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The Keys to Using Color in Painting

The Keys to Using Color in Painting

The Keys to Using Color in Painting

Teaching Color Theory used to frustrate me.

Until I realized there was a better way.

“Fields in Fall Light”, oil, 5 x 7”, © Mary Bentz Gilkerson

“Fields in Fall Light”, oil, 5 x 7”, © Mary Bentz Gilkerson

The easiest way to discover color is through painting.

And learning that way has the added benefit of being easier to remember since most of us in the arts are kinesthetic and visual learners.

So here they are: The 7 Keys to Color

 

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#1 Start with great paint. Buy the best you can afford. You’ll get better results quicker and more easily. Once you get used to a color that’s made by a certain brand, keep buying it in that brand. There’s a big difference from brand to brand.

I give more supply recommendations in my blog – Selecting Basic Painting Colors and Materials.

 

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#2 Use a limited palette with a warm and a cool version of each primary. Fewer tubes of paint are easier to control when you’re starting out. It’ll also be easier to keep your color schemes harmonious when you’re mixing your colors from these primaries.

Ultramarine Blue
Phthalo Blue
Napthol Red (Cad. Red)
Napthol Crimson (Al. Cr.)
Yellow Ochre
Indian Yellow
Titanium White

Want to know more about the advantages of using a Double Primary Palette to gain more control over color?
Click here to read more.

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#3 Understand the Four Aspects of Color: hue, value, intensity and temperature.
Hue – the color’s position on the spectrum, the wavelength of the light, (the color name)
Value – the lightness or darkness of a color (this is a biggie! More on that in my blog – 5 Tips to Put Value to Work For You)
Intensity – the brightness or dullness of a color
Temperature – the apparent warmth or coolness of a color

 

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#4 Create color harmony (the pleasing relationship of hues) by picking a definite color scheme and mixing your colors before beginning to paint. By using a color scheme, you’re selecting hue intentionally and being sensitive to how they interact with each other. And if you mix ahead, you’ll know how the colors are going to interact with each other.

 

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#5 Use strong contrast in value to define form and depth. Mix three variations in value of each color. Make sure that there is a significant difference between them so that the illusion of depth will be created. If you’re having trouble seeing the true value of the color you’re observing, try snapping a quick photo and converting it to greyscale.

 

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#6 If you want a strong sense of light use optical, not local color. Optical color is closer to the way our eyes work and is based on how the color of light interacts with the physical color of the object.

 

#7 The Secret Sauce: Don’t forget the neutral colors. They make the intense colors sing. In other words, don’t forget to use contrast in intensity as well as the others.

More on that in Lori McNee’s blog – The Importance Of Using Neutrals In Art.

Putting these keys to work for you will be a game-changer for the color in your painting.

I’d love to have you join my Painter’s Practice Art Tips email list where I share more tips just like this, and give you first dibs on any new offers that come out of the studio. And I’ve got a special bonus for you for joining the list to help you keep these keys handy in your studio, the 7 Keys to Color PDF. 

 

Blogpost Freebie

Download the 7 Keys to Color PDF

 

Remember that if working with color was easy, everybody would be great at it already. You are with me right now because you want something more for your paintings. And using color effectively will captivate your viewer on a deep level.

Learning to control color is a process, but if you start to taking steps TODAY, I promise you that you WILL see a difference.

2021 webinar invitation

How to Use Value, Color, and Composition to Make Compelling Paintings

You're invited to a special free workshop I’m hosting where I'll share how you can leverage composition, value, and color to make compelling paintings. If you missed this earlier now's the time to save your seat.  You can learn more here and find a time that fits your schedule.

Chasing Clouds

Chasing Clouds

“Chasing Clouds”, 5 x 7”, oil on archival panel © Mary Bentz Gilkerson

“Chasing Clouds”, 5 x 7”, oil on archival panel © Mary Bentz Gilkerson

Ever watched rain moving in chasing smaller clouds in front of it? Almost as if the clouds are chasing each other?

