View Full Version : What does "vibrant" color really mean?

06-05-2002, 08:06 PM
Hi everyone!

One concept that, as a beginner in oil painting, I havenīt grasped yet concerns the term "vibrant color".
What does it really mean?

How does it apply to mixing color with a palette knife instead of a brush? I understand that over-mixing colors with a brush, makes a very homogeneous pool and thus somewhat dull. However, the definition of "vibrant" color is something that I still canīt "see" in a color. Maybe I do but I havenīt realized it.

Could anyone explain it to me?

Thank you in advance!
Best regards


06-09-2002, 10:07 AM
This question was answered by Tim (Cobalt Fingers)
in the Oil Painting Forum, but I'll give it a shot here.

I think most people (including me) consider vibrant color to mean pure, bright, high chroma color, (often like straight from the tube, or with very little other color mixed in to dull it).

Also, I think of vibrant color as one which stands out from the background and seems to be pulsing with energy. If you want this, the colors around it should be duller (usually more greyish) and often, darker. In the picture below, the orange dots are both exactly the same color. The orange dot over the bright cyan background looks kind of dark and dull...even a little brownish. But the one over the darker, duller background seems brighter, more pure and intense...skip your eyes back and forth between the two orange dots; you should see the difference.


So for example, if you wanted a flower to really stand out and look vibrant, it would be better to paint it over a background of dull green leaves rather than pure green leaves painted from pure phthalo green.

Generally, when you mix with a paltte knife, as you said, the colors often don't fully mix, so you can get a marbled effect. Or if you use a brush, just mix the colors very little. On the canvas, the viewer's eyes will do some of the 'mixing' when the painting is viewed from farther away.

06-09-2002, 11:44 AM
Vibrant isn't a precise colour term as people will use it differently, but generally it's used to describe bright, intense colour. In better colour terminology, vibrant = high-chroma or saturated colour.

Mixing colour with a brush or a knife gives the same result, although it's a heck of a lot faster with a knife! I personally don't think properly-mixed colour is dull at all, although I know some people like part-mixed colour so you can see ripples or marbles in the mix this isn't better or worse, just different. If you've read that over-mixing is a sure way to dull colour as some people imply this is not right, mixing for five minutes of twenty minutes won't change what you get.

Hope it helps,

06-15-2002, 04:12 PM
Originally posted by Einion
If you've read that over-mixing is a sure way to dull colour as some people imply this is not right...

I also read that in many places and I just accepted it even though I could'nt figure out why that would be. William Powell (my favorite landscape artist) writes in one of his popular color books (COLOR And How To Use It):

"Also, try not to be too heavy handed in mixing as it is possible to crush some of the color granuals (sic) and the resulting color will be lifeless."

Honestly, I have a hard time believeing that you can actually crush pigment particles with a brush. Even if you could, would that turn the color of the mixture to mud? I doubt it.

06-16-2002, 08:13 PM
Actually quite a few pigments do get duller the smaller the particle size, which can happen during careless manufacture, this may be where the fallacy stems from; genuine ultramarine is a good example, if over-ground it gets paler and loses chroma significantly. But yes, this just doesn't happen with a brush.

Even using a knife on a glass palette one can barely affect particle size. You have to have the kind of pressure and consistent grinding that a muller provides to make any noticeable change by hand, and it would still take hours with most pigments.