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Bring your paintings to life through the use of color. Learn color vibration, color mixing, and the role that color plays in a landscape painting.
Landscape painting in a studio compared to painting on-location are completely different experiences, each with their own set of challenges to face. Painting landscapes on-location means you’re faced with constantly changing natural lighting, as well as nature, but the experience itself can really make your inspiration flow.
In this painting course, Artist Ben Fenske teaches you the fundamentals of landscape painting through a series of lessons. These lessons include easy to follow instruction, analysis of famous landscape paintings, and demonstrations shot on-location, to help you better your painting skills.
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a little bit of how to mix color, how I think about mixing color, a
little bit about color vibration, and a little bit about the role that color plays in
painting. So let's start with just basic definitions.
So a lot of people are using all kinds of definitions regarding color and they can
be a little bit confusing sometimes.
So I just want to go through a few basic terms and just to find what
If you’ve painted a little bit,
you've probably heard these terms thrown around and they're a little bit confusing.
What is a warm color?
What is a cool color?
And the answer is there are no warm colors and there are no cool colors, there are
only one color that’s warm next to something else. SO everything is relative in that in
that way of looking at things so let me just mix up a random color.
And then we'll see if we can make it a little bit warmer and a little
bit cooler, and I'll try to explain the difference.
So I'm not really thinking about what color I want to - maybe I'll choose
some sort of a green.
And then we can talk about making it warmer or cooler.
Okay, let's just put a bit of this color there.
Now like I said, this color is neither warm nor cool, and that's because it's the
only color on the canvas.
If I wanted to make this color cooler
I can do that. I can mix up another color over here
that's almost like this color but a little bit cooler.
I can mix up a color that's almost the same but a little bit warmer.
And so let's just see what that would look like.
So warmer generally means something has more of a feeling of orange
in it and cooler generally means something has more of a feeling of blue
or violet in it. So - but you could have warm and cool version of any color.
You can have a warm red and a cool red.
You can have a warm orange and a cooler orange.
You could have - for any color, any of the infinite colors that you can mix up,
you can mix up something that's warm and cool next to it.
It's a bit confusing, it takes
some time to get used to the concept.
So I'm not thinking now about value,
I'm not trying to change a value.
I'm not trying to change even necessarily -
I want to stay with a sort of green.
I just want to shift it one way or another.
I'm going to shift it first towards the warm
and I'm just literally adding a little bit of orange in this case
and maybe a little bit yellow.
Maybe a little bit of red.
Okay. So now that there are two colors on the panel,
we can clearly say that this is the warmer color of the two.
Now, let's take this base and mix up something that's cool in relation to this.
Okay, and I might just make it a little bit more obvious.
I'll add even more green and blue to that mixture.
Okay so now we have three versions of this green and we've got a very
cool on a very warm on and wellness in the middle.
So now if we just isolate these two
these two greens, this one is now the warm green and this is the cold green.
So this one is warmer than this one.
If we isolate these two,
this is warmer than this one.
And so that's one general way that people speak about color.
Is it warmer or cooler?
And it's a relative thing.
It's relative to the color next to it.
Or relative to something else in the painting.
I could also save for example that
this is a warm ground on my canvas because my other options for ground are maybe -
I can't get much warmer than that so I could say that's a fairly warm ground,
but generally warm and cool
you have to have something to relate it to. So you can have warm blues and
cool blues. It's not that all blues are cool.
You can have a warm blue eyes just depends on if you put it next to
a colder blue. So that's one general way to think about color,
especially when you're mixing and when you're putting things next to each other on a canvas.
It's a question you can ask yourself,
do I want a warmer version of that or a cooler version.
And often outside you have a light or sunlight which tends to be warm
and you have shadows which tend to be cooler.
So in relation to each other you have warm light ,cool shadows.
So you can think about that as well.
So all of your shadows might tend to lean more towards the blue, all of your
lights might tend to lean more towards the orange yellow.
Just in general. So again if this was my mixture for a
sunlight painting, I might go more for
a warmer version of this green.
If this was a shadow on an outdoor painting, sunlight painting,
I would go more for the cold probably.
