Colors can really affect one’s perception of values when painting. And mixing colors to match values, especially in acrylics where colors dry darker, can be intimidating – especially when you are just starting out. This is one of the challenges when first starting to paint, learning about values, and then learning how to both assess and mix different color values without a lot of trial and error and re-painting.
There aren’t a lot of exercises on directly mixing values. Most information out there tends to be about the use of a 9-value scale (or 13 or some other number) that you can use to assess values, but not much is out there about how to practice reading and then mixing different values using different colors.
So I decided to put my own exercise together. My criteria where that it had to be quick to do and easy to assess.
What I put together is a simple little exercise that anyone can use both to strengthen their ability to read and mix values in different colors, but also as a simple warmup they can do each time they sit down at the easel to get in the proper mindset. Both the exercise and the setup is simple.
In addition to this blog post, with instructions below, I put this exercise into a youtube video as well. You can view it on my channel here: Value Exercise
I took a piece of white poster board, or heavyweight paper and cut them into 5-inch squares. You cold use anything, and it could be a neutral color, or any color for that matter, I just happen to use white. Then I marked out nine 1.5″ squares in a grid (see below). You can cut up and prepare a bunch of these all at once in just a few minutes. I then took some black acrylic paint, and some white, and I mixed up different values of greyscale. Which values you mix does not matter, as you will randomly choose from the ones you prepare.
Take your gray paint and paint in the center square. Adjust the value (you can start with dark and work your way lighter) and do another piece of paper, again using the center square to apply your greyscale color. Do as many as you want.
Now, when you sit at your easel, randomly grab one of your value papers and tape it to something that will allow you to paint on it easily. You could do this on a flat surface as well. Look at your center value, and start mixing colors trying to match that value. Fill in all the squares with different colors.
When done, you take a photo of it and apply a greyscale or other filter (desaturate, tonal, etc.) to see how close you got all your colors to your center value. Or you could scan it. And you can also just assess how well you did using a value scale, but if you struggle with the effects of color then turning it to black and white helps you to get a good assessment.
You can choose to use any colors you want for this exercise. Or to warm up before working on a painting, use the colors you intend to use in your painting to get you in the frame of mind to mix the values in the colors you will be needing for your painting session.
Let me know in the comments if you find this exercise interesting or valuable.