Practice: Value Scale


Consider all the drawings you are going to make in the future. Values are essential for most, if not all, of them. By completing a value scale, you develop confidence and skill, which is not only going to save you countless hours of work but also improve your drawings.


  • A soft pencil for dark tones. I like a 2B. If you want to go darker, you can use a 3B or 4B. But be mindful that softer pencils produce more sheen. To avoid this, you might try a Staedtler Mars Lumograph pencil or a Faber Castell Pitt Graphite Matt.

  • A hard pencil for light tones. I like a 2H. If you only have an HB or H, they will work, as well.

  • A kneadable eraser and/or a mechanical eraser. 

  • A ruler. You can also use the edge of a book.

  • A piece of paper. You need a proper drawing paper, around 160 gsm (98 lb). Canson Mi-Teintes, Fabriano Roma, or Arches work well.


This project should take 2–9 hours to complete. The time depends a lot on your experience level with your medium. Do not rush through the value gradient and value scale assignments. If you are pressed for time, do a 5-step scale instead of a 9-step scale.

Things to keep in mind

  • If you work carefully, and with clean hands, you will finish much quicker than if you try to rush.

  • Keep the tones very smooth (free of texture/noise) so you can see the value identity of each step.

  • Keep the tonal contrast between all steps evenly distributed.

  • This will take time. Expect to invest at least 2 hours, maybe up to 6 or 9 hours. Really push the level of finish on this drawing.


1) Draw the scale
Use light lines. Make 9 steps. If this is your very first Value Scale, you can do one with 5 steps.

2) Begin with the extremes
The most common mistake I see is students trying to make a Value Scale “from left to right”.
You will get much better results by starting with the extremes of the spectrum: 1 and 9.
Go as dark as your pencil allows on 1 and leave 9 empty (just the paper).

3) Find the center
Add the missing tone in the middle: 5. It won’t be perfect, but get as close as you can. Keep the tone even!

4) Find the center again
Add the missing tones in the middle: 3 and 7. Adjust 5 if you need to.

5) Add the final tones
Add 2, 4, 6, 8 to complete the scale.

6) Rebalance
Finish the scale by evening it out where necessary. A very effective strategy is to identify the biggest “jump” between two tones. Here that was between 6 and 7. I darkened 7 slightly, lightened 4 a bit, and made 5 more even. Done!

Common Mistakes

1) Noise

Do not rush and create a messy tone. In a noisy drawing, you won’t be able to tell what value each swatch is.
Do create smooth tones.

2) Outlines

Do not draw dark or thick outlines between each value step.
Do draw a subtle outline around the contour of the scale. This helps separate the light tones from the paper.

3) Blurred Boundaries

Do not create soft edges or blurry transitions between value steps.
Do create razor-sharp transitions. This is one of the main points of this exercise. If you cannot make two tones meet with a sharp edge on a value scale, you won’t be able to do it in a representational drawing. For example, around the eyes in a portrait. Again, you’ll need sharp pencils for this.

Successful Examples

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