View Full Version : Question: Saturation vs. Value

Deborah Secor
02-26-2010, 03:26 PM
I'd like to teach my advanced students an effective lesson on how to distinguish saturation (chroma, intensity) from value. Does anyone have an idea of a really good way to teach this?

I've demonstrated the difference in the past by laying down a very intense, hot yellow swath on paper, then scumbling a cool, pale gray over it to diminish its brightness, without changing the value--proved by viewing it through a red filter. But how could I help them to understand this relationship in an actual experimental situation or painting?

I'm toying with the thought of creating the same piece using a tonalist approach (underdrawing in charcoal to establish values, then color on top), and the identical painting done entirely relying on colors...but how do you divorce the value from color? It's impossible.

Any ideas would be most helpful. Thanks!


02-26-2010, 04:44 PM
Hi Deborah, tricky question. As value is solidly married to the bright colours. A divorce isn't really possible, but a shift of mindset is.

You know the method I use. In it, you "forget" about value, and start the painting with what is really an underpainting in bright saturated colours. When that is down on paper, you fine-tune the colours, which is the painting process.

I think of one possiblity that might serve your purposes:

Squint, but instead of looking for values on the object, look into the air two inches closer to you than the object is (if it is in a studio). Name the colour: " red", "blue", "yellow". Much easier with bright objects. If the objects are more neutral, the light in the air in front of them will have to first be approximated into a bright colour. Say it is a beige vase. The shadow side, is it leaning more towards blue, green, or violet? Put that named colour down on paper, bright and shining. The light side, is it more red (pink), orange (peach), or yellow? Put that colour down. Then fine-tune them, adding cooler or warmer colours, as needed, very similar to your scumbling a light grey over the yellow that you mentioned. Often, a cool pink will 'knock down' the chroma of a yellow, for example.

Usually, people will not reach for a pale blue stick if the object's shadow side is a deep ultramarine. Nor a deep red if the light side is a pale pink. That is, value will be present, but not the primary thought in mind. It will be secondary, or tertiary, because the value is inherent in the colour.

Another way of expressing it is: instead of starting with value, then adding hue, of the right chroma, you start with choosing hue, and chroma, almost intuitively, and value will follow with barely a thought to it. That's the "change mindset" part of it.

Possibly, it would be easier to not squint, but to use a piece of card with a hole punched into it, and look at the hue and chroma through it.

And, this is not easy to do, shifting mindsets usually is rather tricky.

And, any student who is nearsighted can take off their glasses, and find the job much easier!


02-26-2010, 04:52 PM
How would you feel about a comparatively formal approach through colour theory, explaning hue, value and chroma as the three dimensions of colour space and so on, and so forth? And a nice picture of the Munsell representation of colour space, since that's a fairly common theory as far as I can tell...

I would assume that you've got a more intuitive approach personally, so that might not be your preference.

Also... Do you think the problem lies in pin-pointing the exact value if the chroma and hue of two colours differ strongly, or in the theoretical understanding of the concept that value and chroma are two seperate properties of a colour? The first is probably a matter of practice, the second would again demand some colour theory...

but how do you divorce the value from color? It's impossible.

Quite true. That's because value is one of the three dimensions of each colour, and I have a hunch that by "colour" you mean what's usually called "hue"... Again, I understand perfectly if you don't want to make things too theoretical, and it may throw many people off if you insist on any particular terminology.

Actually, I think the idea of a red filter isn't so bad at all. :thumbsup: What's wrong with doing that on a portion of a painting instead of just a test swatch?

I know you'll do just fine, you're an amazing teacher. :D :cat:

Phil Bates
02-26-2010, 05:47 PM
Hi Debra,

Just a couple of thoughts:

1. Rather than doing a painting in charcoal, try one with a correct balance of neutrals and pure tones. Then do one with just high chroma pure tones. The pure tone painting will look somewhat garish compared to the more naturally looking neutral/pure tone balanced painting.

2. Here is an experiment using compliments. Make a patch of intense blue and put a small dull orange spot in the middle (the effect is that orange spot should look somewhat overpowered by the intense blue). Next to that make a patch of gray blue and put a small bright orange spot in the middle. The orange will jump of the surface of the second patch. Even though it is small it grabs the eye. This shows that in an environment of neutrals, the pure tones really shine (especially compliments). The same goes with a painting, the neutrals are needed as an environment to bring out the power of the pure tones, thus you can direct the eye of the viewer by just using high chroma tones on top of neutrals. The point is that there is power available to the artist if he/she will just control their diet of high chroma colors and use them sparingly.

