I have limited experience and success mixing colors and I’ve found that one problem I have is mixing brights with just the addition of white, which creates pale, pastey, dechromatized brights that are cooler than the local color of a subject. This might work well when representing certain subjects under certain conditions, but usually what I’m trying to represent are brights that are MORE chromatic than the corresponding mid-tones and darks. One solution I found is to add white to a color for the brights, let it dry, then glaze over the pale brights in order to re-chromatize them. I’d like to know what other methods people use to avoid those dechromatized brights. Is there a general system for addressing this issue? Or is it always relative to the local color you are trying to brighten? For instance, if I want to mix the brights of an orange object I would add yellow and just a touch of white, but obviously this wouldn’t work for other colors, except maybe green. Any advice is greatly appreciated.
This is a great question Thomas and happens to be a topic we were just kicking around in the studio this week. The intuitive thing for many to make a color colloquially “brighter” is to simply add white. However, like you clearly state, the adding of white can indeed increase lightness, but also DESTROYS chroma (and can sometimes alter the perception of hue). The method that you mention, which is sacrificing chroma initially and glazing later, is indeed a viable option.
Other options would include expanding your palette to include additional lighter/higher chroma pigments (for example for many higher chroma red transitions that may have general local of cad. red medium–I will approach the primary light by adding cad red light instead of any sort of white), using whites that are less impactful to chroma when mixing like a soft mixing white, or lastly, the one that I use, is to adopt an analog dynamic with variations in opacity on a very reflective ground (white) to control lightness. This last option, in simpler terms (and to use the cad red example), is instead of adding white or a lighter pigment (like cad red light) to move towards the primary light, I will reduce opacity to allow the white ground below to contribute to the perception of lightness. This way, I am not damaging the chroma anywhere near as much a physical mixing with any white would. Pure white highlights in this context are then initially the untouched ground. The actual white oil paint(s) (or other hue variations required) are then added later, indirectly, when the initial layer is completely dry.
I use the term analog here to describe this dynamic as it is similar to what you might find drawing with a graphite pencil (a familiar analog tool) in which lightness values are not controlled via pigments with different reflectance properties—but by different amounts of applied graphite.
Thanks. Now that you mention it, I have experimented with that last option, usually when I was building up glazes and then wiping away the glaze in the bright areas. I’ll experiment with using opaque paint in this way. Always interesting to compare techniques…
If it isn’t too much of a bother, could you share some examples from your own work where you reduced the opacity of a paint film to utilize the white ground for your brights?
Sure Thomas! Here’s a few quick examples:
These are some early first layer shots of painting starts where both white and opacity reductions are used to communicate brights. In this start with the dog, some areas look “cooler” than others. Those cooler areas are where titanium white was mixed with a dark while the warmer areas are controlled with tapered opacity.
Many of the lights on this train piece, especially due to the surface texture, were initially opacity controlled. One particular area of note here is the relatively high chroma on that bulbous red shape on the top on the train. That was definitely way easier to maintain chroma with opacity as opposed to mixing.
Great. Thanks. I’ll experiment with that when I get a chance.