But it's all relative so I could make this work or I can make
any of these colors work just by relating other colors to them.
So I don't want that to sound too confusing.
I just want to make the point that warm and cool are relative to each other.
Okay, let's talk a little bit about
saturation, chroma color intensity. These are words that people throw around all the time.
And to me they mean the same thing really.
And basically what it means
is if we take a color out of the tube -
let's just take this cadmium orange.
So let's take this cadmium orange
snd put it on the the panel,
this color is 100% saturated.
I don't have a stronger orange.
I can't make this more orange.
It's pure orange, cadmium orange pigment.
So if I want a less saturated orange,
I need to I guess grey it down.
So it's going to go more towards the grey.
So I'll mix up a gray
that's the same value as this orange.
And I can just show you
what it would look like as it becomes desaturated.
And I'm just going to match this right on the palette.
Okay. I've got a grey
that's roughly the same value now
as that orange. So if I start to create a gradient
between these, I can take the saturation out of the orange.
I think I'm a little bit too dark actually.
I don't want to have a value gradation, just a color gradation.
Okay, so that's - this now shows saturation in a color.
So 100% saturation and I guess 0% saturation would be no color.
It would be sort of black and white, it would be a grey.
So to me this is the same - to say it to describe this change as an
increase or decrease in saturation
is the same thing as saying in an increase or decrease in color intensity
and also the same as saying an increase in chroma or decrease in chroma.
So that's that's basically what those things mean.
And I've already described in the lecture on aerial perspective how you can desaturate
a color in a few different ways.
So I won't go in that to that here.
Next topic is hue. So what hue refers to is - this is
hard to describe so.
Let's put a few colors up there.
Let's put up here orange again,
cadmium red, something in between. So this would be a red hue, this is an orange hue,
this is deep orange hue.
This is an orange hue.
This is also an orange hue.
Hue describes the color but not related to the saturation.
So these, all three of these, could be described as - well this is a better example.
So these are all orange hues, every one of these pieces, orange hue,
orange, orange. This is the same hue at different levels of saturation.
I think that's the best way of saying it.
All of these variations are the same hue just different levels of saturation.
Okay, so that's what hue means.
It works interchangeably with color it’s just the word color has so many meanings that
it’s better sometimes to say hue.
Let's take another term that people use and there’s a term local color.
And what's that means basically is that means the color of an object
and from the point of view of probably from the point of view of somebody
that doesn't paint, if you ask somebody
what color is a banana?
They'll say it's yellow, kind of greeny yellow,
but mostly it's yellow. Everybody will tell you a banana
is yellow. But if you're a painter,
if you ask a good painter,
what color is a banana?
They'll probably say it like well,
I don't know. What's the temperature of the light hitting it?
What is the temperature of the ambient light?
What's reflecting on to it?
And so all of these factors
combine to produce different colors.
So theoretically you could paint a banana and not using yellow it would still look
like a yellow banana. To the lay person, to the person that street you
say what's that a picture of. And they say it’s a yellow banana,
but you haven't used any yellow
because yellow is the local color
but the color that you actually use might not be that. So let's just -
let me think of an example.
Okay. Here's an easy example
that I think illustrates the point. Let me see.
Okay, what is that? That's actually pretty close - you might look at this isolated here
alone and think what is that a sort of dark grey?
But this is actually roughly the shadow color of a tree that I just painted.
So the local color of the tree
is what everybody would say
it's a sort of dark green tree, it’s an oak,
It's got those dark green leaves.
You can grab one of the leaves and hold it up to this and say they
don't match but this is the color
to the artist and the local color is the color of the object.
Under a given light,
under a given light condition.
So the color that you use as an artist to describe that object changes all the
time. Okay so that's local color.
Let's talk about - let's talk just a little bit about
basic mixing ideas, a few ideas about mixing color.
And there's a bunch of them that I use.
One of the ways that I mix color really is
I will just start with -
I'll make my observation. I'll start mixing a color.
Let’s say I'm mixing a green of a tree. It’s in the
sunlight, this tree in the sunlight I’m mixing a green,
I mix up a pile on the palette,
something that I think I want to use.
