UART Tip #22: My Lighter/Darker/Warmer/Cooler/Brighter/Greyer Mantra with Barbara Jaenicke
Okay, that title is quite the mouthful. But it’s what I live by when I paint.
I’m often asked how I approach color in a painting, and if I subscribe to any particular color theory. I wish I could give a short and sweet answer to how I use color. And I also wish I found color to be that simple.
There are indeed plenty of books out there on color theory. Whenever I’ve tried to read about the scientific explanations of color, I seem to get so caught up in attempting to understand the science part that I fail to make the connection to how I would apply it to my own paintings. So I’ve developed my own unsophisticated method of understanding how to use color in my painting process …
I talk my way through a painting using the mantra above. Here’s how it works …
Since I come from a drawing background, I tend to determine values better than I can color. So for each part of a painting, I first address the correct value. This is the “lighter/darker” part of that mantra that goes through my head.
Next is the “warmer/cooler” decision. You can’t determine if something is a “warm” or a “cool” out of context…this is what trips up most artists. You have to compare it to what it’s next to. Is it warmer than or cooler than what’s beside/above/below it. For example, the lower part of clear sky is normally warmer than the area above it and requires a color that leans toward pink or orange or yellow rather than a lighter blue. If a snow covered area is catching just a touch more light in one area vs. another, it will require a color that’s a touch warmer (again, with more pink, orange or yellow vs. the cooler area that may lean more blue or purple). IMPORTANT: The nuances of the warms and cools within the landscape aren’t always evident in a photo. A little manipulating in Photoshop can sometimes bring them back just enough to paint from, but a steady practice of painting on location helps with this!
Then lastly I determine the chroma (or saturation) … this is the “brighter/greyer” part. Typically distance will dull down color in a landscape, and foreground areas will have a brighter chroma. For example, if a subject far in the distance is catching direct sunlight, it will need to read as a warm, but a muted/greyed warm.
When I try to rush through these three decisions during the painting process, that’s when I get myself into trouble. It can indeed be a tedious process, but well worth the scrutinizing if you want to push your skill level and have successful results.
Barbara Jaenicke, PSA, IAPS/EP, AIS, OPA
Visit Barbara’s website at www.barbarajaenicke.com to view more of her work and her workshop schedule, and check out her blog at http://barbarajaenicke.blogspot.com for additional painting tips for both pastel and oil. You might also want to visit www.paintingthepoeticlandscape.com for Barbara’s instructional video series.