That’s what was happening late on the afternoon I painted this. I really had very little time to paint before the rain drops started falling.

But it was time enough.

Perched on the edge of the parking lot at the entrance to Ft. Pulaski, I put up my easel in the shelter of my car.

And painted quickly to capture those storm clouds.

The spectacular sky made up for having to move fast to outrun the incoming rain.

Do you have a favorite place to watch the storms roll in?

Do you have a favorite place to watch the storms roll in? I’d love to hear about yours in the comments!

“Chasing Clouds” is available and part of the Lowcountry Light Collection. Check out the rest of the whole collection.

Outgoing Storm Bands

Outgoing Storm Bands

“Outgoing Storm Bands”, 5 x 7”, oil on archival panel, © Mary Bentz Gilkerson

“Outgoing Storm Bands”, 5 x 7”, oil on archival panel, © Mary Bentz Gilkerson

Have you ever watched outgoing storm bands race across the sky after one passes through?

I spent time back in September, storm season here, at one of my favorite spots for catching the sky and marsh…

The huge stretch of marsh bounded by Ft. Pulaski, Bull River and Tybee Island.

The perfect place to watch the clouds run.

And run they did.

Those storm bands were all we got from Ida as she came past out to sea, but they made for quite a display, even a day later.

I remember my dad telling me as a child that it was nature’s way of making up for the storms…

Spectacular skies afterward.

And he was right.

“Outgoing Storm Bands” is available and part of the Lowcountry Light Collection. Check out the rest of the whole collection.

Relative Color: Why Color Relationships Are Important

Relative Color: Why Color Relationships Are Important

Relative Color: Why Color Relationships Are Important

Are you seeing how inter-connected colors are?

How we “see” a color is influenced by the colors surrounding it.

Paying close attention to color relationships, what’s known as relative color, is a crucial part of both learning to see and to paint.

In this video I’ve got a quick demo to show you how our perception of color shifts depending on its context.

Rough Transcript:

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last day, about one of my favorite quotes from Wayne Thiebaud. He said that as far as I’m concerned, there is only one study, and that is the way in which things relate to one another. I think that that really encapsulates everything about painting, looking at paintings and learning how to see, how to see the world, especially how to see color.

You know, Thiebaud passed away just day before yesterday, on Christmas Day. So I think he’s on the top of mind for a lot of us artists.

Thiebaud was a colorist. He was a master colorist. And if you look at just the edge of a shadow of an object, one object within his painting, you’re going to see an entire range of colors from warm to cool light, to dark, bright, to dull and everything in between, because he knew how to look closely, mostly at the subjects that he was painting and how to remember that and how to translate that experience into paint.

So I want to think about, and talk to you today a little bit about how to process what he meant by that, how to take that idea of the interconnectedness of everything, the interconnectedness in particular of colors and apply that to painting.

We have a tendency or really strong tendency to see objects and colors as individual elements and not look at how they’re related to each other. We’re kind of hard wired that way as predators, but it means that we sometimes skim over the relationships and we need to kind of zoom back out and take into account how they’re connected.

We need to look not just at the thing, but the thing that’s next to the thing. The key to understanding color is to understand that we perceive a color in relationship to the collar next to it. So how we interpret that color as being lighter, dark, brighter closer to red or closer to green, or warmer or cooler.

We see all of that in relationship to the color it’s next to, not in isolation. That’s the key to learning to see, and then to go from seeing to being able to create that experience in your own paintings, whether you’re an observational, representational painter or not, it’s a real key to understanding how colors interact with each other and how your viewer is going to look at them.

So let me show you some examples of what I’m talking about on a really simple level. Let’s take a look at how our perception of color shifts depending on the color next to it.

We’re going to be working with this fairly neutral blue, gray, and then comparing it to other colors based on their value, intensity and their temperature.

Let’s dive in.

I’m going to create over here a nice square of our blue gray.

Give us two of them and we’re going to compare value.

I’m getting a lot of texture in there as well, unintentionally.

So I’m going to compare one with a really dark color. This is a dark purple.

