Watercolor Value Exercises for Beginners

A crucial part of landscape painting is mastering how to translate the values in a particular scene. This can be especially challenging when you’re not used to it.

That is why I have put together a few watercolor value exercises to help you practice your skills!

Let’s get into it…

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Exercise 1: Paint-to-Water Ratio Exercise

The first and easiest exercise is learning to adjust the water-to-paint ratio of any color to show its different values. The more water you add to any color, the lighter it will be.

How to complete this value Exercise:

1. Start by choosing a color that you want to practice with, it doesn’t matter which. I went with Paynes gray because it is a dark color.
2. On your palette, add a small touch of water to the color you chose. Next, paint the first square with this mixture.
3. Add a little more water to the mixture and fill in the second square.
4. Keep going till you finish off the last square. The last square should have the lighest value with more water than paint.
5. To make it more challenging you can add more than 6 squares (more value stages).

How to change the watercolor value with water to paint ratio

You can also try this exercise with different colors!

How do you capture the values in a scene?

When looking at a scene, start by asking yourself what the lightest and darkest areas are. This is because they’re the easiest to identify. Everything else will be considered the middle values.

Let’s say you’re looking at a landscape, the lightest area is the sky and the darkest area is a tree. Everything else will be a value between the value of the sky and the value of the tree.

Another way to figure out the values of the scene is by using a gray scale filter on your phone or laptop.

Remember, you’ll start by painting the lightest areas first then the darkest areas last.

Exercise 2: Values of Basic Shapes

Watercolor value exercises to practice

This next exercise is about capturing the different values of a simple 3-dimensional shape. You’ll only be using one color (it doesn’t matter which). I chose Paynes gray.

Step-by-step Exercise

1. Start by drawing a circle, not too dark, just a simple pencil outline with its shadow will do. The shadow and the darker areas are located on the bottom left side of the sphere and the light source is from the top right corner.
2. Begin by mixing a light value by adding more water and a little paint. Paint over the sphere.
3. Adjust the mixture by adding a little more Paynes gray and start moving towards the bottom of the sphere where the darkest area is. Drop in some paint.
4. With a paper towel or damp brush lift off some of the pigment from the highlighted area.
5. To paint the shadow, paint the part of the shadow closest to the sphere darker and the outer edges lighter and softer. (The image below shows each step for reference):

Watercolor value exercise, how to improve your watercolor values

Paint over the first layer with a darker mixture then with a damp brush, blend the edge of the shadow. You can also use a paper towel to dab the top right area of the sphere to show the highlights.

Keep dropping in Paynes gray to accentuate the shadows.

how to paint values with watercolor

Notice how I’ve left a slightly lighter line between the dark part of the shadow and the sphere? This is because I don’t want them to blend.

That’s the end of this exercise! Using graphite pencils can also help when it comes to learning how to interpret different values. Learn how graphite drawing can help improve your watercolor painting skills.

Exercise 3: Value Sketch Exercise

Watercolor Value exercise sketch for beginners

This exercise is extremely useful! The aim is to capture the main values of a scene and present it on your paper.

Same as the previous exercises, you’ll only need one color.

This time I would recommend going with Paynes gray because it’s easier to interpret the different values without the confusion of color.

1. Start by drawing the outlines of the different shapes. Remember, this is just a sketch so it doesn’t have to be perfect.
2. Take note of where the highlights will go if there are any (water reflections, light sources…etc). Next, start by filling in the lighter values and slowly adjust the mixture to paint the middle values. Finally, paint in the darkest darks.
3. For this landscape I decided the sky will be the lightest value, followed by the field. Then the mountains will be darker than the field and the darkest will be the foliage. This is because flat surfaces tend to have the most light exposure compared to elements that stand upwards (like trees and mountains).

The image below shows the final sketch after drawing the foliage:

How to interpret values for your watercolor landscapes

Using the value sketch above I also made a color sketch to show you how the values can translate into color.

However, in the color sketch, I decided to add a few darker areas on the field and this is how it turned out:

Remember, translating the values of a scene can be very challenging to master, especially when you are working with landscapes more complex than the ones above.

However, these watercolor value exercises can help you practice and gain experience, and eventually, it’ll be mostly intuitive.

FAQ

How do you practice color value?

From personal experience, the best way to practice your watercolor value skills is by studying your subject and then creating a value sketch.

The more you practice the more naturally it’ll come to you.

What is a value study in watercolor?

In watercolor painting a value study refers to a drawing or sketch with pencil or watercolor with the sole purpose of noting the different values in a particular subject.

Is there an easy way to break down the values in a reference image?

Yes, there is, you can edit your reference image and add a grayscale filter so that it appears in black and white.

This method can help you see differences you might not initially pick up on.

You can also play around with the contrast and color saturation feature to see what turns up

What is the difference between tone and value?

The main difference between value and tone is that value refers to how light or dark a particular color is. Meanwhile, tone refers to the intensity or level of saturation of a particular color.

Do you need a value scale to practice watercolor values?

Not really… Making a value scale is good practice and will definitely help you understand the different values that your colors have however it is not a must.

There you have it, 3 watercolor value exercises to practice with! If you enjoyed this post and found it helpful, be sure to sign up for my newsletter to receive free learning resources.

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