Values Study in Transparent Media / by Angela Bandurka


When using transparent media you need to start with your lightest values, leaving pure white from the start, avoiding that white area as you work to keep it white. Since I usually paint in opaque media (acrylic and oil) this is the opposite of how I usually work, where I layer my lights over my darks.

For watercolor that means start off with black paint and work very watery, using less water as you progress. Just keep layering your values as you work. Every now and then stop and really look at your source image. Evaluate how dark one shape is next to the other, and then revise.

For graphite, which is also a translucent media, you’d start with an H pencil, using very little pressure - then towards the end you’d end up using a B, maybe even a 9B for the blackest blacks.


  • Darks approach, lights recede. This is a standard rule, but there are times when that rule may be broken, like when there is a strong light source in the foreground. Making sure you're following at least two of these rules at any one time will help you create a better piece of art.
  • There is more contrast in the object closest to you. You will also see more detail in the objects nearest you, though you can focus your detail on the area you want to draw the eye to for a better design flow.
  • Objects are bigger when they're closer to you and get smaller in the distance.

or reference, below is an opaque media study done the exact opposite way, but with all the darks being laid in first and bright white highlights sitting on top: