Essential Values for Painting, Lighting and Design

Essential Values for Painting, Lighting and Design

Hi everyone! I want to show you a process
that will help you build your design, lighting and value skills all at once.
I’m starting out here with just two values: a dark value for the shadows and
a light value for the light. I’m thinking about the overall geometry of this
character’s head that I’m designing; it’s a very basic calculation to start with.
The planes of her head that face the light directly (the light is coming from
the upper-right), those will be assigned the light value. And the plains of the
head that don’t face the light, they will remain in the dark that I’ve already
toned the canvas with. The brush I’m using has a little bit of texture to it,
but I’m not thinking about edges or texture or brushwork or anything like
that right now. I just chose a brush that feels controllable. And that’s important
because what I’m doing right now is I’m drawing! Drawing with shapes of light.
Using only two values – one for the light one for the shadow – frees up some
bandwidth in your brain. Bandwidth that you can now use exclusively for the task
of designing shapes. After all, your shapes are pulling double-duty. They have
to describe the three-dimensionality of your subject, as well as look good on the
canvas two-dimensionally. So despite this stage appearing simple, it’s actually
quite demanding. I’ve been a teacher for 10 years now, and I’ll tell you this is
where people struggle the most. Including me. I mean, I’m constantly refining my
drawing here, and I will only move on when I feel like I’ve satisfied that
dual criteria. When you study other artists work, try and look for how
they’re using the basic language of shapes of light and dark to communicate.
Underneath someone’s style and all the bells and whistles that goes into art,
every painter must use this visual language to build their pictures. And if
you want to be a good painter, you have a responsibility to also become good at
this. Using this simplified approach I love how quick it is to change the form,
change the light, change the design. Now, in terms of getting acquainted with
shapes that are true to life, I recommend … studying from life. The live
model is good, but you can also use like the Asaro Head here.
I have one of these in my studio which helps me create all kinds of reference.
Anyway, my shape language has evolved into this kind of pointy theme, which
makes me think of an elf. So yeah, I can roll with that, let’s make her an elf!
Here’s the result of step one. And just to recount: we have used two values. An
Average Light and an Average Shadow. OK, so what many people will try and do at
this stage is go to work on blending the edge between light and shadow. And while
that can work sometimes … there is a whole category of value responsible for this
task. It’s called ‘Halftone.’ Let me show you
halftones using this 3D program. I have a very basic object here made of two
planes. These planes are currently oriented the same way in space and
they’re being lit by this light. And this orange line shows you clearly the angle
the light is coming in from. Now, these two planes get the same value because
they’re facing the same way in relation to the light source. if I took this plane
and changed its angle dramatically, it no longer faces the light and therefore
it’s in shadow. These are the same two values we just used with our character.
But let me undo that. I want you to look at the value change *before* this thing
gets to shadow. And as you probably guessed, it gets progressively darker the
more the angle turns away from the light. These are called halftones. And I’d say
right about here is the darkest halftone before it plunges deeply into
shadow. It’s important to understand that halftone values exist in the light
family. These two planes are still both being hit by the light source despite
being at different angles from it. So as painters, what we want to do is keep our
halftone values close to the average light. Even our deepest halftone – this one
here – should be closer to the average light value then to the average shadow
value. This will ensure we keep our light and shadow families separate, which is
something I really recommend when it comes to painting believable light. So
let’s now apply some halftones to our character! I think you can see here how
understanding the planes of the head is really, really helpful for this process!
What I’m doing here is kind of taking internal angle measurements, and
assigning various halftone values to different planes. Here’s the Asaro Head
again, lit in a similar way. This is a selection of planes in halftone, but ones
that have different angles. And here are their relative values. So unlike average
light and average shadow, where I just picked a single value to represent each
one, halftones can be a *series* of values. The other thing I’m doing for the first
time in this painting is I’m using soft edges
to blend between various halftones. Also to blend halftones with the average
light. I can do that because these values are all part of the light family and
soft edges help to describe subtle directional changes within a family.
Here’s a black and white close-up of John Singer Sargent’s ‘Madame X.’ She’s
mostly in light, which means the modeling is mostly done with average light and
halftone. Sargent had an impeccable ability to control halftones, which is
one of the reasons he’s so revered amongst modern painters. Halftones can