3. Many pastellists are drawn to the beautiful bright colors so, to them the neutrals will look somewhat ugly and washed out. The simple point is that the least attractive colors are vital to make a painting work. That approach may be "speaking their language".

Just some thoughts,

Phil Bates
02-26-2010, 05:57 PM
I guess the above post doesn't really address value vs saturation, but instead, high saturation vs low saturation.

After further thought, that may be the better question. After all, saturation has nothing to do with value. But the relationship between neutrals and pure tones is vital. The role of value seems like a separate subject altogether.

Just a thought.

02-26-2010, 06:16 PM
I'd like to teach my advanced students an effective lesson on how to distinguish saturation (chroma, intensity) from value. Does anyone have an idea of a really good way to teach this?

I've demonstrated the difference in the past by laying down a very intense, hot yellow swath on paper, then scumbling a cool, pale gray over it to diminish its brightness, without changing the value--proved by viewing it through a red filter. But how could I help them to understand this relationship in an actual experimental situation or painting?

I'm toying with the thought of creating the same piece using a tonalist approach (underdrawing in charcoal to establish values, then color on top), and the identical painting done entirely relying on colors...but how do you divorce the value from color? It's impossible.

Any ideas would be most helpful. Thanks!

I think I may have touched upon this only this morning! I was looking through the window onto our back garden,yard,and as we are having to section the garden off for my Labrador to take natural breaks in...the builders had provided some poles and some bright orange plastic fencing....I noticed the side nearest me was green,mid grassy green,,,,but the other side - looking through the bright fence appeared much more yellow...and a lot lighter.....even though we know it was the same grass...:confused:

Deborah Secor
02-26-2010, 06:42 PM
Charlie, I think I'm going to do a still life class, so the idea of painting from the color down to the value (if I can put it that way) appeals to me for that class. Thanks!

Lyta, thanks, I'm thinking about what you mentioned... :)

Phil, I think you're right, a clearer way to approach this is saturation versus neutralization. I think I may play off that idea, perhaps by challenging them to paint a piece using neutral colors in a good range of values, and then perhaps after they have finished asking them to find one area where a certain amount of increased chroma would enhance the drama or light and add it.

Deirdre, sounds like you 'saw' it all right! Isn't it funny when something like that just bounds into your mind?

I'm still mulling ideas, so if anyone else has thoughts I'm open. Thanks!


02-26-2010, 08:24 PM
My first thought on your question was that you could set up a red bell pepper and a green bell pepper that are close to the same value -- maybe put a yellow one with them. Then get them doing the setup in charcoal first and then go to the colors. Reds and greens that are the same value can get really crazy in a painting and that's one of the ways I finally "got it" about saturation vs. value.

Or a gray object and a brightly colored object that really are the same value. Or something with three objects, one very intense, one medium intensity like a muted color, one flat out gray, all with the same value. But I bet the peppers thing would make it simple -- and if they're trying to shade the peppers in a monochrome they will figure it out about the identical values fast, unless they intuitively think the red one is lighter because it's warmer.

Gray cardboard behind the peppers in the setup, that's close to the values of the peppers, that could do it for giving them a strong visual idea. Also you'd get reflected color from the peppers on the gray which would give them some fun with less saturated color, but still obviously that color!

02-26-2010, 11:17 PM
Yes it is true you are unable to separate value from color, however you can make it irrelevant. Simply choose the yellow you wish use, and match it to its correct value. Then match every other color you wish to use to that value. If you were very carful with your matching, the value is now meaningless since everything is the exact same value, and it will no longer play a visual role. All that is left is a multitude of hues with varying degrees of chroma. At this point , then each student can play with their colors and attempt to create a sense of depth, form, light and shadow, by hue, with their respective chroma alone, without the influence of value changes.

Paint a picture, (perhaps a landscape with a house) Paint it in more subdued colors, (cloudy dismal day) including the roof but not the side or front…leave that white.
That white shape, replicate, and make a bunch of cutouts which can be placed on top of the painting covering the white shape.
Each student gets a printed copy of the painting plus cutouts (or you can make them make their own, trace and cut) and their object is to paint the front and side of the house in the appropriate values and chroma to relate to the scene. One side depending on your painting would be in light and the other in shadow. And you could make them do this in numerous different colors, each on its own cutout.
IE: whether they pick a light blue or a medium blue for the part of house in light, that would set the tone, the correct chroma of that value, would be set by the scene…..the value and chroma of the side in shadow would have to relate correctly to both the front of the house in addition to the light/mood of the scene.

