Color in Oils #2: Monochromatic

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I’m choosing to show you yellow because it has the lightest value. It will be easier to see the mixing. If you use a dark color, you’ll need to add a little white to check to make sure it’s a balanced combination of the pure hue and black.

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Lay out your palette with the pure hue in the upper left, black at the bottom and white over to the right. Three good big blobs.  Between the yellow and black pull off a big blob of yellow and add a little black, continue adding black until you have something in between yellow and black.DSC_0007 2

Next pull off a blob of the mix and place it close to the pure hue. Pull off another blob and place it close to the black so you have 5 blobs of paint total (including the pure hue and black).


Mix a little pure hue (yellow) in the blob closest to yellow. Mix a little black in the blob closest to black.


Continue to add or subtract paint until you see a noticeable difference in the value of each blob.

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Nest, scoop a fair amount off of each blob and make a new row to the right.


Add a little white to each of these new blobs to mix a slightly lighter and cooler value of the first row.

Continue to do this with each row, pulling a blob off of the new mix and adding more white to it until you complete the grid.  Mix each row from left to right separately. This will ensure a seamless transition between each hue in a row.

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Mix the bottom row with only black and white.

Now, make a 1″ or larger grid of 25 squares.

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Pull a bit of paint from each mixed blob and place it onto the grid just as it appears on the palette. Work from left to right again. Wipe the brush off with a soft cloth each time. Do not rinse your brush in solvent between placements.


Jack helps…

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We work from left to right with each color so there isn’t any cross contamination. You need the pure hue to remain pure for comparison.

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Make sure the black row has no contamination. Notice how the black grayscale has a violet cast. This is called simultaneous contrast, where the eye is seeing the complement of yellow on the gray.

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This grid demonstrates the value contrast, or modulation, of a hue using black. From top to bottom and left to right see the lessening in saturation of yellow by adding black and white.

Tone the canvas with mixed hue from somewhere in the middle of your grid. Load a large paintbrush with paint and a touch of Gamsol solvent. Work it into the canvas and wipe the excess away with a soft cotton cloth.

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Now, look around…your eyes ( and brain) are sensitized to which ever color you made the grid of , if yellow, you will notice yellow things more than usual. Pick a simple object or go outside for a plein air painting.

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Make a faint map with a round brush if you need to figure out the composition first (use a cloth to change lines , or solvent to erase). Or just jump in with a tint, tone or shade and work with value shapes.

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Look at your palette and look at your subject. Often, you will see a match somewhere. If you do, start with the match, if you don’t, place a highlight and a dark shadow and then continue as you notice each shift in value, color, brightness, dullness, coolness and and so on.

Use different brush shapes and sizes. Try to avoid painting the whole composition with one small brush…Big brushes for large areas, smaller brushes for detail.

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It takes some practice to find the right amout of paint. Often, we don’t use enough paint…or too much too soon. I’ll scrape some of this paint off with a palette knife and return to the painting tomorrow. You might not get it the first time. Try taking at least three sessions for homework painting. Don’t paint when you are tired and frustrated. Try 30 to 90 minutes each session over three days.

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Here is an example using Williamsburg Brand Alizarin Crimson, Ivory black and Titanium White.

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In this example I use Old Holland Cadmium Yellow-Orange, Ivory Black, and Titanium white.


Notice how the black looks blue in the grid. That’s simultaneous contrast again. The complement of orange is blue. Because of this the gray shades will actually enhance the orange and will appear to be of a color instead of black.

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