Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Your subject is lying to you... it happens more often than you think.

Have you ever been in a situation where you are painting with cadmium red out of the tube but it still doesn't look red enough on the canvas? or when you are literally slathering titanium white on the canvas but the value still doesn't look light enough? Have you ever been frustrated because you are glaring at your subject with great intensity and you think you have matched the colors exactly but when you put it on the canvas, it looks all wrong.

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it's not your fault.... well maybe a little bit your eye's fault but mostly your subject is lying to you. There are several ways in which the subject can lie to you. Your perception of a color is altered depending on the colors surrounding it

A value can look darker when surrounded by light value

A value can look lighter when surrounded by dark value

The inner square in both boxes above are the same but they look different because of the value of the color surrounding it. In the first case, the lavender looks much darker because it is surrounded by a lighter yellow. In the second case, the lavender looks much lighter because it is surrounded by dark purple.

Edgar Payne
So when you are out there in the landscape, the deep blue shadows make light on the rocks seem brilliant and you paint them too light. You are trying to add clouds(or snow) but no matter how much white you use, its not light enough. Your eyes have deceived you. So how do you avoid this trap? How do you seek the truth from your subject? The answer is simple. You move your eyes all over the landscape and compare colors to one another to see the truth. You see that your clouds are the lightest value in your landscape, you compare the rocks to the clouds and find out that even though they are in the light, they are not as light as the clouds. But they are warmer than the clouds, and much lighter and warmer than the cool shadows. Comparing and contrasting the values, temperature and saturation of colors all across the landscape will help you see and paint realistic colors.

Value contrast is just one way that color perception is altered. Complementary colors, Ground Subtraction and Eye fatigue all contribute to altering color perception. I will go over all of these concepts in detail in my one day color workshop on Nov 2nd, 10-5, $70. Sign up now to better understand, observe and mix accurate color.


  1. Great post of color TRUTH. Thank you so much.

    1. Thanks so much Julie. I just saw your comment :)

  2. Hello Bhavini, hope you are keeping safe and healthy. I found your work in my IG , and I fell in love with it instantly! Your oil paintings are just stunning, i love your brush work! It's so amazing! I'm an artist to from India and love painting with oils. I struggle with my brush strokes a lot. After going through your account and blog , I just wondered if you conduct any online oil painting classes?
    I would love to learn from you. This quarantined time is justvso apt to learn and develop my skills in my favourite medium .
    Do let me know if you do.
    Thank you so much
    Fatema Ibrahim.