Same scene can be done in several main schemes, bright and sunny day, exaggerated color scheme, cloudy day with sun bursting through onto the house, sunset etc etc..each with its own set of cutouts.

Your choice of objects and color schemes
You could also ask them to paint something with a reddish color partially obscured by a blue object. Their object to make the blue come forward and the red recede, this may help them see how chroma and values can play a role in offsetting basic temperature color theory.

02-27-2010, 04:36 AM
Hmmm...... "distinguish saturation from value".

In practical terms, dont you need to get them to RECOGNISE the value of a colour, whether it is has a high degree of saturation or a low degree of saturation?

~As I have always understood it, a picture which relies upon a full range of tones/values as its main driving force, required the painter to fully understand how to select the correct value of the colour. - the right tone.

There are quite a few exercises you can get people to do for help with this, one simple one is to give them a small greyscale photocopy of a landscape, and ask them to recreate it in colour - then (and this is the important bit) they need to photocopy their results and compare with the original photocopy to see if they were able to select the correct values of their colours. Sure sorts out the men from the boys!

OK that sorts out value.

Now saturation.

so....... having explained something about Saturation, You could ask them to do the picture twice more, once using colours with a high degree of saturation, then again, using colours with a low degree of saturation. In both cases, the tones will still have to be true, the only difference will be the saturation. I have no idea if this will work...I am just brainstorming with you.

My thoughts on this subject, for whatever they are worth:

In very basic, simplistic terms, I suspect there are two main kinds of painters, COLORISTS AND TONAL PAINTERS.

A "colorist" will look out at, say, a room, and see not only brilliant colour, but also will see all the degrees of warmish brownish violetish blueish greys, not just "grey".

A "tonal painter" will look out at a room and will translate what he sees into correct tones of grey - ie, your charcoal underpainting!

If the picture relies upon COLOUR as its driving force, then all sorts of other elements come into play, and value may play a much less important role. ~For example if we consider, say, an abstract work which is all about colour and contains nothing to do with space or three dimensional form - ie a picture where the design is wholly on one picture plane, no story or human theme - nevertheless the painter still would have needed a considered balance of both colour and tone to keep the shapes in equilibrium. But in fact, the image will probably depend to a very large extent on the relationships of colour - another whole subject on its own!

Gauguin did a self-portrait which you could look up; areas of pure colours are totally flat in it, the colour used in a symbolic way. However, there is also some modelling of the face where tone has been used.

One of my favourite painters, Bernard Dunstan, says "the use of two areas of exactly the same tone, but differing in colour, can be very telling when used as a foil for more obvious contrasts. There is a standing figure of a dancer by Degas in which her legs in shadow are identical in tone with the floorboards in light; they are only distinguishable because the floor is warm brown while the shadow on the legs is purplish grey".

Perhaps it could be an idea to collect some Master paintings in books from the library, and use the colour plates to describe the similarities and differences of what you are trying to explain? I believe that seeing the technical stuff "in action" teaches so much.

02-27-2010, 07:24 AM
sorry, but for what is worth, my very first statement was by itself...all of the rest was working with a full range of color (HVC)

02-27-2010, 02:24 PM
Deborah, maybe I'm not reading your question correctly, but to me, value and saturation aren't really related at all. I also don't see colors, with the exception of yellow, as being tied to value, either. Yellow and to a lesser extent orange, are really the only colors that have an inherently limited value range, but all the rest can run almost the full range.

The easiest way I can think of to demonstrate this is to do two paintings - one with bright, saturated colors, and another with tonalist colors of the same values, and then greyscale them both in a PS program. Assuming the correct values were chosen, you shouldn't be able to tell much difference between the two, and it won't make any difference whether it's a high key, middle key or low key painting.

Perhaps its just because of how many times I've read this in various art instruction books that it's not a remotely nebulous concept for me, so what I said was probably totally useless :lol: ! But, like someone else said, you're excellent at explaining things, so you'll come up with something for your students :thumbsup:.

I just remember the message that also gets repeated often, as it should, of - "if the values are correct, then the color [and therefore the saturation] isn't important". The importance comes from what your goal/purpose is with the painting, I suppose :) .

Deborah Secor
02-27-2010, 03:22 PM
For the record, this is my advanced group and they're quite well versed in understanding and controlling value and color, as you would expect. :) But my question is about the separate issue of saturation or intensity, and how I might illustrate that it IS a separate issue.