be difficult to paint well, but as a reminder, it’ll really help to keep their
values close together, and as a whole, keep your half tones closer to the
average light. So here’s the end of step 2. We now have average light, average
shadow, and of course, halftones. Alright let’s jump over to the shadow family now.
Shadows in real life are illuminated by ambient light. That is light bouncing
around the environment. I have a two-part lecture about ambient light on my
channel already, so if the concept of ambient light is new to you, please go
check that out! As for this painting, imagine the basic planes of the head.
Something like this. What I like to do is choose an overall direction that’s gonna
get the most ambient light. I will choose the planes that point upward. It’s
a safe choice because often a lot of ambient light does come down from above
and when it does it’ll mostly strike the planes that face upward. The first thing
I’ll do is select the shadows and then hide that selection, so that when I’m
painting I’m only affecting the shadow family. So I’m gonna go for some of those
upward facing planes first, as well as any planes that I feel would be getting
a lot of bounce light. For instance her left eye socket there’s a lot of direct
light hitting the flesh and bouncing around there so I think that eye socket
would be lighter than her right eye socket. You can think of reflected light
values as kind of like the inverse of halftone values where halftone values
are kept close to the average light, I recommend keeping reflected light close
to the average shadow. Again, this will ensure that our lights and shadow
families stay separate. Now, the planes that don’t face up, like the jaw for
instance, will still get some reflected light … just not as much. Reflected light
is also like halftones in the sense that you can have a few different values,
often with soft edges to handle the transitions. I ended up with something
like this. And, of course, we’ll update our value list to include the Reflected
Light category. Next up is something called ‘Ambient Occlusion.’ When it comes
to ambient occlusion, you’re looking for the deepest spaces in the head. So, for
instance, I’ll trace a line over the surface of the head. That’s the side of
the head, which doesn’t have a whole lot of directional change to it. But when we
get to the jaw here, it turns sharply in, and then meets the neck. This area here
is one of these deep spaces I’m talking about. It stands to reason that less
ambient light is going to be able to affect that area just because it’s
harder to get to. So I’ll just pick a darker value – this will be the darkest
value in the painting – and I’ll search the head for those deep areas and apply
the ambient occlusion. Ambient occlusion is often paired with soft edges. In the
case of the human head, often *very* soft edges. The head is an organic form which
means the plane changes will be more gradual as compared to, say, the
engineered crevices of a machine or something. And because I’m using a darker
value I’m gonna go ahead and take the opportunity to darken the local value of
her hair. The hair still has all the values we’ve been dealing with,
it’s just I’m pitching them all darker. I waited for this stage to do that so I
could balance the darks of her hair with the darks of the ambient occlusion. I
find a good ambient occlusion pass adds a subtle bit of life to things,
especially characters! So here we are. Let’s bring back our value lists and add
Ambient Occlusion to it. You know, throughout this video I’ve been talking
about the planes of the head. And if you want a deep dive into them, you can go to – click on ‘Workshops,’ and find my seven-hour class, ‘Understanding and painting the head.’ You’ll learn about the anatomy and
planes of each individual piece of the head. You’ll learn how they all come
together. You’ll learn about different lighting setups. And there are multiple
real-time demos of me painting both in black and white and in color! My goal
with the class is to give you the understanding you need to help break
into a professional level. The course has gotten a lot of five-star reviews, and
I’m sure you’ll like it too! You can go check it out at All right, now that I have all these
values in play, at this stage I just want to work with them all together. You know,
further modeling and refining the design of this character. The way I separated
each value into stages in this video, I did that primarily for teaching purposes.
Now, you could work that way – however, eventually you’ll want to get to the
point where you just know these values so well that you can jump from one to
the next and build your painting in one go. I think that’s true of any artistic
endeavor; you learned the fundamentals one by one and eventually gained the
confidence to combine them. I’m finally noticing that her right eye has drifted
out of the socket a bit, so as a final effort, let’s fix that. Digital painting amirite?? That’s better! Now it looks like the nose overlaps the eye properly.
Okay, one more thing: the value groups I used in this painting look something
like this. But this is by no means set in stone! So
long as you keep them in their respective groups, you can configure them
however you want! Remember: there are NO rules. Well, that wraps up another video.
Thank you for watching! Thanks to my patrons for your generous support. You
guys really help me put out the best video I can each month. That’s all for me
folks – I’ll see you next time!

