View Full Version : Neutrals

02-13-2002, 08:54 PM
Anyone with an interest in accurate colour should have a look at this page on the Handprint site on <A HREF=http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/tech15.html>neutrals</A>. Much of this information is unique, and the graphic showing mixing complements is ground-breaking stuff.

Would welcome any discussion about this.


02-14-2002, 02:06 AM
"The blunt truth is that you can't show mixing complements as a color wheel." - Quote from handprint site

Ow ... the truth hurts. ;-)

What a fascinating section of the handprint site. Somehow I had missed that section before. Thank you for bringing it up - I will have to spend some time with it. The "eye-popping" color charts were truly too much for the headache I have at the moment!

I like to keep things simple, and prefer as few colors as possible on my palette. Practice and study notwithstanding, this leads to frustration when I am using a palette limited to white plus high-chroma red, yellow, blue and really just want to gray a mixture down a little bit. Yes, I can do it, but it's a convoluted process. On the other hand, mixtures grayed down with a black+white gray tend to stick out like a sore thumb. I've read the recommendation to warm up a black+white gray with a touch of umber; I suppose I should try that. Even so, if I'm making my own premixed gray, I almost have to overmix it, or else risk streaks of black or white - and that kills the liveliness and variety I try to achieve by not overmixing on the palette. Nothing hard is ever easy. - Brie

02-28-2002, 10:33 PM

Sorry, but I'm a bit dizzy from visiting this site.

I have saved it in favorites & hope to revisit it when my mind is strong. It's waaaayyy heavy for me. I am convinced that I should attempt to digest it. Seems so 'chem lab-ish'

I must look at some of your work. I'll do a search & hopefully I'll find postings of yours.

Keep painting,


03-03-2002, 11:31 AM
The problem for artists is that intense hues make it difficult to see values accurately: using saturated colors has the effect of weakening the value structure of a painting (making the relative value of colors more difficult to see).

I think this is a generalization which is made by people that place great emphasis on the "value" approach to painting.

For the first 17 years or so as an "in-studio" painter I was more the tonalist. Values were everything.

Now, I am more defined by others as a "colorist" and the difference was when I gathered up my materials and headed outdoors to paint on location.

To take advantage of time, disappearing light, expediency..etc., I needed to explore other ways that the illusion of "realism" might be captured. In time...I learned to forget what I knew and learned to paint what I saw.

I simplified my painting by thinking of it as the placing of one spot of color next to others until having sufficiently filled the canvas the illusion of the scene appears and the spirit of the beauty that captivated me to begin with shined thru.

I have observed that light penetrates, and where it does...it reveals detail and one whole set of color relationships. Where light fails to penetrate, it hides details and presents other color relationships. Presence of light is "warmth" and lack of light's presence is "cool."

I found for myself personally, I no longer had a need for black to be in my box. I never see black in natural light that is pure black. I see light- reflected, bounced around. I see influences of warmth and coolness. I never see something totally void of the hint of some color.

Now...for me, mixing the color I see resolves the problem of having to focus on values. If I see rightly, and imitate rightly, the issue of values resolves itself. On the other hand, one can work hard to get the values right...and miss entirely what color is doing on location.

The example of converting an image to black and white might work indoors, but outdoors....a midvalue blue will appear the same as a midvalue orange. However....there is a world of difference to the effect having blue on snow makes with orange present in lit up trees....than placing the midvalue orange for snow's shadows and putting blues in the tree foilage.

I can make objects appear to come forward, or recede by their color temperature. Even a cool color has areas within itself warmer than other areas....and so the issue of rendering and value resolves itself by developing sensitivity to observe those relationships.

Again, the generalization may come because it takes perhaps years to develop the eyes to see color rightly. Perhaps too many people not seeing the colors rightly can fall upon the device of establishing values first with washes or glazes of color over them. That of course will not work for an artist painting from life on location. Such luxury is reserved for those that have the routine of sessions using references indoors.

Here's a little oil plein air I did at a music festival. A tough thing to undertake because fest goers are moving around, going to other tents..checking out the various bands and events, etc; The size is about 12" x 8"....