Chroma seems to me to be a key issue in painting, although not from a value standpoint, since you can easily use colors of the same value (or tone) but of exceedingly different saturation levels, from dull to brilliant. Thus that statement, which I've often repeated, saying "if the values are correct, then the color takes care of itself" may need a bit of thought. From a value viewpoint it's true, and that allows me to use a vast range of colors in a painting. But there's a huge difference between the highly saturated 'colorist' painting and a much more subdued and realistic 'tonalist' landscape, though potentially not different in value!

So thanks for all the thoughts, as all of this is stirring me to think further. I wonder if Jackie isn't right, that looking at some master works wouldn't help us think and talk.

I also think this may require two paintings, but I'm not sure the group as a whole should do them. Maybe I need to give it a shot first: making two paintings of the same subject, one done in a colorist style, the other as a tonalist painting, but each of which when reduced to grayscale use virtually the same values. That could be quite a challenge!


02-27-2010, 04:44 PM
For whatever it is worth, I can tell you that I have frequently used Master paintings to describe a particular point. It enables the students to see the principle in action before they tackle it themselves, and so often, I have seen the light of understanding visibly illuminate the face of a student when I've used this particular teaching "tool". I dont know if they believe it more when they see a Master do it, rather than me...or perhaps the Masters "do it" most effectively.

Preparation is key. Find an appropriate book, or books, and put some removable stick-it notes on the paintings which best illustrate your points. Then you dont have to trawl through in front of the students, i guarantee if you try that, you will never find what you what, it's Murphy's law!

and yes, I think it would be really good for you to do two paintings yourself, one as a colourist and the other as a tonalist (- just made up tonalist - ) to show after you have looked at the Master pics.

and why shouldn't the group do two? If they work small, about 6x4 or slightly bigger, they should get two done. when I did a workshop on colour with Kitty Wallis, everyone did more than one that size during the morning - it's do-able if the content is simple. In fact, if you choose, say, two or three different landscape photos which are quite simple, photocopy in greyscale and give them out randomly to the class, they dont have to worry about finding a subject, it will save time. I think you will be surprised by the differences in result from different students doing the same scene. and for the students, seeing another person tackling the same subject, but coming up with a different "answer" which may work better than theirs, it opens their eyes even more.

02-27-2010, 05:38 PM
This is so interesting!! I can't add anything of help as I'm continuing with my struggle with both tone and colour, particularly the tonal values of different hues. I probably have less trouble with high and low saturation than I do with value.
Anyway, what I wanted to say is you can experiment on here with your lesson if you want Deborah. I will be a willing pupil!

02-27-2010, 10:04 PM
Again, I am late to the party but I remember an article from one of the magazines -- I **think** it was Artists magazine from a couple of years ago. The featured artist talked about how she was taught to understand value, saturation, neutrals. Her instructor would put down a color on a sheet of paper and then tell her class to match the value of the color but in a cool temperature. Then in a warm temperature. Then match that same color's intensity but in a different hue, etc. They showed the whole chart that this artist did in her class - it looked like a great exercise. I think I pulled it out and have it in my filebox in my studio if you want me to look it up. Otherwise, you've already received a lot of good info!

02-28-2010, 02:19 AM
Hi Deb,

Here's a radical idea. Rather than teaching the oft-repeated "as long as the value is correct, any color will work," show them that this is NOT necessarily true. Have them do some paintings with very little value change, that still work because of contrast in saturation. The same lesson could be done with contrast in warm vs. cool.

I am certainly not saying value isn't important, but for me personally, the "if the value is correct, any color will work" statement was probably the biggest obstacle for me in growing and advancing as an artist. That statement kept me from understanding the importance of cool and warm color contrast. That statement kept me from understanding that high saturation and neutralized color contrast was very important, too.

I agree that looking for examples from the Masters is a good teaching tool. I hope you don't mind, but I found a few Monets that (I think) are good examples.


While this painting has a fair amount of contrast between the trees and water/sky, as far as values go, it has no real darks. But the saturation of the bright oranges gives it a punch that the values don't give it, in my opinion.


This is really a better example of warm vs. cool contrast and complementary color contrast, but the red boats virtually disappear when it comes to value contrast. Imagine if the boats were more saturated and the rest of the painting more neutral - those boats would really stand out!