Then I'll put it down on the canvas.
I'll ask myself okay, is that is that the color I want?
Is it the value that I want?
And actually the value is the first thing that you need to think about when mixing
color. So almost for a split-second you need to just turn your mind into sort of
like a black and white camera.
And say what's the value of that thing? A lot of people are frustrated, they’ll be
mixing color and they just - they can never get it right, they’re frustrated,
but that's because they haven't considered the value.
So once you have considered the value, then put it down, if you're happy with the
value then you just need to ask yourself,
okay, is it - what kind of green am I looking for?
Is that the green I'm looking for, does it need to be bluer,
does it need to be redder, does it need to be more orange,
does it need to be
more yellowy green? And I like to think of it like that.
So I like to think does it need more orange, more yellow,
more blue? You could also think does it need to be warmer or cooler,
does it need to be,
more saturated or less saturated? Those are the questions that you ask yourself every time you
mix any color. And it takes some experimenting.
It's - if you haven't mixed colors before it's actually really difficult.
If you find yourself mixing along,
trying to get that perfect green
and you can't get it,
the best thing to do sometimes is take a clean brush, a clean portion of the
palette, look again, try to figure out the value of that color you want,
mix up something more intense than you think you need.
So if I'm going for a green,
let’s say again, I'm going to start with something more intense or more chromatic or more
saturated, any of those words work.
I’m gonna start with something really really intense because the easiest thing to do in oil
paintis to take the saturation out of a color.
So I'm going to start with something very saturated,
let me just get the right value here.
I want to start with mixing with this very intense color.
Okay, there's the color that I want.
I just want to make it
less saturated now. That's really the easiest thing to do in oil paint.
Because almost anything that you now throw into this mixture
will make it a little bit muddier, like this is kind of a muddier color.
There are some sophisticated ways of doing it,
there are also some easy ways of doing it. I’ve got different piles of of colors mixed up my palette
at any given time. Sometimes I could just reach for something
that's roughly the same value,
and just start throwing that into the mixture.
And now I’ve taken the saturation down a bit just by kind of throwing
random mud into it. So on the other side of that,
it's very difficult with oil paint to keep clean,
clear, separate colors. So if you’re having trouble with a certain color
let’s say for example
I want to make this color now more intense.
I want to make it -
I've gone too far, I want to make it more intense. Sometimes
the best thing to do is just start over.
Because it's really easy to make a muddy color,
it's really difficult to bring that color back up to a more intense color.
So sometimes the best thing to do is just scrape that off and start over.
Let's talk a little bit about a couple ways to make black if you wanted and
a couple ways to make greys.
And a couple ways to make greens.
Everybody always wants to know how do you make greens?
Greens are the color that people have the most trouble with I would say. Or it’s
the most frustrating color for most people.
So let's talk about - talk about different ways to make different greens and a few ways
to make greys and how to describe a grey.
I've got to get a few - I've got to get some more colors here.
So I don't have a black on the palette.
But if I want a black I can or something close to a black I can
easily mix it up. So I've got phthalo green,
very powerful color, alizarin another very powerful color, transparent brown, another very powerful color and ultramarine
blue. And let’s just look at a few ways of making blacks and greys.
And the first one is what's called a chromatic black.
And if you take the right proportion of alizarin and ultramarine - so here we've got a
a start of a red, a blue.
Now, theoretically if we throw in something -
well let’s just throw in this green and see if these colors start to just cancel each
other out. That might be too much green.
Just see what happens when we mix these colored up.
The strange thing is they appear to be getting darker as we mix them.
Okay, let's see what that look looks like.
It's almost impossible to tell what it looks like unless you mix it with a
little bit of white. So let's mix that with a little bit of white and see
what's there. Okay, it looks like we have a black that leans a little bit to
the blue-green side. So if I want to take a little bit of that blue out
of there, I just need to add a little bit more of alizarin.
Right now I've got a cool black.
Let’s just see if this warms it up a bit.
Okay that now it's a little bit towards the violet that black.
