Mastering Scumbling Value Scale: Techniques & Color Tips

Creating a value scale is usually done to document the range of light and dark tones for colors in drawing but did you know you can also create value scales for painting, and you can create a value scale for painting techniques such as scumbling.

Scumbling is a technique where you layer light undiluted paint pigment over darker paint to build up shade and texture.

Value – the lightness or darkness of tones—defines shadows, highlights, and the overall depth of your artwork.

When you master this method, you will see that your art will take on a more professional and deeper look as you had practised the various scales of colors using scumbling before you start your painting.

You will also have a reference that you can go back to for years to come, reducing your learning curve each time you paint.

scumbling value scale completed

How to Create a Scumbling Value Scale

Creating a scumbling value scale is not the same as painting a value scale as you are mixing the dry brush technique with various paint colors but the process is very similar to creating a value scale in pencil.

Pick Your Surface

I like using a small scale canvas for painted value scales, but you can also canvas paper, rough paper and if you don’t have access to anything like that, you can use normal artist paper like Bristol.

The problem with smooth paper is that it’s hard to see the scumbling technique when it’s done with paint.

Establishing Your Range

Before you begin, select quality painting tools. Your brushes should vary in hardness to achieve different shades and textures. I like to use hog hair for applying the paint.

My range will be from 0-9, so we will have 9 boxes.

Create the boxes

Now grab a pencil and place a ruler on your paper and draw multiple even boxes; they act as the foundation for your value scale. Make each box about an inch squared.

establishing your value range. This image shows 9 boxes that will be used to enter the scumbling value scale.

Aim for uniformity and precision in each box for the best results.

Shading Extremes First

Start by picking a color and applying the darkest box with undiluted paint. Gradually add layers rather than pressing hard immediately.

extreme right box shades with paint scumbling

For the lightest box, leave it unpainted. By shading extremes first, you set clear boundaries for your value scale.

This method guides you to fill in the intermediary values with greater control and a better sense of contrast.

Filling in Mid-Values

Find your middle value and consider starting from here, working towards the darkest and lightest values.

Find your middle value and consider starting from here, working towards the darkest and lightest values.

Keep your hand off the work to avoid smudges; use a separate paper if needed. Strive for even tones and smooth transitions between shades.

the darker right sides values are painted in.
Complete the right sided darker values.

Repeat as necessary to enhance the smooth gradient effect of your scale. Color the left handed side of the value scale with lighter tones.

all the scumbling values are painted in the scale of 0 to 9
Completed Scumbling Value Scale for 0 to 9 values

Scumbling Value Scale for Beginners

For beginners, a scumbling value scale would be a practice exercise that helps them understand and control the intensity and tonal range of their medium.

Scumbling can also mean controlled scribbling so use the pencil or charcoal in this manner.

It would typically consist of a series of boxes or sections on a piece of paper, each representing a different value from light to dark.

Start Small

For beginners, I would suggest using a smaller number of boxes to limit the values being explored. Instead of 9 I would go about 5 or 6.

Start with Pencils to Get Used to Scumbling

Also for beginners I would practise with pencils first, then paint. This will get beginner artists used to the scumbling technique.

This is how I would approach it.

  1. Materials: You would start with a drawing medium (like a graphite pencil, charcoal, or pastel) and a piece of drawing paper with some texture to it.
  2. Setting Up the Scale: Draw a row of boxes or rectangles on your paper. These will be the steps in your value scale.
  3. Starting with Light Values: Begin with the lightest value. Use a very light pressure to fill in the first box or section. The goal is to lay down a very thin, barely visible layer of the medium.
  4. Increasing Pressure Gradually: As you move from one box to the next, gradually increase the pressure to make each subsequent box slightly darker than the one before it.
  5. Layering: Scumbling involves layering, so you may go back over the boxes, adding another layer of scumbling to darken the values as needed. The key is to build up the darkness gradually without creating harsh lines.
  6. Using the Side of the Medium: Instead of using the tip of the pencil or stick, use the side to create a broader, uneven stroke which is ideal for scumbling.
  7. Blending: In some cases, you might lightly blend the edges of the scumbled areas to create smoother transitions.
  8. Completing the Scale: Continue this process until the last box is filled with the darkest value you can produce with your medium.

