The Four Keys Of A Picture

The Four Keys 

Keys are the overall value of the picture. The tone of the picture is based on a scale from the darkest to the lightest tones and the darkest to the brightest of colors. The picture areas is where we set the mood or the feel of the piece of art. This is where your composition comes to life.

Key Values

High key

Is the value is bright and the overall tones are light. The artist may paint with light bright pastels colors to elevate your mood when you view it.

Middle key

Has no extremes of light or dark and shows a balance. This value of this key leaves a feeling of being contentment as you view it.

Full value

Is the whole range from white to black and will leave you with a feeling of the dramatic.

Low key

All things very dark, all tones are in the darkest range.  From black to white or the darkest of colors that leaves you with a feeling of despair or sadness.

Scales set the key value

Each one of these keys are can be explored and here is an exercise to help understand the keys a little better. Make a Gray Scale using you pencils from hard to soft. On a strip of paper draw a long rectangle vertically, long and skinny. Now at the top of the rectangle leave an inch white, the next inch fill in with your 6 H pencil. The next inch use your 5 H, 4 H, 3 H, 2 H ,H, H B, B, 2 B and so on until you have filled each inch completely up to your 6 B pencils.

This scale will help you set or recognize value. It will show you the overall value of the picture area. The shades between white and 6 B is divided into four sections the lightest is the high key. The middle key is in the middle of the scale. The full range is moving back and forth between the white to black or 6 B. and that leaves the final key in the darkest or lower range of your scale.

When you are setting the key or mood (overall tone) of the picture area remember to stay in the same key from start to finish.

When using paint it is the same you are just using color. You can make or buy a color wheel. This will show you the choices of colors in the key you want to paint in. As your mind digest the gray scale and the color wheel it will train itself to see thing in these 4 keys and file it until it becomes second nature.

Experimenting with these four keys can be on a smaller scale and really don’t need to be a finished work of art.

 four keys-DeHoff Arts- copy writes apply
The brushes give me the desired effect on this painting. Can you pick out the four keys?

Acrylic Gallery

Pencil Gallery 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.