A couple very dark values play a big role, but for the most part it is the strongly saturated sunlit foreground that makes it stand out from the more neutral water beyond. Again, warm vs. cool is also more important than value here.

Well, that's my 2 cents worth!


02-28-2010, 03:42 AM
v useful examples. Moderators.......... Am confused....last time I tried to include another artist's work on these boards, I got my wrists firmly slapped.

Doesn't it count if the artist is dead then?

02-28-2010, 06:01 AM
v useful examples. Moderators.......... Am confused....last time I tried to include another artist's work on these boards, I got my wrists firmly slapped.

Doesn't it count if the artist is dead then?
As long as the copyright is not given to someone else! Generally speaking I think we are OK with old masters...but not ok with living artists or those who haven't been dead for 75 years or more. And of course there are differences between countries on the fair use criteria.AFAIK!

02-28-2010, 07:02 AM
Taking part in the discussion:

If Colour = hue + chroma + tonal value, then they are inseparable from colour, but as a stool with three legs, you can examine each leg. And, very important, all three aspects are needed to get "colour", as you can't sit on the 'stool of Colour' if it lacks one leg.

And, I do hope no-one gets upset by my voicing a question and opinion: why low chroma would be better than high is beyond my intellectual capacity to understand. We can talk about personal preferences, but not state "rules" that muted colours are better, in my oh-so humble opinion. Why restrict emerging artists, when there is a whole world to explore? The art-world is too full of unsubstantiated opinions vocied as "the-one-and-only-truth" anyway. It is more a question of what works to depict the intention of the artist, and if it works well or not. Monet focused on the chroma aspect of colour, for example, in a world that put the higest value (pun intended) on low chroma, earth hues, and strong tonal values. He and his friends dared to explore this third aspect of Colour. Why would that be wrong? Can someone enlighten me to that?

Don, these Monet paintings are excellent examples. Much of what he painted is a midtone blur in bw, and often there are only two basic values, of rather high key, with a few dark and light accents.


02-28-2010, 02:17 PM
hello. As to the original question: white is the sum of all colour, and black is the absence...or is it the other way around ?
So, Charlie, what is " low chroma " ?

02-28-2010, 02:48 PM
Chroma = saturation

02-28-2010, 02:51 PM
hello. Charlie - and...? :) Ed

02-28-2010, 03:51 PM
Ed, too busy right now to go into detail, see for example this explanation on the net (http://www.greatreality.com/color/ColorHVC.htm).

02-28-2010, 04:06 PM
hello. Charlie - yeah, well, okay, but what about Deborah's original question - in the context of Pastel painting ? :) Ed

02-28-2010, 06:07 PM
Ed, see post number two in this thread.

02-28-2010, 06:35 PM
Charlie, thanks for that description of the "stool of colour." It really makes sense to me, though I think I was soaking it during your class a lot.

Deborah Secor
02-28-2010, 06:45 PM
hello. As to the original question: white is the sum of all colour, and black is the absence...or is it the other way around ?
So, Charlie, what is " low chroma " ?

That's correct in terms of optics, Ed. When using pigments you're in another realm, of course. The sum of all color isn't exactly white, in that case!

In Charlie's last post I assume that her use of the phrase "low chroma" would equate to the idea of a tonal painting.

I didn't expect this to turn into a discussion on colorism vs. tonalism!(I guess we need to be careful not to call it 'tonalISM', since that refers to a specific school of work that you can google to see. But I recall having long discussions with Handell and his students on painting tonally vs. using high chroma colors, and calling it 'tonalism vs. colorism'!)

I can appreciate both, and find all your assertions interesting. There are a lot of different ways to approach color, and we need to learn how to utilize all of them well. That's part of the reason I'm searching for a good exercise to teach about saturation or chroma. Thanks for all the good input, folks!


02-28-2010, 07:00 PM
okay. did that.
What was the original question? - method, or personal discovery? or... :) Ed

03-01-2010, 03:17 AM
so...TONALISM is an expression, thanks for that - I thought I made it up! How funny. I will Google it.

Ed...what are you trying to show us with your image? I am not sure how this would teach anyone anything about CHROMA, which is the intensity of the colour. in the second line, you have a ball of high chroma on the left, and low chroma on the right, but the value example between them doesn't relate properly. If you include an example, it would be helpful to include some text to explain what you were trying to achieve.

Also - re your last question - I think if you read Deborah's original post, you will find that she made it perfectly clear what the question is...she is looking for a method for how to teach SATURATION or CHROMA (which are two words for the same thing) to her students. By using that method, her students will of course go on a journey of personal discovery.