61 thoughts on “Essential Values for Painting, Lighting and Design

  1. I should add that, while you can approach virtually any painting using these value groups, this is not the only value system out there, nor is it an exhaustive list in and of itself. For instance, highlights are not included in this lesson (I plan to do an entire lesson on them in the future.)
    ALSO – At 5:16 I began discussing that value group using the term 'Ambient Light.' Then midway through I switched the term to 'Reflected Light'. My bad. To clarify: they are the same thing!
    Thanks for watching, and happy painting ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. You throw in random shapes and textures as an excuse for not actually doing the job right and rendering the forms. Then you compound the bullshit by adding labels to it to justify why you did it. The reality is that you're lazy and a liar like most artists. Plato was right. Art is useless and dangerous to the world now that people like you have taken over. Pandering deceptive scum.

  3. This is what I need! Some methodology, steps to take to get to the end. SO MANY VIDEOS keep showing me what I'm doing wrong, and what is right, but not the steps to take to get there. This channel is by far the best on youtube.

  4. All of this! Thanks! – I do this all the time with my paintings and also with my photos. I learned from black and white photography to draw lika a camera. The Tone Curve is my best friend. It helped me a lot!

  5. Thank you for the new lesson!

    Both "creativity and the campfire" and "Understanding and painting the head" have been very helpful.

    Especially "creativity and the campfire". It calms me down everytime I feel lost.

  6. Great job my friend!,thank you so much for this!,I will sure buy your head class as soon as I can afford it,thank you again!

  7. The clear communication, the logical process and the overall quality of these videos are what make you the best painting teacher. YouTube it's full of people explaining values, but the concept never really clicked until I saw your videos. Thanks !

  8. Thank youuu! I seriously love your content. I've been improving faster than my usual pace since I started getting into your channel.

  9. Nice video, very helpful , thank you. But Marco, when do you finish your Chracter Design Mini Series with Vlad? iยดm eager to watch it . ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Hello Marco Is it the same if I practice this on canvas? I am familiar with the planes already. I know I can do this with oil painting but what about acrylic/ tempera?

  11. You have no idea the perfect moment in my learning journey that this video arrives.
    You are the best Marco. Your amazing clarity of ideas and unpaired teaching skills make it a pleasure to learn from your videos.

    Is it possible to purchase the video lessons from your website for someone else?
    I am in Argentina and economically things are in a bit of a stir. Conversion of foreign currency is being limited and taxed so I would lose a hefty percent in the exchange.
    If one of my freelance clients in the US could purchase it for me, it would be really helpful.

  12. Can't believe this, just when I was looking for more content on values and thought I've seen it all – seems like the Universe is on my side for once, in the endless struggle for improvement ๐Ÿ˜€ Thank you for the great content Marco.

  13. I've been a professional illustrator for 8 years now, and I think this is the most clear breakdown and demonstration I have seen of how to practically handle lighting.
    Thank you, this will definitely make me more considerate of my lighting.

  14. Iโ€™m just commenting to advocate in favor of marcoโ€™s head class. Itโ€™s so incredibly worth it, I feel like watching this after having studied his class adds a whole new dimension of appreciation for the subject. Thanks for putting so much incredible knowledge out, Marco, youโ€™re saving the dreams of a lot of artists who wonโ€™t have access to formal education

  15. After every video of this guy i'm feel like i get better at painting even without painting to test the new knowledge i got.
    Sorry for the english, i'm from Brazil

  16. Question: is there still going to be a part 3 of the character design mini-series? Either way thanks for all the great content you produce!

  17. I love the videos you're putting out, they're filled with so much knowledge and experience. I appreciate what you do greatly. To anyone who's thinking about the head drawing class you offer, I fully recommend it, it's changed the way i approach head drawing and painting.

  18. Values and shapes, nobody presentes this more clearly on YT than Bucci. That ear on the right,being so far back on the shadows side of the head, isnt that more of an occlusion value?

  19. I've heard these terms before so many times, but they're finally starting to click. You're an excellent teacher. Thank you for this video.

  20. I've been studying the planes of the head while using your value videos but I'm gonna buy the planes of the head vid now.

  21. A question, sir!
    Is there such a thing called 'highlight' value above the lightest value, similar to the 'ambient occlusion'? AO is the darkest part, maybe highlight is the lightest part.

  22. mr bucci, your vidos are so informative, yet so simple, and your way of clarifying the picture is sublime. you have my upmost respect dear sir :p
    i really beleive your channel will keep growing and growing because it is what you deserve. keep up the beatiful work๐Ÿ‘Œ

  23. Thank you for these videos Marco. I have a question: if I painted directly with the color, in which group would I put the local color, the halftones or the average shadow?

  24. I'm thankful for lessons speaking about Values! It feels rare to find the workflow or methods others have used to do value studies or come to understand them

  25. Thanks Marco, you may have just saved me a year worth of experience to understand this concept. I never really understood value painting and how professional artists have a way to interpret tones in simple black and white alone.

  26. I'm in my 6th (and final) year of studying art in Sain-Petersburg, Russia. I've wasted almost 6 fucking years (10 if we count art school), begun hating painting and then found your channel. What a wrong timing.
    Our professors NEVER explained things in such a clear way, they barely explained anything. Russian method of teaching art is like throwing a kid in the water saing "Now swim!" This video is literally our first and second years courses in 10 minutes! Yes, eventually we kinda figured out most of the things ourselves by drawing from nature but what's the point in university then?

    Thank you so much! I'm considering taking your pay courses because it's hours of structure instead of years of chaos.

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