The Importance of Value in Art

Otherwise Known as Shading

Myra Naito
3 min readJan 8, 2020

Value, otherwise known as shading, is a main player in what makes a drawing look three dimensional or not. Without strong values, a drawing looks flat. The artist must be able to indicate highlights versus the darkest shadows and every shade in between in order for a drawing to look realistic.

Proper value turns the same flat, grey circle into a sphere.

Accurate shading is what gives an object volume, shape, and dimension. It’s also what tells the viewer where light is coming from. Many beginning artists seem to be timid when it comes to value. Their darks are not as dark as they should be and therefore the drawing falls flat.

Most realistic drawings use a full range of value, from the lightest lights to the darkest darks.

A good tool for an artist to have is a value scale. You can purchase one in art stores or online, but it’s a great exercise to create your own.

Draw a strip of 11 adjoining one-inch squares. Number each square from 0–10. And it’s best to use artists’ pencils for this as typical yellow school pencils won’t have the necessary range. Leave 0 completely white. Square 10 should be completely black. You’re next going to fill in each of the remaining squares from the lightest to darkest of greys. The transition from one square to the next should be even and smooth.

By simply increasing the dark values, the drawing develops more depth and dimension. (Photo Credit: Myra Naito,

You can use these scales by holding them up to your photo reference to determine just how dark that value should be in your drawing.

Patience is a virtue!

The trick to getting believable value is to build it up gradually. If you attempt to go dark all at once, you could overestimate things and at that point, it’s very difficult to undo it. Going dark means you’re exerting a lot of pressure on the paper, which flattens out the tooth of the paper. Once that happens, and you try to erase, there’s something that always looks a bit off about that area. So unless you know that area is a #10 black without question, go slowly and build it up.

Pencil sets: Prismacolor (left) Mars Staedtler (right)

Artist’s pencils can also help greatly here. They come in a variety of graphite hardness/softness, usually a scale from 2H (very hard) to 9B (very soft). The harder the graphite, the lighter the marks it makes. You will never get a true black from a 2H pencil. On the other end of the scale, a 9B pretty much only produces very black marks. It is very soft and smudges easily. These pencils can be purchased individually or in sets and are not very expensive.


How to Draw: The Very Basics

Further reading:

The Importance of Line in Art



Myra Naito

Freelance copywriter who is passionate about art and fitness. Check out my art blog at or follow me @mnaito_fineart .