Fifty Shades of Grey or Maybe Just 6 to 8

I’m a huge fan of color! I dream in color. I experience people and energy as color. I make my living by orchestrating color. So, why think about grey scale at all? For one thing, seeing in grey scale is seeing the continuum that we experience as gradations. Without it, nothing would actually be visible as there wouldn’t be any distinction between objects in the visual field. Think about that for a second! We have to be fans of black and white and grey scale!

Then there’s another thing; the aesthetics of black and white. The starkness, the elegance, the sophistication. I’m not big on all of that stuff, I’d rather be a Muppet than an Armani, but black and white can convey incredible emotion and mood. The deep pool of an animals eye or a solitary, foggy coastline. Back in my art school days I had an instructor named Lawrence. I didn’t really care for him as an instructor, but he sure could draw! He’d done a series of large scale charcoal drawings of his black labrador retriever that remember to this day. They were absolutely stunning! Think about Franz Kline’s work. How powerful and enigmatic where those black and white canvases? And think about the sketches of artists like Edgar Payne or old masters like Michelangelo and Durer.

Seeing things as black and white also gives clarity to the patterns of light and shadow that as artists we want to understand. Color is layer of complexity that when striped away can lead to a stronger understanding of composition. To better understand the role of values in our paintings study this helpful graphic which shows various value arrangements. Each conveys a different mood.

nother thing that I find helpful, is to think about the elements in your scene as flat simple shapes. You may even try cutting out the shapes with construction paper, assigning a value to each shape. I like to use Carlson’s Theory of Angles to help me assign values in the landscape. I want to do everything I can to help me to see the strong, simple value relationships.

Simply translating an image to grey scale can bring clarity to the value relationships.


I often think about something Richard Mckinley always said, “Color gets the glory and value does the work”. It’s very true so if you work out the values, your paintings will be strong!

Here are a few links to my YouTube videos relating to value:

Seeing Value

Making a Value Scale

How to Accurately Match Color in Pastel

How to Use a Value Scale

With Warmest Regards,

Painting Minilessons
with Marla Baggetta

These “mini-lessons” grew out of my blog. I love sharing my experience behind the easel, so these are free. I write a new one every two or three weeks, so please feel free to share with artist friends.

​These lessons are mostly written text with graphics…short but useful tidbits from the foundations of painting that touch on subjects such as aerial perspective, simultaneous contrast or using negative spaces. I guide you through different aspects of painting and art that will get you comfortable with using pastels. You’ll gain confidence to attempt work that you might have otherwise been timid about.

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