Monday, March 28, 2016

My Lighter/Darker/Warmer/Cooler/Brighter/Greyer Mantra.

Okay, that title is quite the mouthful. But it’s what I live by when I paint.

November Dusk on Silver Lake, 18x24, oil
This painting relies heavily on accurate value and temperature.
Notice the similar values of warm and cool, especially in
the foreground "ice."

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.

Lighter/Darker (Value)
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.

Lighter and darker values of the same hue.

Warmer/Cooler (Temperature)
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!

Warms on the left, moving to cools on the right.
Notice how the hue in the middle is cooler than what's
on the left but warmer than what's on the right.

Brighter/Greyer (Chroma)
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.

Brighter and greyer chromas of similar hues.

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. 

Sunlit Slope, 16x20, pastel
This one relies on greyed warms and cools in the
distance and and more saturated versions of those colors
in the foreground.

Upcoming Workshops:

Lewisburg, West VA - 3-day PASTEL workshop - FULL
April 25, 26 & 27, 2016 (Mon/Tues/Wed)
Carnegie Hall West VirginiaKellar Art Studio105 Church St.Lewisburg, WV, 24901
$295/member; $400/non-member
Contact Jeanne Brenneman, 304-645-3050

Springfield, OR - 3-day PASTEL/OIL workshop
May 3, 4 & 5, 2016 (Tues/Wed/Thurs)
Emerald Art Center500 Main StreetSpringfield, OR 97477
$420/member; $445/non-memberCall 541-736-8595;

Bend, OR - 1-day PASTEL PLEIN AIR workshop
June 4, 2016 (Sat)
Plein Air Painters of Oregon
Location: Shevlin Park. Back-up studio location will be provided in case of inclement weather.
$65/member; $70 non-member
Registration will open up to non-members after March 15.
Contact Nancy Misek, 541-388-1567,

Bend, OR - 3-day PASTEL/OIL workshop (studio & plein air)
June 6, 7 & 8, 2016 (Mon/Tues/Wed)
"The Well Edited Landscape, Inside and Out"
Cascade Fine Art Workshops
Exact venue in Bend TBD. Plein air location will be near studio venue.
$410 before May 6 ($460 after May 6)
Contact Susan Manley at or 541-408-5524

Lac du Flambeau, WI (northern Wisconsin) - 4-day PASTEL/OIL workshop
(studio/some plein air)
June 27, 28, 29 & 30, 2016 (Mon-Thurs)
Studio & Plein Air
Dillman's Creative Arts Foundation3305 Sand Lake Lodge Lane
Lac du Flambeau, WI 54538
This will mainly be a studio workshop, but will also include some plein air time during one of the four days. Dillman's is a resort facility where you can also enjoy gorgeous scenery, boat rides on the lake and other outdoor recreation right there where the workshop takes place. The studios stay open after workshop hours for artists wanting additional painting time. Workshop fee also includes a welcome dinner the evening of your arrival. Affordable accommodations in the resort are available through Dillman's.
Call 715-588-3143 for more information or register online at

For full workshop schedule, visit

Critique Services
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