top of page
  • Writer's pictureRoeh Art

Checking Your Values

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

Two for a Penny?

If you hang around artists for any length of time, sooner or later, someone will talk about values. They aren't talking about money! They're talking about how light or dark areas are. The values can make or break a painting and it's not just a matter of adding more black or white, because some colours (or hues) start out lighter or darker than others. This may have something to do with our eyes being more sensitive to the middle section of the spectrum, but whatever the reason, it has to be taken into account when painting. There's a great YouTube tutorial about values by Marco Bucci here:

Using a digital photo to check values

It's fairly easy to check the values in a piece by taking a photo and digitally changing the image to greyscale. If the values are right, the picture will look realistic just as a black and white photo does; if the values are wrong, elements of it stand out like a sore thumb. Sometimes, when a painting just doesn't feel right, I stop and take a photo to check what it looks like as a greyscale. It can help me work out what needs adjusting. You can see the photo I took and the greyscale version of it I used to check the values on Mallard below:

Featured painting: Two for A Penny

Sparrows are usually considered common and bird watchers often refer to them as LBJs (Little Brown Jobs), as beginners can find them virtually indistinguishable from other species of small brown birds. They tend to be dismissed as dull and boring. According to an old saying, two sparrows are sold for a penny and a contrast is made between the value of virtually worthless sparrows and the value of a person which is priceless. (If you Google: gateway, sparrows, penny, you can read about it for yourself.)

In the 1st 2020 lockdown, I set up a bird feeder where I could see it through the window from my sofa. At first, it was visited by a group of colourful bluetits, but these abandoned it after nesting season was over and for several weeks it stood idle. Just in time for the second lockdown, a small flock of sparrows claimed it. Watching them feed, quarrel and eye me resentfully through the window when the feeder needed refilling, I began to see that far from being dull and merely brown, they were full of character and their plumage varied from blue-grey through pinkie-brown, warm chestnut and chocolate to black as the light brought out the colours out fully.

Painting gives a lot of time to reflect and working on this one started me thinking about the value of sparrows and other uses of the word 'values' - money, intrinsic worth, ethics. When you look at Two for a Penny, you won't see rare exotic, brightly coloured birds that twitchers value enough to travel 100s of mile to see, yet they are fascinating and have a beauty of their own.

Our values and how we value people or things affect our behavior. There's a Kendrick* song that asks, 'Is a poor man worth more than a rich man? A stranger worth less than a friend? During the last few years, #MeToo and #BLM have highlighted how devastating the consequences of labeling some lives as less valuable than others can be, and the pandemic has turned the way we value some jobs on its head with delivery drivers, postal workers and supermarket staff (many of whom are paid minimum wage) now recognised as key workers that we simply can't function without.

So, back to painting the sparrows. I didn't really value these little birds until I started to really see them, something the bird feeder started and the process of painting them reinforced. Now I find myself asking what or who else I've failed to see the value in, including, as the Two for a Penny saying is illustrating, me.


Two for a Penny is an oil pastel work on A2 sized linen textured, acid free paper. It is not yet available on my website, but if you are interested in buying either the original or prints, contact me via email ( or DM my social media.

*Graham Kendrick How Much do You think You Are Worth? Make Way Music 1974


bottom of page