Questions You Were Afraid to Ask About Color: Part 2

By Susan Ettl, NAN-Certified Teacher

This article first appeared in NANthology, the NAN newsletter, in summer 1999.

What is Value?

Value is the amount of lightness or darkness measured in a color. A value scale consisting of neutral grays equally spaced between white and black is used as a reference. White has a value of one and black has a value of nine. A color’s value can be lightened by creating a tint (adding white to the color) or darkened by making a shade (adding black to the color).

Human beings respond to levels of light before we react to color. As a result, artists use color values to the set the mood of a design. For example, a design whose values are all light makes us feel tranquil, content, and gentle. On the opposite side of the scale, dark values can create sad, dreary, and menacing emotions.

The range of values used in a design also effects different responses. Colors, which have the same value or values close to one another (such as values 4 and 5) are harmonious. Disharmony, drama, and/or excitement occur when color values are far apart, creating contrast. For example, when yellow and violet (which have values 2 and 8, respectively) are placed next to each other the contrast in their values draws one’s eyes to them.

Exercise 1: Create a value scale using 1″ by 2″ gray rectangles cut from newspaper and magazines.

1. Cut out at least twelve (fifteen would be better) different values of gray. (Note that white and black will have to be cut from a magazine because newsprint is not white, and the ink is really a very dark gray. Compare newsprint to a piece of white paper and the ink to a black object and you will be able to see the difference.)

2. Select a white rectangle and mark a number 1 on its back. Similarly, select a black rectangle (label it number 9) and a gray one that is midway between the white and black rectangles (label it number 5).

3. Select and mark a number 3 on the back of a gray that is midway between white and the number 5 gray. Then select and mark a number 7 on the back of a gray that is midway between black and the number 5 gray.

4. Using the same method, select and mark on the back the remaining gray rectangles.

5. Glue the selections to a poster board, making sure the papers overlap slightly so that no white poster board shows through. Then number them from 1 to 9 and punch a hole in the middle of each value.

To use your scale to determine the value of a piece of fabric or a piece of thread, put it behind the hole on your scale that you think corresponds to the value of the item. Squint your eyes to determine if the value of the item is the same as the value surrounding it. If the item is either lighter or darker than the surrounding value, move it up or down until the hole fades into the surrounding value. The number corresponding to this rectangle is the value of the item. Another way to determine the value of a piece of fabric or thread is to make a black and white photocopy of it and then compare the photocopy to your value scale.

Exercise 2: Use your value scale to determine the values of the floss on your color wheel.

Value can effectively assist one in changing the colors used in a design:

1. Determine the values of the colors the designer used.

2. Then substitute them with colors of your choice which have the same value as the colors in the original design.

Exercise 3: Create an inner ring for wrapping floss in tint colors corresponding to each of the color wheel hues.

  1. Draw two circles with the same center and with diameters of 2″ and 3.25″.

2. Then follow steps 2-4 from Exercise 1 for creating a color wheel ring. Select your own tints of colored floss or use the ones listed below (A=Anchor, D=DMC):

  • Yellow: A288, D445
  • Yellow-Orange: A295, D726
  • Orange: A313, D3825
  • Red-Orang e: 4328, D334I
  • Red: A50, D605
  • Red-Violet: A86, D3608
  • Violet: A109, D209
  • Blue-Violet: A118, D340
  • Blue: A130, D809
  • Blue-Green: A167,D598
  • Green: 4203,D954
  • Yellow-Green A265, D3348
  • Then mount this ring inside the pure hue ring.

Exercise 4: Create an outer ring for wrapping floss in shade colors corresponding to each of the color wheel hues.

1. Draw two circles with the same center and with diameters of 5″ and 6.25”.

2. Then follow steps 2-4 from Exercise 1 for creating a color wheel ring. Select your own shades of colored floss or use the ones listed below:

  • Yellow: A280, D733
  • Yellow-Orange: A308, D782
  • Orange: A1049, D301
  • Red-Orange: A341, D918
  • Red: A20, D8l6
  • Red-Violet: A70, D3685
  • Violet: A102,D550
  • Blue-Violet: A178, D791
  • Blue: A148, D311
  • Blue-Green: A851, D924
  • Green: A218,D319
  • Yellow-Green: A267, D469

3. Then mount this ring outside the pure hue ring.

What is Intensity?

Intensity is the purity or strength of a color. The colors on the color wheel or a children’s set of paints are pure, bright, saturated colors; they have not been dulled in any way. A color’s brilliance or strength can be weakened or dulled by creating a tint, shade, or a tone (defined in the next paragraph).

A tone is produced when a hue is “grayed” by adding one of the following to it: gray; the hue’s complement (hue directly opposite it on the color wheel); gray and either white or black; or the hue’s complement and either white or black. Tones by definition have a lower intensity than their original color. They are somber, soft, delicate, and sophisticated. Tones harmonize well together and with gray.

Colors which have moderate intensity (somewhat weakened) are more harmonious than colors which have 100% intensity. For example, Christmas green and red create more energy and force then a soft pink and a pale green. Thus, in most artwork, high intensity colors are usually used in small amounts to create emphasis or contrast. However, in magazine ads, they are frequently used in larger quantities to catch the reader’s eye.

Referring back to the section on hue, we can, therefore, describe wine as a red shade, pink as a red tint, and mauve as a red tone.

A hint for remembering the difference between a shade and a tone is:

1. Five letters are used to spell shade and black.

2. Only four letters are needed to spell tone and gray.