Deborah -here is an idea for you.

First, discuss Chroma/Saturation, and show Master examples at work (and perhaps your own).

Then, using The first Monet pic which Don showed you....how about printing out copies of both the colour and the the b&w. Give out just the b&w to begin with.
get your students to repaint two small versions of that exact scene (which is technically very clever, subjugating value for chroma), first using HIGH CHROMA/SATURATION colours of their own choice, then again using LOW CHROMA/SATURATION colours of their own choice.
Then, when they have finished, give out the original version and everyone can compare what they have done with the original, and see if they truly understood the Saturation lesson.

if you dont like this idea and come up with a suitable exercise please show us too.

03-01-2010, 09:46 AM
Another idea - bring a laptop into the classroom and display master paintings in photoshop. Then use the hue/saturation/intensity sliders in an adjustment layer to show what happens when you adjust each one. With the saturation slider, you can show that the value doesn't change even when you desaturate the colors.


Deborah Secor
03-01-2010, 12:49 PM
Both good ideas--thanks! :)


03-01-2010, 01:51 PM
"Low chroma" is any hue that is tinted, shaded, or neutralized. Not exactly the same as 'tonal', as some "tonalists" use quite high chroma (and may well be called "colorists"), while others advocate greys with possibly one single splash of colour, if that. The range is too wide to put in one box with one label, imho, though we all do use labels for convenience, me too.

Degas was mentioned. Here is a lovely Degas, sans coleur (please don't compare with the colour versin below just yet):


To emphasise a point, I weakened a few charcoal lines in the legs, but only there. The shadows on the legs are very similar to the shadows on the floor. Where is the skirt of the girl fastening her hair? The full figure girl, where's her... chest area, it looks flat in the bodice? Here and there, a charcoal outline helps us define form and shape. The halved girl to the right, her skirt looks kind of flat.

In full colour, below, we see the painting is made up of mostly reds and greens, in appearence. There is a cerain value range, and while some passages are flat and not really modelled at all, neither with colour temperature, nor with shading, others are, like the back of the girl fastening her hair. Her skirt is clearly distinguishable from the background, by being of a different hue, and chroma. Here and there there are contour lines, and the whole painting has both painted and drawn elements in it. The front girl suddenly has a busom, as a splash of bright (high chroma) red creates form in a low chroma redbrown area. The legs are unmistakable, as they are of a different colour than the floor. And the half girl, see how the brighter and yellower greens contrasted with the bluer and greyer colours shape volume in her skirt. Not shaded, but by use of chroma and temperature.


Deborah, this is what I'm trying to say: my suggestion is you let your students create ('sculpt') form through the other two aspects of colour -- hue and chroma.


Deborah Secor
03-01-2010, 02:02 PM
I appreciate and understand that, Charlie, and will be incorporating this lesson with what Jackie has suggested, I think. Very helpful and interesting. I'm sure I shall grow as a result, too. :D


03-01-2010, 04:27 PM
hello. I had hoped that my fuzzy download (hey, i heard that! :lol:) needed no words.
This is not my thread, but let me say -
i'm self-taught. i worked with charcoal for about a year and a half, and made the move into colour with pastel.
my notion of colour mixing is based on Primary = yellow, red, blue, and so on.
my Rembrandt set uses white and black to make tints and tones/shades of their colour/hue selection.
Nupastels, for me, seem to be about warm/cool, and with the Rembees work well on paper.
As far as this discussion, i guess i'm out of my league.
i hope anything i posted might be useful to anyone looking in. What i've read's been good for me.
thx :) Ed

03-04-2010, 06:07 AM
Get the Chroma right, and you can make any value look right!

Or...??? :D

Now, what's this?:


Might not be obvious, as the values are all very sameish. By the way, this is an excellent exercise in finding same values in different colours...

So, I'm putting....

the colour version ...

a bit lower in the post, .....

so we have to scroll....

and not see it immediately.

Here it is:


Whaddyaknow, it was a cube!

The values are off, but I still interpret the planes correctly, as the hue and chroma does the job, when tonal value is equalized.


03-04-2010, 06:36 AM
Wow! Charlie, that's wicked! I love it.

Deborah Secor
03-04-2010, 10:17 AM
Thank you so much, Charlie! That's a blast...


03-04-2010, 10:24 AM
Wow, Charlie - what a great demo! And would make a fairly simple yet effective lesson, too!


