Using value scales to improve your drawing skills

using value scales to improve your drawing skills

When I started working on my realistic drawing skills earlier this year, all my drawings were a little “off”. After reading The Big Book of Realistic Drawing Secrets, I started using value scales to help me see the value changes in my reference photos a bit better, and it helped a lot. It seems a lot of my early problems were down to not seeing values correctly. So today I share how you can easily make them yourself, and how to use them.

What is value?

Value is basically how light or dark something is.

Simple, right?

Well, no.

When you first start doing realistic drawings, it can be quite hard to work out how much lighter or darker something is compared to other things in the picture. But the better you recreate all the values in a drawing, the more believable it is. So you need to train your eyes to see them.

That takes time.

Thankfully value scales can help you out in the meantime.

What are value scales?

Value scales are charts that help you see what pencils to use where to get the most realistic effect in your drawing. They range from the lightest value you can create with the pencils you use to the darkest.

How to make them:

You’ll need:

A scrap piece of paper (preferably the same kind you usually draw on)
A ruler
A pen
A few pencils ranging from hard to soft.

What to do:

1. Using the ruler and your pen, draw 9 boxes along the edge of your paper

using value scales to improve your drawing skills
2. Work out your lightest and darkest values. To do this, leave the first box empty- the white of the page is your lightest value. Then fill in the last box with your darkest (softest) pencil. In my case, working with a tin of Derwent Academy sketching  pencils, that’s a 6B.

using value scales to improve your drawing skills
3. Using a light touch, fill in the mid-tone in square number 5. Don’t worry about getting it exactly right. You can adjust and darken later.

using value scales to improve your drawing skills
4. Now fill in the other 3 boxes on either side, making sure the scale gets progressively darker.
5. Adjust the scale until you have a good range that flows fairly seamlessly into each other.

using value scales to improve your drawing skills

How do you use them?

A value scale helps you match the values of your drawing to the values of your subject.

Live subjects: Hold the scale in front of your subject (you may want to squint your eyes a little), and see what part of the scale matches your subject, then draw using that value.

Photos: Pass the value scale over the photo until you find a match (again- you may need to squint your eyes a little), then draw that value.

The more you practise, the easier it will become to figure out the values on your own.

What do you find the hardest?

If you want to see how I’m getting on with practising my realistic drawing, come join me on Instagram.

using value scales to improve your drawing skills


  1. Carin getting the scale of shade is something I always struggled with – what a great idea. I think I will get my kids to give this a go too.

  2. What a great idea! (Love the photo too!) And I love how you are ALWAYS sharing and inspiring us here. You are an inspiration to me Carin, thank you. And thank you for the welcome :)))
    Kristin recently posted…Now I’ve Really Gone & Done It . . .My Profile

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