes and add any that the design may call for.  (As you will see below, the final image could have used further definition to the ear and some midtone definition to the face).

Step 3:  Colour in Tonal Values

Using a pencil (or a pencil crayon) shade in each value to assess the success of the design.

Note: if your value tones are not equally differentiated, definition within the image can be lost.


Step 4:  Transfer Design and Paint

After creating a paint swatch of equally differentiated values in your sketchbook, choose your background colour to ground out your painting surface and let dry.  Using a 1/4 grid, transfer your design to your painting surface using pencil.  Finally, paint in your remaining two values and let dry.  Remove any visible pencil marks from the final product.

Student Examples: Value Portraits








Key Concepts

Good representation of value scale

Accurate placement of highlights, midtones, and shadows

Technical – Drawing

Detailed rendering of image as a whole

Not over simplified or smoothed-out

Technical – Paint

Colour scheme mixed appropriately

Colour is consistent and even throughout

Clean coverage and edges

Neat, Clean, and Complete 

Placement on page is appropriate

Pencil lines erased

Clean and tidy

Looks finished