So it's still a cool black that leans towards the violet.
I guess I could add a little bit of this brown
and make a warmer black.
I generally don't mix pre-mix colors on the palette.
I just I find it easier to just keep on mixing as I go.
And I generally mix with a brush.
Okay. Now we've got a black that looks a little bit warmer.
So here again, we can use that terminology, warm and cool, and you can see that
now we've got a cooler black and a warmer black or I should say
the grey is now a cool grey and a warmer grey.
So that's a good black if you want to black on your palette and
if you don't have one.
And if you're making greys
you can use that same idea.
So if I want to make a warmer grey -
even warmer than that - I can just add a little bit of - I can add a
little bit of that transparent brown to the mix.
And that will warm it up.
Okay now I’ve got a very warm grey.
So grey is one of those colors that people describe but it's really - it's actually
not useful to say grey because a gray is either- it's a warm greys is it a
cool grey, is a grey that looks yellow and it and even that's not very helpful
because it depends on what it's next to on the canvas.
Let’s talk a little bit about mixing greens.
Just gonna put this in my black pile.
Get rid of some of this.
Okay, so there are all kinds of greens that you can buy tubed.
I've got two separate greens on the palette.
I've got a veridian, which is a in relation to the phthalo a sort of cool green,
it’s opaque. The phthalo is a relatively warmer, more yellowy green.
And it's very transparent and they behave very differently.
Let's just see what happens when we mix them with
cadmium yellow light. Maybe I'll just do it here because it'll be easier to see.
So I got two cadmium yellow light spots. And we'll see what happens with the different
greens. Here’s a bit of phthalo.
It's super powerful green. And let’s try the veridian.
Okay, it's not as powerful.
Actually, it looks like that gave us a slightly warmer green.
So there just using those two colors,
we’ve got different base greens.
Just different starting point greens. Let's do another one.
I need more yellow. So,
let's see what happens when I make a green out of ultramarine blue and cadmium yellow.
So that's an even less powerful,
I would say, green. Or less intense green. It goes more towards the warm side.
So three base greens that are already different just mixing two colors.
Let's do another one. I've got yellow ochre on the palette as well.
Let’s see what happens there.
I'll mix some, I will make some phthalo with that.
See what happens. So another starting point green that's different already.
So there are a lot of options for greens on this palette already.
Just by mixing two colors.
I can start with the less saturated warmer green here.
I can start with a very intense cooler green.
And these two seem to be in the middle a bit.
I like to usually start with the most intense colors that I can because like
I said before it's easier just to take the saturation out of a color.
So these will all be potential starting point greens for me.
And from there I can add
anything to them. I can grey them out by adding a little bit of
black and white, which is - that's sort of a I just sort of unsophisticated way of
desaturating a color. So if I just want to make this a little bit less saturated,
I can add a little bit of grey to it.
But I might not get the exact color I want so usually I end up
adding little bits of color.
So I'll take a look at this now and just say,
okay do I want it more orange, more red, more blue?
Let’s say in this case I want it more
or red or I can even ask myself but I want it less yellow.
I can add red in there that will make it less yellow.
So color mixing with these few colors
there's just an infinite variety,
here's a few starting point greens.
I tend to use the veridian
and the phthalo mixed with cad yellow light.
For a lot of the lighter greens - actually just about every green that’s in sunlight.
Let's talk a little bit about
how about color vibration and a little bit about how the colors around something start
to affect them. And in this case we can talk a little bit about what’s the
difference between painting on a white panel versus a toned panel
that's a kind a warm brownish tone to it?
So color vibration is something that I don't really hear many people talking about
but at least anymore, but if you read old painting manuals
that's something that people used to talk about all the time, a hundred years ago.
And if you go to a museum and look at a turn of the century painting,
you're going to see that everybody - just about everybody - is using
some version of color vibration, usually a broken color version of color vibration. These day
not too many people use it.
There's a couple ways you can get color vibration without even knowing it and I'll
show you that now. So let’s just look at all the ways that you can achieve
color vibration. I'll just take a green.
