The importance of tonal value in a drawing

What is the tonal value in drawing?

In the following article we will clarify what is the tonal value in the drawing, we will explain the importance that has the darkness or clarity of a color in it.

We will also give you a plus! Tips, and a fabulous exercise to do at home, so, let’s get to work. Understand the importance of tonal value in a drawing Read on!

The tonal value in a drawing is the degree of lightness or darkness of a color.

To understand the differences in value, we usually use a grayscale, where black and white make up the extremes, and all other values, which are the intermediate grays, are located between the two.

In this way, we identify this concept of “values”, thought and used in color theory, with the control and variety of grays that we can handle in our drawings.

In most cases, those who are training in drawing, perhaps do all or most of their work in black and white.

Undoubtedly, the values in the drawings are, the index of light, and the equivalent, of the luminosity of the colors on the surfaces.

The importance of grayscale

escala de grises y la La importancia del valor tonal en un dibujo

It is of utmost importance that you practice grayscale.

Practicing grayscale is very important in our learning and in the development of our technique in the handling of light and volume.

Take this exercise with enthusiasm and commitment. Grayscales are usually made in different extensions, which can vary the number of tones and differences.

In order to have a notion of their basic structure, we must say that, in general, they start from white, the lightest value of all, the strongest light. Passing through the light intermediate grays, which are those that are closer to white.

On this scale, we distinguish the intermediate grays, those that have a balanced balance between black and white. However, it is difficult to determine whether it is a light or dark value.

We also have the dark intermediate values, those grays that tend to be the closest to black. Closing with the extreme black.

Small but important tip

metodo de escala de grises

One of the most practical methods to generate a grayscale from white to black without problems between value passages is to divide a scale into a number of 5 or more cells.

When we are working, we leave the first cell white, starting from the second cell, then we gently paint with the same register all the remaining cells.

Once this first passage is completed, we place ourselves in the third cell, painting with a little more pressure, all the rest of the scale. This method should be repeated until you reach the black end.

Concentrate on generating gradual passages that allow you to have an orderly variety of light, intermediate and dark grays.

Exercise to practice at home

There are different types of scales, with a greater or lesser number of values, the most usual scales comprise between 5 and 10 varieties of grays.

Generally, in drawing, we work with black material on a white support, but this is not the only alternative. It is advisable to experiment all possibilities with different materials.

  • Scale with black material on white paper, (Example: Pen and black ink on white paper).
  • Scale with white material on black paper (Example: White pen on black paper).
  • Scale with black and white material, on gray paper (white chalk pastel, and charcoal on paper, for gray chalk pastel).

When we have successfully made a series of scales, it will be time to use the same variety of grays that we have achieved in our drawings. Putting a little of each value in different areas.

ejercicio de negro a blanco dibujo

Value and color

The value is not the only condition of black and gray white, but all colors have their own value, for example, yellow has a degree of light brightness, and violet, dark.

Likewise, violet, yellow, or any color, can be lighter or darker, going from white to black.

But how to generate a variety of grays with different materials?

  • In working with pen, nib, or any fine-tipped tool, such as microfibers, the variety of tonal values is achieved through weaving.
  • The path of the lines, in different directions that are superimposed, generate wefts, which are perceived by the eye, as different values, different grays, therefore, different degrees of luminosity.

The most open patterns, that is, those with more distance between lines, and with fewer overlapping layers of directions, generate the lightest values.

las tramas y La importancia del valor tonal en un dibujo

The denser layers, which have little space between line and line, added to the overlapping of several layers of strokes, weave a denser pattern, creating the darkest values. The opposite of the previous case.

  • With the graphite pencil, in principle, we must take into account its different types (2B, 4B, 6B, 8B), this scale of soft pencils, is the most appropriate for gray work. The key to generate different values with this material is in the work, of greater or lesser pressure, of the tool on the support.

We will need a lot of patience to start with the lighter values, which are generated with the soft sweeping of the pencil in an even direction over the area, then, to go down the scale towards the darker values, we must gradually increase the pressure.

The adjustment that we make in our movement, must be fine and regulated, to be able to generate a wide spectrum of grays.

escala de grises a cuadros
  • With acrylics, tempera or oils, we will achieve different grays through the balance between the proportion of black and white, at the moment of mixing and preparing our palette.
  • In this way, we combine in a palette, 75% black and 25% white, and thus, we will obtain a dark gray. With 50% white and 50% black, we will have an intermediate gray, and with 75% white and 25% black, a light gray.
  • Black ink, too, is another medium that we can use to generate different grays, its value is the extreme black, in the case of India ink.

If we want to generate a variety of values up to white, what we can do is to prepare a number of containers according to the amount of grays we want to generate.

dibujo de lapiz y una escala de grises

Once we have that number of containers, we will start from the pure ink, pouring it into another container, and adding water with a dropper, thus, we will obtain a dark gray.

Then, using some of this same gray, we will create the next one, in another container, but this time, adding a little more water. In this way, repeating the method, we will get to the lighter grays.


As you have been able to see, during the course of the article, we taught what is the tonal value in the drawing, its different scales, and the great importance, of the darkness or clarity of a color, in the same one.

Also, you have been able to observe how to generate varieties of grays with different materials. Therefore, we can affirm that the tonal value in drawing is of utmost importance, and knowing how to achieve it, even more so!

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