Lesson #4: Adding value to enhance a composition


How can value be used to enhance a composition?
Students will be able to:
Discuss how value can be used to create contrast, unity, and balance
Add value to their small line sketches
Students will understand that:
Artists make compositional choices about how they use a visual element

ebony pencils, erasers, student sketches of abstract still-life, teacher-made sketch of still-life, conte crayon or black wax crayon


Juan Gris' Breakfast or other abstract still-life collage


A reproduction of Juan Gris' Breakfast (or other similar still-life work) should be at the front of the room or on their desks. Definitions of art vocabulary terms should be added to a word wall as they are defined.

Squint at this artwork.

  • What do you notice the most when you squint?
  • Which visual element refers to lights and darks?

Ask a volunteer to point to at least 5 different values found in this artwork. 

  • What has Gris used to create these values? (wood texture, wallpaper patterns, newspaper, solid colors)
  • How has Gris created contrast?
  • Why do you think he put darker values in the background and lighter ones in the foreground?


  • Even though Gris used a wide variety of values, he also created unity in this work.  What does unity mean?
  • How has Gris created unity?  (by repetition of value, color, and pattern and by limiting the color palette)
  • Gris has also used value to create balance.  What does the word balance mean?
  • How has Gris used value to create a feeling of equal weight on both sides of this composition?

Before you begin working with your enlarged sketches, you need to plan how you will use value to create contrast, unity, and balance.  Use your ebony pencils to fill in the shapes on your small abstract still-life line sketch, making sure to use at least 5 different values from black to white. 


Using an enlarged version of the teacher's abstract still-life sketch, and conte crayon or black wax crayon, demonstrate using value to create contrast, unity and balance.  The thinking process should be emphasized during this demonstration.

  • How will filling in your still-life sketch with different pencil values now help you to select your materials and create your collage?

Students will use their ebony pencils to fill in the shapes in their small abstract still-lifes, making sure to create contrast between shapes, unity through repetition of similar values, and balance through placement of dark and light values.

Students should post their shaded sketches in front of the room or place them on a large table for all to see. 

  • Which sketch demonstrates a wide range of values? 
  • Select a sketch that illustrates unity.  What did the student do to unify the composition?
  • Select a sketch that shows excellent balance.  What did the student do to create balance?

Bring in three to five swatches of colors that look very similar but are not exactly the same color.  These can be cut from magazines, fabrics, or can be paint samples from a hardware store. 



Art Making: adding value to a sketch

Literacy: looking at and discussing art; developing visual arts vocabulary