A realistic painting has great tonal value. Without good value, the painting will be flat no matter what color you splash on it. Color is important, but you see nothing without the light. And that is what value do - let you see the light. There are lots of books and videos out there about color theory and such. But they are meaningless if we don't learn the fundamental of value. Since I am not an abstract painter, I need my painting to be read-able and believable, and value is one of the only thing that can give your viewer the optical illusion that it is three dimensional.
There are many books, blogs and videos about color theory out there. While they are valuable and informative, all these knowledge should build on top of your fundamental knowledge about value. Back in the art school years, students learn to draw with charcoal and pencil first to learn proportion, value and composition. Even in a painting class, everyone learn how to paint in monochrome first. Why? Fundamentals! Since I am not showing you how to become an abstract painter who just throw colors on canvas, I want to show you about value.
You can have a room full of vibrant colors, but you won't see any of the color without light. That is what value do, to create light and shadow. I am amazed by how many times people asking me about the colors I use and some other artist's palette. But rarely do I have anyone asking me about what value do I use to paint a certain things. While talking about light and dark may not be as exciting as talking about all the colors and the theories behind it, it is what makes a painting work! To give you a visual reference, I made this simple scenery and show you difference does the value makes.
The above simple example show you just how important the value is for a realistic picture. Arguable when I talk about value, it's more about light and shadow. But I'll say lighting is value 80% of the time in drawing and painting. In the next few weeks I will be going over lighting and how to apply those in our watercolor painting. I will leave you with an oil painting by Anders Zorn, you may notice it's the painting version of the picture that I've shown you in the beginning. This painting is pretty much based on his value study with his etching. And that's what makes you able to read the form of his face and the fold of his shirt. The little red paint on his palette? That's just a tiny icing on the cake, or a small jewelry on the crown. =)