Last month, we talked about cool and warm colors and how the placement of these colors on a canvas can “trick the eye” to bring areas toward or away from the viewer. By the way, artist Carol A. McIntyre just completed a blog entry about cool and warm colors. Here’s what she says in her blog.
This month, we’re tackling two subjects, how to make a color darker or lighter AND do you begin laying dark colors or light colors first?
Let’s tackle the “how to make the color darker or lighter”. Now when we did our monochromatic study in December, I had you using Titanium White. Typically, when we think lighter or darker, we think about adding white for lightness or black for darkness. But that really is making it overly simple. You may have noticed that when I used Titanium White with my Cadmium Red Hue that it actually made my warm red very cool. White cools down colors, plain and simple, while black muddies them. Okay, why is that?
Well, it comes from the fact that white and black really do contain other colors that can interfere with the purity and vibrancy of the color that you’re using. Titanium White will actually mute the vibrancy of a color. And if that’s what you want to achieve in a painting – okay. But if you use it throughout all colors in a painting, then areas of your painting may come out looking a bit flat – as you could see from my monochromatic where I’ve mixed the Cadmium Red Hue with the Titanium White to create the darker bubblegum pink (color #3 on my recipe card):
Titanium White is also opaque. So if you mix this white with a transparent color, it will turn your transparent color into an opaque color – thus you lose the transparency that maybe you actually want to keep. So what about black? Well, black muddies a color because its intensity can overwhelm the color you’re mixing it into. Also, depending on the black you use, it can have other colors – like blue – which can increase the muddiness if it’s added to a secondary color that does not include blue.
So how can you lighten or darken and still keep vibrancy? That’s where knowing your basic secondary color mixing comes in handy. For example, you know that yellow and blue make green. Well, to lighten a green, try mixing the lighter color (i.e. yellow) into the green (instead of white). Likewise, to darken that green – you got it, try mixing in the darker color (i.e. blue). If the green that you have was created by you actually combining a yellow and a blue paint from your palette, then mixing more of one color than the other will accomplish the light or dark version. If you have a color that’s already “premixed” (like Sap Green), then you’ll need to experiment a little. Again, knowing if that green is a warm or cool version will help. For example, let’s say you have a cool green and want to keep it cool when you lighten it – then go with a cool yellow.
(Just for giggles, I did an online search on what colors are in Sap Green. The Golden Paints website said: “This was achieved by blending Transparent Red Iron Oxide, Nickel Azo Yellow, Phthalo Green Yellow Shade and adding a tiny amount of Carbon Black to get a deep yellow green.” Aha – so if you have Golden Paints Sap Green, try to lighten with Nickel Azo Yellow; if you want to darken, try the Phthalo Green Yellow Shade. Get it?)
Yes, all of this color mixing takes a little thought in the beginning. But after doing it a while – and refining your color palette in the process – it will become second nature to you. If you have a lot of colors and are feeling overwhelmed, just concentrate on three primary colors, all cool or all warm, and work just with them. Marion Boddy-Evans, of About.com Painting, has a wonderful article on creating such a “limited palette”. Again, when you’re starting out, baby steps are a good thing.
So – “to begin light or not to begin light. That is the question. ‘Tis nobler to begin dark…” Ya, leave it to Shakespeare to give voice to the complicated. But actually it’s not as complicated as you think. It depends on your preference and the outcome. How about that for a wishy-washy answer. Truth is, you do get a very different outcome when you begin with light colors or dark colors.
Jacob Taxis on About.com Painting posted a video in which he paints from dark colors to light colors. His overall final image is dark or moody or shadowy – or however you want to phrase it – with very clearly defined color areas. His method of dark-to-light is a classical way of painting. You end by putting in the highlights.
But what do you do when you want your painting to be – and feel – lighter? Aha – that’s where some of the impressionists turned everything on its ear. (No pun intended to Van Gogh.) They began with the lights and ended with the darks. So, in classical terms, you’re actually working backwards. I used this method in my self-portrait, so you can look at my video version. Now keep in mind while watching my video: every new image of my portrait was a stopping point where I let the paint dry completely. Allowing the paint to dry maintained the clean colors without any “muddying” or accidental “lightening” of colors due to inadvertent mixing on the canvas.
So your assignment for this month is back to the onion, but this will be the last time:
- Take our good old onion photo.
- Paint two studies of it:
- One study dark-to-light: Paint the darks and lights in areas the way Jacob Taxis does in his video.
- One study light-to-dark: First, block out the entire onion what would become your highlight color, and then work backwards from there toward the dark end.
After completing these two studies, you should know which version (dark-to-light or light-to-dark) gives you the most satisfaction. When you know, just paint the colors on your future canvases in that order.
Now that we are more comfortable with color and how you get it on the canvas, next month we’ll tackle composition – in other words, how viewers “read” your painting.