Defining Scumbling in Art

Scumbling is a drawing and painting method that involves creating texture with loose, random marks.

Compared to scribbling, scumbling is more controlled and is used to build up shadows in drawings.

Apply this method using small, overlapping circular motions and squiggles. Lightly layer the marks for lighter areas and dense for darker ones.

Why You Should Use a Scumbling Value Scale

Scumbling is a painting trick where you put light colors over dark ones to make your artwork pop.

It’s all about adding depth and emotion, making your work stand out.

The value scale is a big deal in scumbling because it guides you on which light colors will make your dark colors shine.

In this image, JMW Turner used the scumbling technique in his paintings, implementing the scumbling value scale to great effect.
JMW Turner used scumbling for his paintings.

In the example above, you will see that JMW Turner used the scumbling technique in his paintings.

What you may not be aware of at first is how he implemented the scumbling value scale across the entire painting to great effect.

Knowing your value scale can take your artwork to the next level. It helps you decide how light or dark your scumbling color should be.

To master scumbling, you must really get the value scale. Think of the scale as your best friend guiding you in art.

This is because the value scale is a tool that informs the artist how to manipulate their medium to achieve a wide range of tonal effects, which is essential for the scumbling technique.

The better one understands the value scale and can implement it, the more effectively they can scumble,

Remember, practice makes perfect in scumbling. Don’t get discouraged if it’s tricky at first. Keep experimenting with different value levels on your scale.

Over time, you’ll find it easier to create texture and depth, enhancing your artistic skills.

Tips for Creating a Scumbling Value Scale

The article talks about how scumbling makes art look cool. It’s all about using light colors on dark ones to make a neat effect.

Practicing Blending

You need to get good at mixing colors softly. It makes your art feel deep and alive. Blending is key for a smooth transition in your artwork.

With practice, you’ll notice your skill grow, making your art more engaging.

Adjusting Pressure

The amount of pressure you use is vital. Lighter pressure lets more of the dark show through.

This helps in creating a balanced look in your pieces. Be careful with how hard you press to achieve the right effect.

Experimenting with Colors

Trying out different colors is necessary. It lets you see what works best. Don’t be afraid to mix unusual combinations.

You might find something amazing for your art. Experimenting can lead to unique results.

Creating a Value Scale Using Scumbling with Different Painting Mediums

Creating a value scale using scumbling with different painting mediums can have several pros and cons:


Texture and Depth:

Scumbling allows for the creation of rich textures and depth in a painting.

It can give a sense of atmosphere and softness that is hard to achieve with other techniques.

Subtlety of Tones:

It’s an excellent way to achieve subtle transitions between tones, which can be particularly useful in rendering forms that are soft around the edges, like clouds, fog, or diffuse reflections.

Variety of Effects:

Different painting mediums react uniquely to scumbling, allowing for a wide range of effects.

For example, oil paints can be layered for a luminous effect due to their thickness and slow drying time, while acrylics can be built up quickly due to their fast drying time.

Control Over Values:

Scumbling can offer precise control over the values in a painting.

Artists can gradually build up to the value they want without committing to strong, opaque strokes right away.

Corrective Technique:

It can be used to correct value errors or adjust the composition as the painting progresses, especially since it’s a more forgiving method than applying solid, opaque paint.



Scumbling requires patience and time, as it often involves layering many thin coats of paint to achieve the desired effect.

Difficulty in Reversal:

Once many layers have been applied, it can be difficult to reverse or change parts of the painting without risking damage to the layers beneath.

Medium Limitations:

Some painting mediums might not lend themselves well to scumbling.

Watercolor, for instance, is transparent and flows differently, so it may not produce the same effect as thicker mediums like oils or acrylics.

Potential for Muddiness:

If not done carefully, scumbling can result in muddy colors, especially when working with complementary colors or if the paint layers have not dried sufficiently.

Skill Level:

It requires a certain level of skill to effectively control the pressure and opacity to achieve a smooth gradient. This can be challenging for beginners.

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