Assignment #3

Value-Added Portraits

Problem: Create unified achromatic gray compositions with defined visual hierarchy and an area of emphasis, based on photographic portraits.

Limits: Compositions will use broad and narrow value ranges in high and low keys. Use of grid and change in scale will create unified compositions.

Materials: Creative Process Book, pencils, Bristol Board 9×12″, Bristol Board 14×17”, gouache paints, brushes, palette, rags, water container, scissors, exacto knife, ruler/t-square, glue.

Concepts: Value, grayscale, achromatic, emphasis, contrast, shadow, highlight, narrow value, broad value, high key, low key, mixed key, open-value composition, closed-value composition, scale.

Technical Skills: thumbnail sketching, painting techniques, draughmanship with ruler/t-square, exacto knife and collage.



  1. Research /  Inspiration
    • Designate a new section of your Creative Process Book and write ‘Value-Added Portraits’.
    • From magazines or online sources, find examples of achromatic grayscale photographs, paintings, or graphic design with the following qualities:
      • predominately within the high-key value range (2 examples)
      • predominately within the low-key value range (2 examples)
    • Compose a minimum 2-paragraph description, with specific references to the images, indicating how the key sets the mood of the composition. Also notice and report how the forms in the composition create highlight and shadow relationships, some may be abrupt other may have a gradation of value from light to dark. How does this contribute expressive quality (mystery, drama, success, joy, etc) of the compositions?
  2. Experimentation / Iteration
    Value Scale
    • Create a Value Scale (a graduated scale of achromatic gray tones).
    • On a piece of 9×12″ bristol, use this guide to create 4 scales starting with 2 steps and ending with 9 steps ranging from black to white in even, progressive increments.
    • You may want to do a few practice runs on a piece of scrap bristol. Try mixing black and white in a variety of proportions until you get a progression from light to dark and the paint application is smooth and free of brushstrokes. REMEMBER: That adding 50% black + 50% white may not get you a perfect middle value!All mediums are different, you need to experiment. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it!Achromatic Value Scale
    • Label (in good handwriting) your 9-step value scale with black, low dark, dark, high dark, mid-value, low light, high light, white.

    Painting Tips:

    • Mix a very small amount of water thoroughly into the paint, for each value you create. The consistency should be like whole milk or cream. Before you apply paint to paper make sure it’s completely mixed in the palette to produce a flat consistent appearance. We want flat, blocks of paint with no streaks or brush marks.
    • Wash your brush after each value is mixed and applied. Keep two containers of water, use 1 for washing your brushes and 1 for adding water to paint. Use a paper towel or rag to get excess paint and water off the brush before mixing a new value.
    • Use non-stick tape along the edges of each square to create a sharp painted edge. Wait for the paint to dry completely before removing.
    • If your completed scale is not accurate and does not produce even, progressive value increments, repeat the exercise.
    • Escape Hatch: If your edges end up being very sloppy or uneven, you may also cut out and remount the value steps on a fresh piece of bristol.


    • Using the printouts of the portraits taken last class, transfer the grid provided to the printouts. Measure, mark in pencil, and cut out each square carefully.
    • Use variety in scale to develop contrast, hierarchy and emphasis. Some of the squares in your grid should be small, some large, some medium.
    • Rearrange and experiment with your portrait pieces until your develop 2 unified compositions as follows:
      • (1) Narrow Value Range: either high-key or low-key
      • (1) Broad Value Range
      • (Both) Emphasis: create a focal point wherein one area or element is emphasized (even within the narrow range) through size, placement, value contrast, or isolation.
    • DO NOT GLUE THEM DOWN YET! Have the Professor review your work before continuing.
    • NEXT
      • Take a photo of  your finished and approved collage, just for future reference.
      • Make sure each square of your composition is properly marked on the back, indicating the TOP and numbered from left to right, top to bottom.
      • Position each square in your collage composition on a piece of paper. Use a small piece of tape to adhere your squares to the paper.
      • Using your collage pieces as a visual reference, you will be painting each square independently from its neighbor. Keep everything clean and neat.
  3. Expression of Form, Emotions, or Concepts
    Paintings (Part 1)
    • On a piece of clean, 9×12″ bristol trace or measure the dimensions of your collage squares from the exercise above. Depending on the size of your compositions- one composition per 9×12″ bristol will be best.
    • Using your Value Scale as a guide, recreate (in gouache paint) each photographic square using a range of black, white, and gray values- achieving continuous tone in areas where highlight and shadow blend together.
    • Do not worry about accurately rendering an eye, nose or ear, think only in terms of value, the boundaries of each value shape relationship.
    • Notice how some values crossover shape boundaries into adjoining areas (open-value), while others are limited by the edges of the shape (closed-value).
    • Remember to work on each square independently and protect your finished painting with tracing paper as you work. Gouache is very delicate and can easily pick up the dirt and oils from your hands.
    • When you have completed your first composition carefully protect all elements with a piece of clean tracing paper and cardboard. Then start work on the second.
    • We will cut and mount both the paintings together in class.

    Paintings (Part 2)

    Goal: Create a Narrow Value Range composition that produces RHYTHM/REPETITION,  a sense of MOVEMENT, a clear understanding of changes in VALUE from white to black, and an understanding of EMPHASIS and VISUAL HIERARCHY.


    • Download the archive of hi-res photos (see above)
    • Open your photo-portrait file in Photoshop.
    • Create a new file: 8.5″x11″, 300 pixels per inch, grayscale.
    • Save your file with your first initial and last name and the project title:
      For example: jsmith_value_added.psd
    • Save frequently! 


    • Use the Rectangle Marque tool (M):
      • set feather to 10px
      • style to Fixed Ratio 1 to 1
      • select portions of your original photo portrait and copy and paste them into the new document.
    • Use the Move tool (V) + Command/Apple key and click on the pasted objects in your collage to quickly select and rearrange your “collage” pieces. This also selects them in the Layers palette and allows you to manipulate them.
    • Use the Transform Tool (Command + T) to rotate your “collage” pieces. Add in the Shift Key to restrain the rotation to 90 degrees. Do not resize or stretch!
    • Hold down the Option Key while dragging with the Move Tool to create quick copies of a selected layer/object.
    • Vary the SCALE of your square selections in order to create a Narrow Value Range composition that produces RHYTHM/REPETITION,  a sense of MOVEMENT, a clear understanding of changes in VALUE from white to black, and an understanding of EMPHASIS and VISUAL HIERARCHY.


    • Once you have completed your work, save an extra version as a JPG and email it to the professor.
    • Print out a b/w laser print to add to your Creative Process Book.


    • Use one of the following labs to complete and print your digital composition:
      • Learning Center Lab
        Atrium Ground Floor (AG 18)
      • Student Labs
        General Building 600
      • ADGA open labs
        (check with the office in N1113 for times)
      • Additional Labs and Hours
  4. Thoughtful Assessment (verbal and written)
    • Bring all assignment parts to class, protected in a portfolio case or protective paper or cardboard envelope.
    • Be prepared to present, discuss and analyze your finished work in terms of concept, craft, what you learned, and creative process.
    • State the following: your name, what you are presenting (title and design problem), which parts are successful and why, which parts are unsuccessful and why.

    Written Assessment
    In your Creative Process Book, at the end of the Assignment #2 section, document your thoughts about this project. Think about what you learned, what you could have done better (planning, material use, craft), and how you will apply what you learned to your next project.

  5. Work Hour Tally
    • In your Creative Process Book, outline the hours committed for each portion of the assignment, including dates and times.