No black was used, and not a single thought given to "values." I observed the color that was in the shadows of the tent versus the tent outside where light struck directly...allowing the influence of light to color it. Mixed the color to match, with the same intensity...and painted it. Where the tent's planes changed, they allowed for the reflection of the blues of the sky to be sensed. I saw it...painted it. The result is, you have a tent that appears to have surfaces moving away from you.

If a person has problems seeing color as it is...then converting his thinking to concerns of values is a way to resolve it. However, such concerns painting from life that is as prone to change as fast as this fest scene would leave the artist stammering and his mouth left open. IMHO.....

Milt has pointed out though, that perhaps my 17 years instudio concerned with values has equipped me to see color rightly, and I have no means to dispute that since I cannot gauge the value that "values" has had for me.

03-03-2002, 08:40 PM
Larry, I do think your 17 years helps you more than you realize. :) However, even with only 3 years experience, when I'm outdoors, I think about values and look at the scene with that perspective, but I rarely take the time to do a value sketch. I just dive in and paint-- and then later, if my painting doesn't seem to have captured the scene, I compare the values and may darken a bit here, lighten a bit there. Of course, by then the light has changed so I'm working largely from memory. It just seems to me though that outside the colors are so overwhelming that values are achieved incidental to getting the color right, rather than analytically as they tend to be in the studio.

I spent two+ years doing watercolor, and the last 4 months with oils, but in neither medium have I ever really used black, or ever missed it. If I want a really dark dark, I can do much better with some combination of ultramarine, alizarin, and thalo green in varying proportions. At the very beginning with watercolor, I did play a bit with black, but soon removed it from my palette because it was so lifeless. :)

03-03-2002, 11:12 PM
Originally posted by walden
It just seems to me though that outside the colors are so overwhelming that values are achieved incidental to getting the color right, rather than analytically as they tend to be in the studio.

that seems like a neat way to describe it, Lisa...
I think value "studies" are more left brained...more convergent and arrived analytically. The studio with ideal constant conditions, and nothing but time...seem to invite this. Good paintings are produced either way...but its not even just the overwhelming colors out of doors...(at least for me), its that sunlight that threatens at any moment to change or quit on me.

The skill that has helped me most when I "analyze" it...is being able to know what color I want mixed, and in a few short moments bring that color (with inherent proper value) to life on my palette.

I'm not discounting that my paintings have values in them, but I am doing so with full attention to color.

When I begin my painting, I squint my eyes and see the drama produced by light and dark (yes...those are values)...it does set my work in motion. From there...I analyze everything according to color. What "color" is that dark? What "color" is that light? etc.,

Truth is though, for most in-studio painters that might refer to photos as references (and I know this from experience) the photo is closer to being dead as concerns color than alive. Strip the flesh and meat from the bones, and all you have is a skeleton. Concerns with value are necessary because the color is n'er absent thru film chemistry when compared to life.

With well laid values established....even "wrong" colors washed transparently over the values find reprieve. The painting still works because of unifying factors such as rhythm, composition, and good "values"....etc;

However...the eye that begins to learn to detect that "life" is present because "living" color supports it goes I think a step beyond values.

As I said before....I can have two colors the same values, but if the object calls for a warm temperature to come forward to create proper contrast with cooler adjacent colors...that proper color is what is needed. In such a case...having proper value alone doesn't cut it. The person that learns to recognize colors existing everywhere and mixes that color right away kills two birds with one stone.

Instead of a dark with a transparent red washed over it...recognition might realize that "transparent red" is not the color needed. A dark made with verdian, alizarin crimson, perhaps a touch of French Ultramarine Blue...becomes the "dark" needed with just a hint of the red that you actually see. The value of this is...you eliminate reducing what you see to formula or procedure. Instead your full focus is exactly on what you are looking at.

It seems odd that I have to explain it as though what I'm doing is odd. I mean this in general terms Lisa, and have been sharing as if responding to everyone.

Think how we see objects in the real world around us. We don't see lights and dark values first, and then presume that transparent colors drape over them. That is a procedure. Instead, we see objects with their color. Their local color, color in shadow, color in light...etc; That is the natural way of seeing things.


03-04-2002, 06:59 AM
I understand. You know, you said a while ago that studio painting and plein air painting were two different activities, and more and more I'm realizing how right you were. Outdoors, I don't have to "know" as much about what's happening, what the light is doing, because I can SEE so much more. In the studio, though, working from photos, which, no matter how good, are so limited in so many ways, I find that I need to know and think about a lot more-- like reflected light in shadows, degree of warmth based on angle to the sun and type of surface, shadow temperatures relative to light temperatures, etc..-- because if present at all in the photo, it's really subtle, and if I want my painting to have life, I have to find it and render it.

