Make a Value Study in Procreate

Value is the lightness or darkness of colors. It’s one of the most important visual principles as it literally communicates light. Without it, we’d be looking at nothing! Just imagine a polar bear in a snowstorm and you’ll get what I mean. Value communicates shape, texture, depth, where the viewer should look, and so much more. Paying close attention to value as you work on a piece can help your finshed artwork feel more structured and polished.

Value is easiest to see when you’re working with shades of grey, which is what I’ll be showing you today. I’ll take you through the process of creating this illustration of grasslands for the week 47 prompt of Making Art Everyday. Read on to learn how to plan you composition with a value study sketch, and how to check your values as you work on your final artwork.

Start with a sketch!

Plan out your composition with an initial sketch. To learn more about illustrating environments like this one, check out my How to Draw Environments tutorial.

Use your sketch as a Procreate reference layer

Enable the sketch as a “Reference.” Reference means you can Color Drop to fill in your sketch, but you can do all your color fills on a separate layer from your sketch. To do this, tap the sketch layer, the tap Reference in the pop-up menu.

Create the value study

Create a layer below the sketch/reference layer. Now we’re going to fill in my sketch with different shades of gray. The easiest way to do this is by using the Value tab of the Color Picker. Be sure Saturation (S) is all the way down. We’ll only be using the Brightness (B) slider. 

Color will come later, but for now, our focus is value. Things to consider:

  • Is there enough contrast in the image? Contrast is especially important where different elements overlap, like the grass in the foreground on the hills in the background. 
  • Does this image include the lightest lights and the darkest darks? 
  • The eye is usually drawn to the lightest part of the image first – is this my focal point?

A good workflow is to start by filling in the lightest and darkest values, then filling in the in-between shades. In my case, the focal points are the clouds and the grass in the foreground. The clouds are the lightest, because they will be white, and the grass is also a very light value. I’ll start by filling in the value of the sky using Color Drop, and continue by filling in the rest of the composition with various shades of grey. To do the foreground grass, I created a new layer and drew in a bunch of light-valued lines. 

I can keep adjusting the value by dropping in different shades of grey until I am pleased with the value composition. This is what my finished value study looked like:

Create a Color Plan

Now, I’ll use my value study as a guide while I create my color plan. I create a new layer, still using my sketch as a reference layer, and Color Drop in my desired colors. I’m paying attention to be sure that the values of my colors correspond to the value study I did. For example, the furthest-away hills are a rather dark value, so I’ll choose a dark blue-green for that area. The flat plains in the mid-ground are pretty light in value, so I’ll pick a light muted yellow. For my color plan, I put each element (sky, grass, each hill, etc.) on a separate layer. This gives me the ability to fine-tune the color using the Hue, Saturation, Brightness adjustment to get the exact color and value that complements the overall composition. 

Completing the color plan is the end of Day One for the Making Art Everyday Prompt. I have a very clear idea about what I will do when I pick up the piece again the following day. 

Begin Final Art

I decided to use one of my Magic Papers for this piece. (Here, I am using the “SEDIMENT” paper and I’ll use mostly Magic Brushes which are included with that set.) I want to have my color plan on one layer and my line art/sketch as another layer. I use the sketch/line art at reduced opacity to guide me in drawing in my shapes. I can turn the color plan layer on and off as I need to sample colors.

I start with the blue background for the sky and draw in the clouds using a soft brush (BRUSH BRUSH from Magic Brushes). Each of the layers of “hills” will go on it’s own Procreate layer – this makes it easy for me to adjust colors and add texture down the line. I drew each of these with a combo of the SOLID GOLD and SWEEPING WASH brushes. As I lay down these hill colors, I’m sticking to my color plan from the previous day.

To do the foreground grass, I create a new layer and use SOLID GOLD at a small brush size to draw each of the tall blades. I use about three layers to fill in the grass — I try not to overlap any blades on the same layer, so that it will be easier to go back and add shading. I add a fourth for the tan-colored grains at the top. 

  • TIP! Even if there isn’t the perfect amount of contrast in your value study, you can add shading to make things stand out even more. As I drew my grains, I noticed they do not have enough contrast from the background, so I added in some highlights and shadows to the grains to make them pop.

I continue my illustration by adding in grass texture to the closest hill using the same SOLID GOLD brush. I use Clipping Masks to add texture to the background hills. I used a few brushes from my Dry Brush Paintbox (CRUNCHY, SPONGY, and WIDE STREAKER) for this texture. I also add shadows to the clouds using SWEEPING WASH.

Check Value again!

At this point, I’m going to check values once again. A quick and easy way to do this is to create a layer above ALL your other layers. Fill the layer with any shade of grey, then set that layer’s blend mode to Hue. This layer will make your artwork appear in shades of grey, allowing you to evaluate the contrast in values.

This value preview helps me see that certain areas can use a little more contrast. I decide to add a gradient to the sky so that it’s darker at the top. I darken the bottom of the middle hill so it doesn’t blend into the hill in front of it.. I also add some additional shading to the foreground grass and even increase the size of that grass to make it stand out more. Here you can compare the difference in value before and after those adjustments. Little changes make a big impact!

I hope you learned a little about how studying your artwork’s value can both guide you as you work and help you improve your final piece. Happy Art-Making!

Categories: Procreate Tutorial

Angie Saladino at 2:37 pm

Thank you for that tutorial I may have to read it a few times. It was very informative and all completely new to me. Again, thanks for all your hard work.

Caitie Compton at 7:46 pm

I’m loving skimming through the tutorials!

dylan at 12:35 pm

this is fricking amazing.

Ojie Papalli at 3:19 am

Wow amazing

Adriana Camargo at 10:46 am

Thank you!

Sabreen Thukral at 4:57 am

I love this and cannot wait to try it. I am truning 10,I only have your pixel art brush set but you inspire me to do more art and create my own brushes

Sam at 6:31 am

I believe there is a small issue with using a blend mode to show value: It doesn’t take into account the natural value of a hue. If you put #02FFFE next to #95D3FF, and use the blend mode to view the value #02FFFE will appear darker, even though it clearly isn’t. If you go to accessibility settings and put the iPad into grayscale, it will show #95D3FF as the darker color. I haven’t found a way to recreate this in procreate.

Jada at 9:01 am

I love your tutorials! This one looks amazing!
Any chance this could be made into a recording?
I live w a learning difference that does not favor learning by reading…

Thanks for all the creativity you help bring into this world!


Lisa Bardot at 9:19 am

Hi Jada,

Hopefully I will be doing a full deep dive course on this sometime this year!




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