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Is There Any Value In Shading?


Different value and saturations off a picture
Colour - Value - Monochrome

Is shading really important?


We are going to start with discussing 50 Shades Of Grey...

… which actually comes from the #art realm. Whips and chains may be a key feature in these novels, but in the art world it is simply a chart annotating the different shades of grey from #white to #black and let me tell you, there are HUNDREDS of shades, not just 50. For the sake of this blog, I present to you a scale of 10 values.

10 shades of grey - value scale
Value Scale

10 point #valuescale


In the #realism industry, we call this the value scale and we refer to #shades as #values. Don’t ask me why, that’s just what they say. So if you ever go to an art #class and a #teacher is trying to trip you up with weird terminology, now you have a little bit of inside knowledge to get you going.


Grey Scale Gradient - soft shading
Grey Scale Gradient

The value scale is super important for those who are sighted, and without it you wouldn’t be able to perceive depth, recognise your family, or walk down the street safely. Why? Well because you would only see flat #shapes. When we are looking, even though we are looking through a coloured lens, we are actually also looking through a value lens too. You can take away colour, but you can’t take away value.


Removing the colour to see the shades and improve your drawing.
Colour To Grey Scale

Through different shades of grey, we can make an assumption of depth. When I am looking at a friend, I know it is her because I can recognise how much her nose protrudes, how deep her eyes are set, I can see the #contours of the cheek bones and my brain is smart enough to associate these features with my friend because I am able to see #depth through values. That’s why we can read black and white #photography and not question the reality of it! (is the penny dropping yet?)

Once more, we can actually still depict #realism with just two simple values, black & white. How amazing is the human brain being able to constantly read images despite having all the information taken away from it? It’s so amazing.

Let me show you…


Colour photograph of boxer dog
Colour Photograph

Albert - Boxer


This is Albert, the family dog. From what we can see in the photograph we can recognise this as a realistic, life like representation of the dog. This is pretty similar to what our eyes would see, however it has been captured through a lens. We can see his colouring, his fur, the curve in his #face, just like we would in real life. Now let’s start removing some of the information. First of all, let’s get rid of the saturation. The saturation is the intensity of colour so if we add more saturation his fur would become bright red, and if we remove the saturation, then we remove the colour completely leaving us with a black-and-white image. (Notice how many shades of grey there are!?)

Boxer Dog black and white photo
Black & White Photograph - Boxer Dog

At this stage we can still see the old boy, we can see the perspective, the highlights in his eyes, we can still recognise his breed as a boxer and really not much has changed. However our eyes are trained to see in colour. Our everyday is created by an array of colour and yet we see this black and white pup, and we don’t question it. The fact that we can still read #images in black and white shows how important values are for our eyes. See the colour is just the icing on the cake to entertain us.

Next, let’s increase the contrast so that we can no longer see the grey values, just pure black and pure white. How is it that our brains can still read the image? We only have 2 bits of information- shapes, and black & white.


Monochrome Boxer Dog
Monochrome Boxer Dog

In this version we are still able to recognise it is a dog, those who know #boxers can probably still see a boxer, but those who don’t can still read the image enough to know that it is a dog with a flat face. We can see the body just in the top of the square and the shapes are signifying that the body is further away from us and the face is much closer. So how can we still read this information with little to go on?

Our brains are particularly smart. We used to live in a world without electricity and light during the dark, and so we have evolved to be able to see in low light. Although we wouldn’t have the opportunity to see high contrast in the dark (black on white), we were still limited as to how many values we could see and so when we were looking out into the dark landscape, we could still catch glimpses #rock, #trees, #grassland because of the differences in values. The subtle changes in grey in our environment.

Understanding the grey scale is vital for our ability to perceive the natural world through #drawing and #painting. That is of course if you are aiming at becoming a realistic artist. Even if you are not, I think it is pretty cool to take a hot second and just learn about our sight. I think we take it for granted having the ability of sight, not everyone is lucky enough to have theirs so I think we owe it to ourselves to understand the amazing ability #eyes have given us as humans, and how we are able to recreate nature onto a 2D form because we can understand and translate what we see onto paper.

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