So one way to achieve color vibration is to, in this case I'm going to be
painting a green or actually,
let's take a blue. Say some sort of a blue like imagine
maybe I'll just do a little scene here.
I'll just do a sky and field just very simply. And actually,
I'll do it down here so we can compare.
Let's just do that. So I've got sort of a panoramic view of a sky
and a field. Let's just do that.
Maybe there's even like a mountain back there or something.
Okay in this case, we're starting with a relatively warm ground relative to this white ground.
And this is a sort of - it's almost a sort of yellowy orange hue.
Let's look what happens when we paint a blue
on top of that like imagine a sky.
So I’m gonna mix up a sort of sky color.
And this is a way that a lot of people get color vibration almost accidentally is
they tone their canvas a warm color and then they come along with the sort of greenish
blue sky and they start painting in the sky and what happens is if you don't
fill it in all the way,
if you don't feel this in solidly.
you will start to get these two colors vibrating.
So you get that blue that you’ve mixed up sort of vibrating with the yellowish
ground. So that's one way to achieve
color vibration. In the case of the white canvas,
let’s put the same color there,
that won't work as well because the value difference is so great between this blue
and the white that any gaps left are just going to be distracting.
So, how are we going to get color vibration and this guy is a couple different
ways and let me just show you the accidental way that people get it first.
They're mixing this up, they’re painting along,
and some people uses the technique called a scrub.
And when you scrub in a color using side of your brush, you often get different
layers of transparency. So you have some thicker areas and some thinner areas and so in
some areas the white’s actually shining through a little bit more, some areas less, and you
start to get a vibration going on there.
It's almost like a glaze.
Another way is people are mixing up the color and they’re
like you know what, I need
that sky’s got to be a little bit more yellow and they’ll,
start to adjust the color.
And say okay, I got to adjusted color a little bit it’s got to be a little
bit more yellow and in the process of adjusting that you'll get areas of unmixed
blue and yellowy blue and they're not mixed fully and
you start to get a vibrating feel in the sky.
You can do that intentionally if you want.
If you want to kill the vibration,
it's pretty easy and a lot of people do that unintentionally.
If you want to kill the the vibrating color,
all you need to do is - it's something that beginners do all the time
is they have a sky like this and it looks great
and I say I know I just need to smooth everything out and then come along
and they just mix everything completely evenly and they just cover up every speck of
canvas, and now you have a dead area that doesn't vibrate at all.
So you can pretty easily liven that up a little bit like we
did over here by adding
a little bit of the compliment or a slightly different color of the
same value. So you can liven that area back up and make it vibrate again.
So there's other ways of getting vibrating color and that's more intentional ways
of getting vibrating collar and that involves mixing up
separate pieces of color and laying them down with gaps in between.
I can do this on a white canvas too and this would be called broken color.
And then you take another color,
roughly the same value, let’s say just maybe another
version of that green, like a more orange version of that green,
and I can start laying that down
and go like that and slowly build
a mass by adding bits of broken color. And to the viewer,
they might not even notice this.
But they will notice if the painting - if the surface is dead or not.
So again if I want to make this - let’s just add one more color to that
mix. Let’s add a grey because a lot of people don't use greys
that well, I think. Myself included. And often you’re painting a field of grass
and you've got lots of greens in that field already
and it’s looking too flat and too uniform.
And a lot of times the solution is adding
a grey which tends to look almost like a violet next to the green.
It could just be a sort of gray green
or a greenish gray. And you start laying that but I want to make sure that's
the same value. In this case it is.
I’m laying that down. So now I have three different colors all the same value and they’re
starting to vibrate. And most people won't even know that they're there.
I could - let's just look at the sky again and make that vibrate a little bit
more I’ll add a little bit slightly -
whoops - I’ll add a slightly different color again same value.
Roughly the same value. So a lot of people think I can't get this field bright
enough, but or I can't get the color of it,
but a lot of times it's getting the color
vibration. A lot of times that's what you see and that's what I see when I’m
outside. I look at a field and say what color is that?
I don't know. I see
a hundred colors right there.
How can I decide what specific color it is?
