For this week’s exercise we will delve into memory for values. We will do a few weeks of this and then return to shape. Nonetheless, I strongly recommend that you hold off on value memory exercises until your memory for shape is quite advanced. If you cannot say that it is, at a minimum I would suggest that you continue shape exercises along with value exercises. In fact, that would be a good idea for anyone, regardless of their shape memory prowess.

If you’re new to all this, begin here first.

A developed memory for value largely rests on perceiving relationships. Value, like color, is not something that is discerned in isolation. Value is relative. This means that, at least in the beginning, you’ll need to compare the value you’re trying to memorize with a known value.

Above are six pairs of value squares. The left square in each pair is something I call the constant. This square is repeated beneath each pair. The first time you try to memorize each of the pairs, and every other time thereafter, you will not memorize the constant. Rather, you will use it to help you recall the target value. Then, during the alternate sessions, you will memorize the constant as well.

That seems complicated, I know, but the following instructions should clear it up. Once you figure it out there’s less need to be so restrictive.

As for medium, so far all we have been using is pencil. For value memory drawing you can use just about anything that you are comfortable with. Bear in mind however that you need to be able to easily create a smooth tone AND the medium needs to be able to hit the value you are after. If you’re using a 2H pencil you will not be able to match the darks in the exercise. Pencil (2B or greater), charcoal, watercolor and oil paint will work.


  1. Print out the exercise images.
  2. Cut out the pairs (but not the individual squares).
  3. Then, cut out the constant beneath each pair. Each pair has a different, matched value for the constant so try to keep them organized.
  4. On a sheet of paper, draw twelve pairs of squares. These will be your work surfaces. They are called exercise pairs in the instructions below. Your medium will determine what kind of paper to use. Make each square 1″ x 1″. Therefore, each pair will be 1″ x 2″.
  5. Cut these pairs out as well but do not cut them into separate squares.
  6. Tape the appropriate constant to the left-hand square of three of the exercise pairs. Once again, try to keep track of which constant goes with which pair.

At this point you should have the following:

  • Six, separate strips of value pairs.
  • Six, separate constant squares.
  • Six exercise pairs with a constant taped to them.
  • Six exercise pairs without constants.

Exercise Routine – Session 1:

  1. Set one of the value pairs in front of you and look at it for 3 minutes.
  2. For the first session, while you are looking at it try not to analyze too much. Simply keep your attention on the pair of values.
  3. Now and then, stare slightly above the pair.
  4. Occasionally close your eyes and try to imagine the pair in your mind.
  5. When the time is up, remove the source.
  6. On the exercise pair that has the taped constant (which is the same as the exercise), try to draw or paint the value you remember into the empty square.
  7. To check your work, place your drawing right up against the source. Squint to see whether your attempt nicely blends into the source value.
  8. If you have the time, do the same routine for three of the value pairs on the same day. Otherwise, do the next pair on the following day and the third pair the day after that, etc.

Exercise Routine – Session 2 (to be done on the second time through for each pair):

  1. Follow all of the preceding instructions except that this time you should also actively try to analyze the value comparisons.
  2. Additionally, you should try to memorize the constant as well. This means that you will use the exercise pairs without constants as your work surface.
  3. Once again, analyzing means considering how the two values relate to each other. Which is darker, and by how much? This will become ever more important in future exercises.

If you do this week’s exercise pairs a third or even a fourth time, alternate between each of the above routines, every other day. If you’d like more resources for this, get some variously toned construction paper and cut squares out of those.