Sunday, September 12, 2010

Color is Value

Once a long time ago I was trying to pick the brain of a co-worker about color. He seemed to be really good with color and I was trying to get some guidance and help. He didn't really know what to tell me. He just shrugged and said, "All you need to know is that color is value. That's it."

A simple statement, but I found it to be very helpful and insightful.

So....what does it mean? Well, value is a confusing word that gets thrown around a lot when it comes to color. But here I'm using value to mean the black, white and grey tones of a drawing (just like the last post).

So basically it means that, even though you're working with color, the painting should still work if it's converted back into a black, white and grey sketch, and should still follow the general rules about value that I talked about last post. Values in a black and white sketch are really important for clarity and readability, and they remain important when you work with color. They're just a lot harder to judge when you bring color into the equation, and it's hard to remember how important they are when you are juggling all the other aspects that color brings to the table.

Photoshop has the ability to convert any color image into black and white so that you can check your values easily if you're working digitally. Just go to the "Image" dropdown menu, then go to "Mode" and select "Grayscale" (see image below)

and Photoshop will convert your image to black, white and grey so you can check your values. Pretty cool, huh? I used this tool a lot to check my values while I was digitally coloring my comic book stories.

I often felt that the black and white images looked better than the final color.

Then, after you've checked your values, you can just "Undo" and step backwards to your full color file.

Or you can do it the way that artists have been doing it for hundreds of years: if you squint your eyes at a painting it's easier to see the values.

Anyway, here are some paintings converted to black and white so you can see how well the values work (paintings by N.C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle, Rembrandt, Earl Oliver Hurst and Norman Rockwell).


Emily said...

I like to check the values by creating an adjustment layer that desaturates everything below it (either with Hue/Sat adj. layer, where the saturation is turned all the way down or a Black&White adj. layer) - then I can just keep that layer at the top and turn it on when I want to check the values.

Do you happen to know why simply desaturating or converting to greyscale doesn't seem to come out with quite the correct values? I find that using Image -> Adjustments -> Black and White on the default settings comes up with slightly different values, and ones that I think are more accurate.

Michael Dooney said...

You are so right.
A lot of digital artists go at this from the opposite angle entirely and work up the image in gray scale fron the start then tweek and convert it to color using a variety of photoshop methods after the fact.

Mickey Quinn said...

I also feel that my art looks much better in black in white or all in one color, I wonder why that is? Certainly both black/white and color have their advantages.

Joel Chua said...

You may also use Proofs to allow you to quickly test a painting in Grayscale. Simply go to View>Proof Setup and set the device to simulate at Grayscale 2.2 and press OK.

Then in your image you may now Press Ctrl+Y to switch between your Grayscale and color views.

Dave Blanchette said...

As someone who is intimidated by color - thank you for sharing!

allen mez said...

Peter de Sève is color blind (color deficient is the proper term since it technically is not color blindness). He's worked hard at over coming this by concentrating very hard on values and composition, an inspiration for us all. Great post Mark.

Here's the de Seve blog with some great New Yorker covers that he's done.

Nasan Hardcastle said...

I also use the proof set up method to check values. It's much faster and I can flip back and forth instantly.
Sometimes, I even paint in the grayscale mode just to find the right value of a color, before I switch back to the original color mod I was working in.

Daniel Caylor said...

Wow, these are great examples Mark. With everyone agreeing their art looks better in BW, myself included, it's surprising that we don't see more mainstream movies using strictly BW. Oh wait a minute, they movies movies for non-artists... :P

I was going to comment on your method of converting to BW in Photoshop, but it looks like everyone else already has, lol :)

Anonymous said...

For those of you who have a hard time understanding the lingo that all these fancy artists are talking about... art lingo i know i did...

Robert said...

I once had a paint program (dont' recall the name) that distinguished between different manners of converting to B&W. One averaged the RGB values and another was some sort of a perceptual twist that accommodated the premise that 255 blue, for example, doesn't appear as intense to the eye as 255 red even though both have the same numeric values.

Perhaps that accounts for the difference Emily inquires about.

I have no idea which is which in Photoshop.

Sam Nielson said...

I like the idea of "color is value," and I think you're absolutely right about the conversion of colors to values. But I think that statement applies even more broadly than that. Complimentary colors are like polar values, analogous colors are similar values. And referring to your earlier post on value, great images don't use the entire spectrum of color, they use a discrete sampling and use those colors in varied ratios to establish the contexts and relationships within a piece.

It's an interesting idea and probably worth exploring further.