And if I paint it flat it's going to look - it might not look very nice, it
might look dead. So intentional vibration, unintentional vibration and a few ways to approach it.
And again, let me just blend this to death so you can see the difference of
a vibrating sky. And a mixed dead sky.
So I'll start taking little bits of color on the palette and not mixing them very
well. That’s another way to get
vibration. Like I said, that's a few ideas about
color vibration. Here we got the panel actually helping a little bit the vibration.
And you can have a sort of accidental vibration.
Sometimes you just have an accidentally dipped my brush in orange,
and you put it down
it's like oh wow that that actually kind of works.
Why is that working? It's working because it's vibrating.
Are you can do it more thoughtfully, like in the fields, where you actually mixing up
different versions or different colors the same value and mixing them.
Yeah, so next time you're in a museum
go look at a painting,
especially a painting from a hundred years ago,
and look close and see how many colors are actually there?
Those kinds of things often don't show up in a reproduction in a book
or something. So you need to see the painting as it
was meant to be seen
in real life to to understand some of those things.
A couple more things about the the tone of the canvas.
Traditionally again, next time you're in a museum,
look at a painting and usually you can tell what the the tone of
the canvas was because usually a lot of times the painter would leave little bits of
that showing through because if it's - if the color and value is
right you don't need - there's no reason to fill it in. So you can usually find
little bits of the canvas showing through.
And typically people a hundred years ago
would use light warm greys or or light warm browns.
So it's another thing to look for.
Painting on a white surface can be nice because you can have a lot of color
purity. All right from the start you can never - you'll never achieve the purity of this
color on toned canvas. But the tone dcanvas has its advantages that you can leave little
gaps showing through and sometimes the tone of the canvas will work as the color without
even laying down paint. Okay,
so let’s just to recap a few ideas.
I generally mixed with a brush.
Some people mix with a palette knife.
I like to mix freely with a brush.
And I like to keep things clean.
So I have - I like to keep all my colors clean
so I have a a different mixing place on the palette for each little variation, a
different brush for each color more or less. But sometimes as your’re painting away you get
these, the term I guess they people use is happy accident
or unintended. Something that works
but it wasn't intended to work.
And a lot of times that's what happens with the oil paints,
you'll get these things where you say
oh, my you know, I need a cloud in that sky and you’ll come along
and you'll say okay and just the way that that starts to drag across the blue
of the sky and starts to mix in a little bit.
All of sudden you think about actually works pretty well.
I’m just going to leave that.
Then a lot of times you get those those things working well and other times
you want to be more deliberate it like I did with the field.
So I'm literally just very specifically mixing very subtle color variations and laying them next to
each other. And other times making a change in the
painting will actually lead to a result.
That looks great and in that case you can just leave it.
But good thing to keep in mind is color vibration.
And so there are those are just a few ideas about color.
Color is a big topic.
It's part of - it’s a part of painting
that's probably one of the most personal
besides composition. Just about everybody that I know that's a painter, a good painter, has slightly
different - they make different color choices.
And they have different color taste.
It's a personal thing and it's I guess what I want to stress is really
the color is kind of the fun part about painting, the emotional part about painting.
It's often the thing that people are reacting to when they see a painting that they
like. But it's the value structure and the composition and the drawing and the shapes and
the massing that really allow -
that really allows the color to even function in the first place.
So I would have to say that value in most regards is a lot more important
than color and color is just a sort of - is a personal
thing that it almost in a way
it doesn't really even matter
what color you choose. For example,
I could have chosen a completely different color for the sky
and then just related everything else to that different color. And the painting -
I could make a painting that looks just as nice.
So color is, it's sort of the icing on the cake.
It's the values are really what hold the painting together.
So those are few ideas about color.
and bright, maybe an orange or a pure green and make a slightly warmer version of that
and a slightly colder version of that and compared those three colors.
Your next assignment is to take again a pure color and grey that down and remember
there are several ways to grey a color down.
It's important to know how to warm a color up or cool a color down or
take that color and grey it down.
But it's also good to know that you will get better at mixing colors as you
have more experience painting.