Classical Order of Light


In addition to light and shadow to describe a three-dimensional object, we use a range of values from light to dark to describe the volume of the object as it turns towards or away from the light.  If there is more than one object, or if it is a complicated subject, such as the human form, then it’s more than likely one section will be closer to the light source than another part (a model’s chest, for instance) would be closer than his foot) and hence the light hitting the closer section would be brighter than the light hitting the further section.  We would then replicate the quality of this diminishing light in our portrayal of that model.

To this end, we use a nine-step value scale to describe different tones in the light and dark, and create the illusion of form and volume, and recession into space.
– Academy of Realist Art
In this system, the number 1 value represents the lightest of the lights, which will be the white of the paper, and the other extreme, the number 9 value, represents the darkest of the darks, which is the blackest that we can achieve with the medium we are using (this can vary depending on whether we are using oil paint, printer ink, charcoal, pencil, etc.)
In the sphere with light hitting at 45 degrees, we can render the whole volume of the sphere with different tones as follows:
– Classical Drawing Atelier, Juliette Aristides

Even though the eye can distinguish many more values than can be represented in pencil, it is enough for the artist to use nine values, as the viewer will read our smaller range of values in the same way as they would read a much greater range of values in nature.
In our nine value scale, the lightest values, 1 and 2, will represent the lightest lights.  3 and 4 will represent the middle lights.  5 and 6 will represent the darkest of the family of the lights, those halftones.  7, 8 and 9 will represent the shadows, that is, the light shadows, the middle shadows and the dark shadows respectively.
A later blog will deal with the nature of different shadows.  For now, it’s worth noting that reflected lights belong to the family of the shadows and will most likely be the lightest of the darks.

© Mandy Boursicot 2013