Introduction to Oil Painting #6: High Key Tetrad: Two Approaches

Approach #1:

  • Rectangular Tetrad
  • Mixed
  • No Black added


High key light floods the scene. Think of the desert at high noon in the middle of the summer. My still life is not as flooded as I want it so I’m going to have to focus on using only tints and tones from the palette.

In this approach I choose a tetrad with cross complements that are mixable to produce true neutrals. The pears appear green and yellow: How about a rectangular tetrad: Green, violet, red and yellow.


I am using viridian, alizarin crimson, cad yellow med, and ultramarine violet. I know that viridian and alizarin mix to produce a neutral and cad yellow med and ultramarine violet mix to produce a good neutral. I also know that I can mix cad yellow medium and viridian to produce a good yellow green  and alizarin and ultramarine to make a nice lilac.

p1 I use a color-note approach to activate the entire surface of the canvas and maintain brushstroke integrity . This also helps to get away from seeing things as separate objects. Look for color and light and temperature relationships instead.p5

Even though this palette is mixable I try to keep colors separate on the canvas until nearing resolution. That way I can blend on the canvas and soften edges without making “mud”.p6

Approach #2:

  • Square Tetrad
  •  No Mix
  • Add black to dull and darken

6 2

Three fruits on a mirror in indirect light. There aren’t any strong highlights or shadows. Like light on an overcast day. Our values are in the high to mid-range of the value scale. I’ll take a look through red film to see just how little contrast this still life has. WOW.

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6 3

Compare the still life with the palette/color wheel to pick a harmony which includes dominant colors. I see cool red, yellow orange and warm green in the apples.

I choose a square tetrad with red, yellow-orange, green and blue-violet. Tube colors: Quinacridone red, barium cadmium yellow medium, chrome green light, ultramarine violet.

Because I know some of these tube colors may not blend well together I am not going to mix the hues.

Because I know my values are in the high to mid-range I’m going to mix tints adding titanium white,  and tones adding Ivory black and white.

6 1

Zoom in to find the best composition for the shape of your canvas. My canvas is square so my view finder window is square.

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6 6

Now to begin taking color notes. You can start anywhere and place colors as you compare them with other areas of the still life. Ask yourself, “Is the color darker or lighter, warmer or cooler”.  You’ll likely change your mind as the painting develops.6 7

Deal with the background early on. As soon as you have an idea of the colors to use.6 8Object colors influence background colors. The background changes in hue and temperature as the objects change in same.


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