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Tag Archives: value sketch


Let me say, this is not me but one of my Granddaughters with her Grandpa. I wanted to try and capture that moment when, we, as Grandparents, get to share those first moments of our Grandchildren finding out they can read.

I also wanted as close to a likeness as I could get because I was going to paint family members. I’ve worked, for years, trying to achieve likenesses and find it one of the most challenging, yet rewarding and fun exercises in painting in watercolor.

I do not like taking the time to make a grid or a value sketch, but did so with this particular portrait, in the hopes that it would help me achieve likenesses.


I began by gridding my reference photograph into 9 equal rectangles. You can grid your photos in squares all over the page if you want, but I decided to keep it simple by dividing my photo, vertically and horizontally, in thirds.


The next step was to size a piece of my watercolor paper to multiples of the same dimension as the reference I was using. I did this by setting the reference photo in one corner of the watercolor paper. Then I placed a yardstick  along the diagonal of the reference photo (corner to corner) and marked a point I wanted along the diagonal of that yardstick. Are you following me? You can make the size of your painting any size you want but in order to get the image proportionately correct, when you draw it, your format must be a multiple of the dimensions of the reference photo. Rather than do a lot of math, I choose to do this. Once you mark that point, you then draw a vertical line and horizontal line from that point to the edge of your watercolor paper and you have a multiple of the dimensions of the reference photo.  If you grid a piece of watercolor paper without the same dimensions as the reference photo, your image will end up as a distortion of the original.


Then I divided that format into thirds, vertically and horizontally, to match the grid I made on the reference photo


and drew, as best I could what I saw fall into each rectangle. This helps with proportion, especially any foreshortening that may be present, as well as diagonals. It really helped me with getting Grandpa’s glasses correct.


The above is something I rarely do, but have discovered, recently, that I am getting a little better at drawing quick value sketches. I did this because I wanted to be able to see, more dramatically, the areas that I may want to leave very light so I would get the effect of light in my finished painting. Note….my sketch is not proportionately correct nor is it detailed. I think that is what always stumped me with these before. I just said I wanted to see some essence of the light pattern I may be able to get with this.

Then I began painting. Hope this helps anyone out there to try this if they are really searching for likenesses in their paintings. There is still a whole lot that goes into a likeness when you apply your pigment, but this is a start that may help.

Below is the progression of this painting:

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