I use more or less the same techniques in the studio as outdoors-- pretty much alla prima, no glazing or other such techniques-- but even so, it's a different discipline. :)

03-04-2002, 08:42 AM
I guess I should pause a moment, in fairness...long enough that it doesn't appear I'm "anti-" value. I think values are essential. Very important. I think though that if an artist understands values, then he/she can learn that color possesses value inherently.

Artists that do not understand value, perhaps are the ones that jump into irresponsible use of color...and just don't get it.

To my thinking if you aren't see the right "value" when you look at an area of color...then you are not seeing the right color pure and simple.

My concern is that people wanting a great dinner having stood in line, are so excited to get to the front of the line that they forget to go in...get a table, make their order...and then dine. If we become capable at understanding values but do not at some point separate ourselves from it to take its full advantage and potential over color then I think many will miss out. I'm not saying that tonal paintings are not good. Indeed, there are some very good paintings that stress value and are tonal. I produced quite a few myself over the years. If you reach some goals in those purposes, then one should feel quite satisfied. If you want the painting to feel as though it were going to begin to breathe, get up and walk away...you will need to yet conqueor color.

What I fear is that making values more important than they should be will impede progression with color. Again, if you are not seeing the right value instantly when looking at a color, you are not seeing that color rightly. The right color must possess its relationship to light, midvalue, dark, etc., to be the right color. On the other hand, a color need not translate in a black and white conversion photograph to a properly rendered object to prove if value has been attained or not. That thinking does not understand the power of color temperature or mood. A blue color, and Naples Yellow could have the same value....but will accomplish a world of difference.


03-04-2002, 03:03 PM
Well, I was just dizzy when I first came here - now, I'm totally confused. What was the subject?

Keep painting,


ps: - I really do believe I have ADD & that I'm better off just trying to paint than getting into theories, sorry.

03-04-2002, 06:23 PM
Originally posted by Fmalo


ps: - I really do believe I have ADD & that I'm better off just trying to paint than getting into theories, sorry.

believe me....when you are painting outdoors...painting is all you have time for!

The thinking it thru part, time away from painting is a good time for that....take care!

03-04-2002, 09:53 PM
Thanks Larry,

I know about painting outdoors. I've done it about 2 dozen times since mid-December

Keep painting,


03-04-2002, 11:01 PM
Well....then you know indeed Frank. That's why I tell people that if they do 120 bad paintings, they'll know something about painting.

The obsession with trying to understand much about painting before painting, tries I think to avoid having to do many paintings before you begin turning out good ones. Doesn't seem to work though, because there is always something more to learn which always comes best by doing.....


03-05-2002, 01:16 AM
Originally posted by lseiler
The obsession with trying to understand much about painting before painting, tries I think to avoid having to do many paintings before you begin turning out good ones. Doesn't seem to work though, because there is always something more to learn which always comes best by doing.....

Larry - I listen more than I talk (I hope), so I am hardly a familiar poster around here; but may I say that your remarks are thought-provoking as usual!

Einion - I've read the handprint material a couple of times. What I took away that I will try to put into practice is the "glow" that can be achieved by surrounding a more saturated color by a neutral with a bit of that color in it. I'm looking for landscape subject matter to try that on. - Brie

03-05-2002, 06:29 AM
A useful thread, many thanks.

I've saved the neutrals article for reference - hopefully I'll be able to understand it ??

03-05-2002, 08:38 AM
Yes...back to the article...and a good one.

I would say the unique way that neutrals do isolate and allow color to ring out is a path that led me to better understand color and the power of color.

Neutrals are many and some nice ones made from complementaries mixed plus white. It allows for that ole 'adage- "if everything is shouting, nothing gets heard!" So that, by having a significant amount of neutral area near a color that you want to ring out...you will diminish that shouting so that a lovely voice is heard.

Complementaries placed near the color also cause that voice to come out strong, but many painters are garish or gaudy....out of control, etc., when it comes to doing such right. Often the delicate use of neutrals leads to easier and effective results.