I kinda liked that that little strip of blue gray ended up there in the middle of it.

And then we’re going to go with a light, slightly more intense blue.

What we can see there is exactly same blue, gray appears lighter when it’s next to a dark color because of contrast and it appears darker next to a light color. So these two do not appear to be the exact same value. Colors influence each other.

And our next one, we’re going to take. Let’s see if I can scrape this a little thinner so that it’s going to read a little flatter and we’re not going to get so much cast shadow.

And in our next one, we’re going to look at, that was value, we’re going to go to intensity.

So I have a slightly duller, terracotta color. It’s a slightly dark orange, and we’re going to put that here in the top comparison. And then we’re going to go with a more intense version of the same color underneath.

This color is more pure, more intense. Top one is duller.

And what will happen when we are comparing. dull to dull, and bright to dull, is that the blue gray here will appear a little bit more blue because it’s next to its close compliment up here.

The blue gray appears not as intense. It’s a little bit dollar because this orange is not as intense as the. So the intensity of the color it’s next to is going to affect our perception of the intensity of the original color.

So scrape this one down too. And this time we’re going to look at the temperature, the apparent, warmth, or coolness of the.

And we’re going to compare what it looks like when it’s up against a warmer color and when it’s up against a cooler color and how that shifts our perception. So for our warmer color, we have.

Rather for our cooler color, we have a fairly intense blue. It’s ultra Marine blue mixed with white.

So there’s our cooler.

And we’re going to compare that with our warmer Terra cotta color.

And what we’ll see is how does our perception of its temperature shifts.

So here where we’re comparing temperature, the blue gray appears warmer when it’s next to a cool color. It appears cooler when it’s next to a warm. It appears lighter when it’s next to a dark color and darker. When it’s next to a light color, it appears more intense when it’s next to an intense color and dollar when it’s next to adult color.

So hope this gives you some ideas of ways that you can explore. And understand more the interconnectedness, the relationships between colors. So I want to wrap up by going back to what Wayne Teebo said and applying it specifically to color that he said that the way in which things relate to one another is the.

And that is the key to learning, to see color and to be able to really implement it effectively in your paintings. So keep in mind that you’re going to be able to translate that by understanding, contrast how color is similar or different and how value, intensity and temporary. So I hope that’s been helpful and that y’all have been having a great holiday period here.

We’re in that in-between law between Christmas and new years. So if you’re looking for something to do, that’s not too heavy in the studio right now. I would suggest that. You explore a little bit and experiment with how colors shift and change when they’re up against different colors and you shift those aspects, do some observation of.

What you see and looking at those relationships, are they lighter or darker? Are they brighter or dollar? Are they warmer or cooler? Ask yourself those questions and let me know how it goes.

2021 webinar invitation

How to Use Value, Color, and Composition to Make Compelling Paintings

You're invited to a special free workshop I’m hosting where I'll share how you can leverage composition, value, and color to make compelling paintings. If you missed this earlier now's the time to save your seat.  You can learn more here and find a time that fits your schedule.

Golden Hour, Tybee

Golden Hour, Tybee

“Golden Hour, Tybee”, oil, 5 x 8”

“Golden Hour, Tybee”, oil, 5 x 8”, © Mary Bentz Gilkerson

The golden hour, painted at one of my happy places back at the end of summer…the huge expanse of marsh across from Ft. Pulaski.

The golden hour is that short period right before sunset when it looks like the whole world has been brushed with gold leaf.

A profoundly fleeting moment…

It was a bit cooler and drier because Hurricane Ida’s remnants had blasted through the afternoon. before.

But still lots of gorgeous cloud remnants bending over the marsh.

One of the reasons I love that spot is the view in all directions. By parking my car in the Ft. Pulaski lot, I can get a view of the huge expanse of marsh grass, small creeks, and sky just across the highway.

And the other direction? The South Channel of the Savannah River and the distant ocean.

And did I mention the scent of pluff mud??

“Golden Hour, Tybee” is available and part of the Lowcountry Light Collection. Check out the rest of the whole collection.