Color is a constant torment and joy said Claude Monet. What artist could disagree? If you paint as a hobby or strive for professional success it makes no difference. The quest for beautiful color applies to every artist. It is the single unifying quality beyond subject, concept or genre. We must find our way with color.
With this in mind I have prepared a compilation of all my best color tips, recipes, advice and videos to help you with your color mixing quest. Dive in and find out how to make your colors sing.
First the Color Terms You Need to Know:
To make sense of color and the lessons that follow we must all understand the basic terms used to describe color. Here goes:
Hue: The name given to a color. Cadmium red is a hue. Pale Yellow is a hue. Your hardware store will have many shades of paint for your home each with an exotic name. These are all hues. The name for a certain color.
Saturation: The degree of saturation of the hue. Has the color been altered at all since leaving the tube? If not then it is still fully saturated. The moment fresh color is altered with the addition of any other substance it is desaturated in some way. Maybe you added white or another hue? Or a medium to alter its drying time. Whatever. But for artists it is mostly a question of appearance to the eye.
Value: this is the relative lightness or darkness of a color. Every color has value. Value is the key to success for any painting. Being able to see a hue as lighter or darker compared to the subject or another color on the palette empowers an artist to create superb paintings. Most problems with a painting are due to errors in value. You need to master values first. (see my free course on this topic)
Temperature: To take your color knowledge to a new level you must understand color temperature. This is also a relative thing. Of course colors are not warm or cool to the touch. But to the eye each color will be warmer or cooler than another color. The relationship between colors. Alizarin crimson is warm compared to cerulean blue. But it is cool compared to orange.
Color Notes: A term that I use a lot is color notes. To see each brush mark as a note is to open the possibilities of manipulating color with confidence. Once you see the world as color notes you can mix the colors you need. Arrange the notes and you create paintings that are beautiful to the eye or hurt the eye.
The most important habit an artist can get into is to see color notes and ask is that note warmer or cooler, lighter or darker than another color note. When this approach clicks in your mind you are at another level of skill and exciting things will happen to your painting.
The Following Tutorials and Resources will help you master color:
1. How to Create Vibrant Color?
Start with this overview of understanding color relationships. Without this technical knowledge the mystery of color mixing will remain out of reach. Learn more
2. How to Come to Grips with Color Temperature.
My all time favorite color secret is using color temperature. Values are foundations, but color temperature is the fabric to create beauty. Learn more
3. How to Paint Shadows
Shadows are my friend. Honestly without shadows it is a struggle to create light filled paintings. Look for the shadows first and you will find the light.
4. How to Mix Flesh Colors Quickly and Easily
You will never purchase a tube of flesh tint paint ever again. This guide and demonstration will show you that it is not about flesh color, but rather values and temperature. But you knew that already :) Learn more
5. How to Mix the Color of Asphalt Road
What color is the sunlit shapes on asphalt (or tarred roads for us in the colonies). Does your color end up looking like water instead of sunlit road surface? This quick video guide will show you my favorite color recipes.
6. How to Mix Wet Sand and Beach Colors
So often beginners forget about the wet sand colors. This makes beach scenes look weird. Like there is no receding waves and we are watching the very first wave in the whole world. Now you can cure this problem for ever! Learn more
7. Keep Color Notes Clean
Remember those color notes I was talking about? This video will clear this topic up and hopefully have you painting clean color notes.
8. Master Values
A quick introduction to values and how you can prepare your paintings for great light dark relationships. Learn more
9. Use Photo References Better
Most artists use photos a lot. This video shows how to make the most of this approach and ensure that your color values are given proper attention.
10. The Mystery of Neutral Colors and Why they Matter
Just how much of nature is full on saturated color? Not much. Yes most of the colors out there are desaturated so you need to know how to make those colors look real, but not muddy either. We artists call these colors grays or neutral. Although the latter is not a good way to look at it either. In truth all color notes are warm and cool something. What does the color lean towards? Red, yellow, blue? Then start circling that color with mixes to get that shade of gray you need. This lesson will show you how.
11. Muddy Paint Giving You Nightmares?
How often do you look at your paint mixes and wonder how they got into that muddy, lifeless state? Not to worry. This is a necessary step to learning how to mix color. You need to find out in practical ways what works and what does not. A beautiful desaturated color is not the same as muddy color. Remember clean color notes can be anything so long as they are accurate descriptions of a color. Mud on the other hand is dead and does not enhance your painting. Here are twelve tips to avoid muddy color.
12. Why Oil Painting Mediums are Not the Answer
Some oil painting mediums are very expensive. Do they really make your colors better? Here is more about the subjects, which will hopefully help you decide on what to try. For my part I believe too much fuss is made by paint manufacturers and art stores over mediums. What counts is color itself. But take a look and decide for yourself.
13. Techniques for Better Painting
In the end it is how you put all these tips and techniques together to create your own unique piece of art. This lesson is about the top three techniques you most need to master right away. Well after some practice of course, but they will make the most difference. Learn more
Like I said in the beginning. Color remains the challenge we artists face throughout or careers. You will tweak and adapt your colors over time and get better at it. Practice and experience plus influences from other artists, life and observation will play their part too. Keep experimenting. No painting is ever complete or perfect. All you can do is love the process of discovery.
Color and Light