The balance between light and dark in artwork

Arranging light and dark planes in your artwork is vital. Through indicating the right values in our artwork we express beauty in a special way. I have a FREE Cheat Sheet to help you see different tonal values. Indicating the right dark, middle tone, and light areas show the viewer important information.

Picture of a woman on a chair clearly showing the  contrast between light and dark areas
The Seer by Corot

An amazing way to use balance between light and dark areas

Here I have an example of a painting by French artist Corot. It clearly shows a balance between light and dark areas. He not only uses the full spectrum of tonal values but also made an intriguing composition. Two-thirds of the background is black and one-third is grey. Next, he decided to place the woman with her black hair and black blouse on the grey background and the girl with her white blouse on the black background. This causes the largest possible contrast area on the girl. Therefore the complete focus of the viewer is immediately led on the girl. But there is more…

This is what adds to leading the eye of the viewer…

The grey chair kind of smoothens the big contrast between blouse and background and guides our eyes from girl to woman and vice versa.
The fact that we see the woman on her back with no eye contact between the woman and the viewer is also in contrast to the girl. We see the girl right in the face. This also puts more emphasis on the girl.

The psyche of Napoli – clearly defined direction of the light, tonal values give expression to the drawing.

How do we use the right tonal values?

In the world around us, we see an unlimited Palette of tonal values. We might not even be aware of that, but the number of grey tones around us cannot be counted.
As an artist that would be impossible to handle. So we need to simplify the number of values we see around us. We need to reduce them to a max of 10 tonal value steps. Some artists even reduce them to 5 tonal values

Tonal values applied in a sphere – graphite drawing Marion de Jong

Our first Challenge would be to see the differences between the value steps. Above you see a value scale that shows that process.

I have a nice exercise for you to handle this. I have a great FREE CHEAT SHEET that helps you train your eyes to see the different value steps. It can be done with graphite pencil, charcoal, or paint. Doing this exercise helps to see the different values. Be prepared to do the exercise multiple times.

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