03-04-2010, 11:25 AM
Thanks guys! The question kept on gnawing in my brain, and the little brain-rat found a piece of cheese! There had to be a simple way of doing it! Glad you liked it! Feel free to use, any of you.

What was really interesting was how the camera changed the values of the colours in colour setting. While the bw setting worked fine, I had to noodle with the colour version in PSE to get it right-ish.


03-05-2010, 05:43 PM
hello. thx Charlie - very direct, well-thought visual on the issue/concept.
I came into pastel from b&w, but still can't assess in that way.
Your two posts/illustrations deserve five stars!
Deborah, you've stirred up a great sauce from/with great chefs.
thx Ed

03-05-2010, 06:50 PM
Have to correct myself: the only high chroma in the coloured cube sketch is the acid green background, and the yellow front of the cube (not clear in this photo) -- the other hues are whitened (tints), and therefore lower in chroma (saturation).


03-07-2010, 05:40 PM
Just read through this entire thread - I think I have a brain cramp!!! Very instructional, very thoughtful everyone. When I am sorting pastels in my box this chroma or saturation level always gives me a problem. I'm going to use my red neutralizing screen from now on to see what value they really are. The Monet b & w and color from Don were shocking to me!! So little contrast in value for such a beautiful painting!! It was the change in chroma that made that painting! Charlie - your Degas example and then your small rectangle were very illustrative of this concept as well. I could see on the black and white rectangle that there was something drawn just by the change in the texture of the pastel, but when I got down to the colored version, it was not at all what I expected. So many things to think about when painting - it boggles the mind. People always say, don't you find painting to be so relaxing? (these are the people who want me to volunteer for something and think painting is just a pleasant pastime - like going to a movie.) Painting is exhausting to me - it takes everything I have to remember and think and process what I am seeing into what is on the paper. I'm going to be dreaming about tints and chroma and saturation and color ... good dreams!!


03-07-2010, 05:48 PM
Lynn, dream in technicolor!

03-07-2010, 06:07 PM
Deborah: A simple visual might be to have the students do a flicker painting. This is a painting with many very bright and saturated colors with complements next to each other to cause a visual flicker effect (color vibration). Then photograph the paintings, bring them into photo shop and convert them to gray scale, print them, then compare. The comparison discussion could be endless. This could also be printed in sepia or other monochromatic scheme. good luck. Derek

03-07-2010, 06:26 PM
So many things to think about when painting - it boggles the mind. People always say, don't you find painting to be so relaxing? (these are the people who want me to volunteer for something and think painting is just a pleasant pastime - like going to a movie.) Painting is exhausting to me - it takes everything I have to remember and think and process what I am seeing into what is on the paper.
Reminds me of the famous quote by Degas:
“Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do.”


03-16-2010, 09:50 PM
I am late to the party but learned so much from all of you! Thank you!


03-17-2010, 12:10 AM
Sorry if this has been suggested already, I didn't read the entire thread.

To help my students conceptualize the difference, I like to use the photoshop eye drop tool and the spectrum you get from double-clicking on the color square.

Beyond that I teach them the comparison game. In the still life they are required to seek out the most pure spots of color, then the most gray spots and finally the in-betweens can be compared to the extremes as well as each other to establish a saturation scale.

Hope this helps,


Deborah Secor
03-18-2010, 12:58 PM
I'm teaching this class today and will report back to you what comes of it! Thanks!


Deborah Secor
03-18-2010, 06:48 PM
Okay, this was an intense and very interesting class!

This is an animation of my demo paintings, showing two issues: value and saturation. It switches back and forth, and while not perfect, I think it illustrates things well. I used the idea that Jackie proposed and it's been most instructive! (Thanks, Jackie!)


I had the class use a grayscale pic of a painting by M. Monet. They were instructed to paint two versions, one using desaturated neutral colors, and one using saturated colors, while attempting to match the values throughout.

Here's the color version of the Monet I used above, just for the record:

I taught them to think of color using the idea of Hue, Saturation and Value (see chart here: illustration e. only (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HSL_and_HSV)) as the DNA of any color, inextricably linked but able to be unraveled and studied in parts. I showed them several paintings on my computer, switching from grayscale mode to color, but first asking them what colors they expected to see. (I'll use one of my paintings to show you.)

Looking at this, what kinds of colors do you expect to see? Wild, bright colors? Natural, muted colors? Could you find both? Where do you expect to see muted colors? Where would you find the brilliant colors? (BTW, purely an opinion here--widely varying!)

leaving space here....

and some more....

so you don't see both at once.......

