Teaching Value

Teaching Students to See and Produce Values

Teaching Students to See and Produce Values

In previous posts I described how I teach my sixth grade students to plan a composition of basic blocks of wood, dowel sticks, and PVC pipe. I chose those items because they have no surface color, texture, or pattern. I want the students to begin to see that the form itself causes the values to appear lighter and darker. Sixth grade students typically can’t see past the surface decoration to even see basic structure. I also provide each student with a black and white photo of similar items to help them SEE the way the lights and darks work to create the substance or form of the object.

Student visual aid

Student visual aid

Previously the students drew their compositions using a puzzle piece approach to capture each item accurately. Before we begin to add the values I show them how to use different pencils (2H, HB, 2B, and ebony), a kneaded eraser, a blending stub, and a slip of paper as both an erasing shield and a frisket. Before we tackle our still life, we practice using the drawing tools by adding a light, medium, and dark value to a simple cube drawn to one-point perspective. I show them how to blend each side carefully with the blending stub and how to add a crease shadow on the bottom so that it doesn’t “float.

I have previously emphasized but at this point I usually have to repeat that the only reason we see lines at the edges or things is because there is a contrast in the values. If the values are the same the line will pretty much disappear. Therefore, if you can see a line, or if you have drawn a line you MUST create a contract between light and dark on either side of the line. The result will be that the line you have drawn will become swallowed up into one of the values so that what remains will be the contrast between the values and not the line itself.

After demonstrating and having them practice the basics on the cube, I turn them loose to add the values to their own still-lives. They are always so amazed to see how much more “mature” their work looks than anything they’ve previously done.

I use the same basic approach with seventh and eighth grade students, but I have them either add the values to a self portrait which they capture from a photo using grids or to a drawing of their hand (see Betty Edwards, Drawing From the Right Side of the Brain Workbook, p. 31-38).

Student: Capturing values with charcoal

Student: Capturing values with charcoal

If time permits, I also have students use charcoal pencils to draw a spoon on grey paper and add the values.

3 responses to “Teaching Value

  1. Comprehensive approach for middle school. I would have a difficult time holding their attention. I have previously taught value and like you said, students are surprised how ‘mature’ their work looks when finished. I found that 6th grade has the most trouble drawing the three parallel lines needed to draw the rectangular prism they are looking at (same type of trouble with the eclipse for the cylinders). Once they have the lines right, then the value is fun to add. I don’t have the resources right now to have all the various types of pencils, yet that is a good time to introduce the variety of drawings tools they can use to be successful. Keep up the hard work and great job on this lesson plan.

    • Thank you so much for commenting on my blog post. It’s great to hear from other art teachers and know that someone else is having similar experiences. I, too, was having so much trouble getting them to successfully capture the basic drawing that I finally developed the “puzzle” approach that I described in my post on May 10, Teaching Shapes and Forms Part 2. I’ve just retired from a private school where we asked the parents for a small “art fee” so that I could build up a nice assortment of supplies for the kids to learn from. I’ve decided to post a variety of my lesson plans rather than just letting them disappear forever. I’d love to hear what you think of any of them.

      • Thanks for your reply. I have been teaching in the public schools for 6 years now. I taught elementary art for 2 years, and middle school for 4. I will check out your other posts as I can see you have lots of experience teaching. It is nice to find someone who has similar experiences as teaching art is such a unique experience!

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