ILLUSTRATION KNOWHOW Creating a strong image — values

Many illustrators struggle to find the right balance between colour and texture. Illustrator, Rekha Salin, shows you in this four-part series how you can make your illustrations dynamic and colourful.

As the definition suggests, 'value' defines how light or dark a colour can be on a black and white scale. One of the key ways to know if an illustration is communicating the story is by checking the values.

I always thought that my illustrations should be very beautiful and colourful. This being very much true, it is also important to know that each colour on a greyscale has a value ranging between the scale of white and black. How we use them makes an illustration either strong or weak. An illustration could have a range of very beautiful colours, they could be dark or light, bright or muted, grey or vibrant but if they fail to work together on the value scale, then the illustration or image isn’t strong enough.

There are no right or wrong colours, but the way one uses them together is what makes the piece strong or weak. The contrast in values is how colours behave with each other on the value scale — the highest contrast being the black and white values placed together.

However, if black is placed against dark green or stronger brown the contrast in their values isn’t high. They blend together and don’t stand out. It's always about the relationship between the colours and not the colours themselves.

To make an illustration strong, the highest contrast in values should be created around the key focal interest: the place we want the reader to see first. The rest of the illustration should guide the viewer through the storytelling.

If you are using Procreate, create a layer on the top and fill it in with WHITE and then change the mode to SATURATION. This helps to see the image in black and white. ​If you are working traditionally, then you can take an image with your mobile and change it to black and white. 


*Header image: collaboration by Rekha Salin & Tita Berredo
all other images: Rekha Salin

Rekha Salin
has three books published as an illustrator. Two picture books, one in 2020 and the other in 2022, and also a recipe book (for adults) in 2022 published by ABV publisher. She is currently working with Gnome Road Publishing, and this will be available in 2024.

See more of Rekha's work here. Follow her on Instagram and on Twitter.


Ell Rose (formerly Shannon Ell) is Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. Find their work at Follow them on Instagram and Twitter. Contact them at

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