And here's the color version. Does it surprise you in some way? Or not? What is the most saturated color in the painting? What role does it play?

Anyway, it was fun and I know we have more to come. Next week we're doing a still life painting using three solid color objects and will paint the color first, then impose value. It should be another version of the saturation lesson!


03-20-2010, 05:04 PM
Very interesting Deborah. And maybe everyone is waiting for someone else to reply first!
I had no real idea of what colours I would see in the portrait EXCEPT I had a feeling the shaded areas of his face were going to be violet. Wonder why?
I think the most saturated colour in the painting is the little streaks and dots of red, on the ear,nose, jowl and hairline. Their role would be to give a little "zing" to the painting. For me, the colour which stands out the most is the light violet in the hair but that surely cannot be the most saturated colour.
There, I've answered and, if I'm wrong, I can come back and get the right answer later!

03-20-2010, 06:11 PM
Just to add that those little bright red lines don't show at all in the greyscale, except for the one on the ear. Because they are the same value as the surrounding colour. Oh, I think I may be learning something!

03-20-2010, 07:00 PM
Really interesting, Deborah! Your colourful landscape sings to me more than the dull version, but hey, Monet's is quite dull!

Have seen the pic of the man before, so I remembered that the shadows would be violet, but I thought they were more red-violet, have less turquoises, and I didn't notice his green back of the neck before! (would that give American Green-necks? :-) Edges, where light and dark meets, might often have high chroma.


03-21-2010, 12:34 AM
My (middle-school) students often confuse value and intensity. When they do their Warhol-style posters they sometimes get the values wrong as a result and are disappointed when the face cannot be "read" very well. They think it's a drawing problem, so I photograph the piece and correct the values digitally to show them the problem is in the values.

Before they paint I give them sets of coloured cards and get them in groups to arrange them into sets of 4 values. They invariably interpret intense colours like bright yellows and oranges as darker than they really are and put them into the wrong value group. I show them an answer sheet and a digitally desaturated version it it as proof. But still the odd one slips by, e.g. a green face with bright yellow shadows.

03-21-2010, 01:31 AM
Deborah - Love the demo and the flashing between greyscale and color - you are some tech wizard!!! Very informative and a very good example of what you are trying to get across. This is an incredibly difficult concept to grasp in it's entirety - and I think it takes lots of "doing" to really get it. Thanks so much for sharing with those of us who don't have wonderful teachers!!! I may try your class project myself ... after the 16 people leave my house tomorrow after sunday lunch :-) "I'm just a girl who can't say no!! I'm in a terrible fix.!!!"


03-21-2010, 01:32 AM
Thank you! This is so cool. I love your Monet example, Deborah. I guessed the violet in the shadows on the face or maybe turquoise, didn't think the specks of pink were more intense than the red-violet on the chin. But they're pretty close. I was surprised at how few muted colors and earth tones went into it and how natural it looked in those brilliant colors. I love that sort of thing.

I really should try it sometime, just do a face and not even try to stick to the earth tones I've used all my life. They look good and I had a knack for capturing complexions but compared to this, they were... pedestrian? Sort of normalish? Not that jazzy looking and nowhere near as light-drenched.

The purpose of that violet was to warm the highlights by contrasting them, to warm the skin tone by implying its complement. It made the light more yellowish sunlight. At least that's what I saw in it. Ever since your Snow class and Charlie's class I've been thinking more in terms of light than local color.

I was sort of approaching it in colored pencils because I'd glaze lavender over all the shadows and cream over all the highlights to paint in the light. But that was a subtle effect and I didn't realize how far I could go with saturated hues and not lose plausibility or recognition.

Wendy, I knew so many people doing the Warhol thing with red-green mixes of exactly the same value. Or blue highlights and orange shadows and not understand why it looked like a photographic negative. Then again, I think Warhol sometimes inverted the values to make a pop art painting look like the negative so that'd get back to the source too.

Hehehe -- Deborah, that may be an amusing demonstration, do things deliberately wrong! Reverse all the values in something but get the hues right, or use all the brights in the background and have a muted foreground focal point, show why sometimes these things do not work the way you think they would by outrageous and silly errors and reversals. Pinky-orange mountains and blue near ground grass or something.

As soon as I said that I knew you could make it look good, sunlit pink-orange mountains at dawn with shadowed blue-gray foreground stuff more muted. Still, there's got to be a way to show what differences saturation makes in a painting.