Let's talk about colour

Although the DMP method deals with Realism, within that you can have a more tonalistic or colourful approach. The Zorn palette or Rembrandts heavy earth colour palette are examples of more tonalistic styles.

Lately I've become more interested in adding more hues to my paintings (as per impressionism), but without overdoing it or abstracting too much. Personally I don't like the overuse of very saturated colour without the balance of more subdued tones.

I wonder what your thoughts are on Realism and use of colours? :)


  • If you look at paintings with floral arrangements by the old masters you’ll see the perfect balance of realism and color. After watching Mark’s video on abstraction and how up close it can look like a mess I scrolled in (through Google Arts and Culture) on a bunch of flower paintings by old masters and it was mind boggling how up close they’re just daubs of beautiful colours but at normal distance they’re completely realistic. 

    It seems to be all about value. Once you get good at assessing it correctly, it frees you to explore color however you want. I’m guessing too that once you’re skilled at being able to paint realistically you can sort of play with how much you want to push the color. I think color is very subjective and everyone has an inherent preference for it so ultimately it will come out in your painting. 

    I started off painting obsessed with color and completely ignoring value- not the way to go! A terrible and painful process until I learned to do it differently 😀 But, color is a lot of fun and as @[email protected] mentions, experimenting with it is a good way to start discovering your own style. 
  • @Richard_P
    For a deep ongoing conversation on color go to attentiveequations.com

    For the origins of modern (industrial age) color see M.E. Chevreul’s theory of simultaneous contrast. https://www.colorsystem.com/?page_id=792&lang=en

    For 20th century take on Chevreul's work see : https://www.amazon.com/Interaction-Color-Anniversary-Josef-Albers/dp/0300179359/ref=pd_sbs_1/138-8486806-3669720?pd_rd_w=Do6mv&pf_rd_p=180628c6-6f13-4dbf-9213-f09cdedc7815&pf_rd_r=H4JD23PTMXRQWWD4TGE1&pd_rd_r=e4588920-58b0-46ce-9d7f-afb03b897bc3&pd_rd_wg=Sc5aU&pd_rd_i=0300179359&psc=1

    Hans Hoffman was a geometric painter who applied simultaneous contrast broke though to pure abstract color. 

    Ian Roberts also plays with simultaneous contrast a bit.

  • Thank you all for your interesting comments.

    The last painting made me think of an important point. Until the time of the impressionists with the discovery of new pigments like Cadmiums, Cobalts, and Synthetic Ultramarine there weren't such high chroma colours in those hues available to everyday artists. Modern pigments like phthalos, dioxazine violet and quinacridones then greatly expanded the chroma range in those hues and made it possible to do vivid colours both in glazing and in the alla-prima style.

    The pink/purple komodo in the last painting would have had to be done with glazing a red lake over a natural ultramarine blue (expensive) in the renaissance and wouldn't be as lightfast (or as chromatic)

  • Perhaps it's just not about the intensity of the colours, but the range of hues used.

    If you look at this painting by Erin Hanson you can she uses purples and violets for the shadow colours (and some lighter lilac ones as well), where as other artists would have just used browns and blacks. Now, I wouldn't call this realism, but it's certainly vibrant. I also notice that the orange and light blues are vibrant where as the purples and greens are much more subdued. If all the hues were equally as vibrant it would be too much.

  • edited June 15
    I love the painting above. She's taken some liberties with colour but the values are right (see below). The eucalypts make it look so Australian but it's actually California with imported Australian trees. To me, it's realism but a realism that has been augmented with colour. The colour here has a visceral effect on me - it heightens the primal emotions I feel when I look at landscape. And it creates it's own reality separate from the world of usual visual experience. This painting is a real, original and moving object in its own right and is not merely parasitical on what it depicts. Not all her paintings are this good IMHO. But I hope that one day I'll feel confident enough to take leave of everyday visual reality and create paintings that have their own augmented reality. But they'll always be rooted in visual reality. I can't imagine ever going completely abstract.  :)

  • Hmm.. that's interesting. I like the colours but they seem a little overwhelming to me. Or maybe it's just the purples, it's not my favourite colour. :)

    Your own paintings have a lot of colour ranges in the rocks and trees, so maybe that's why this appeals to you so muuch?
  • So if we change the purples and lower the chroma to a more natural style we get this (which I actually quite like):


  • The above link is to the National Gallery video on Van Huysum's 'Flowers in a Terracotta Vase'. 
    It has plenty of hue, but one would be hard pressed to find a better example of a realistic painting  (albeit the flowers are all from differing seasons!).   The droplets of water on the poppy leaves, the ants and flutterbys are mindboggling.  
  • Richard_P said:
    So if we change the purples and lower the chroma to a more natural style we get this (which I actually quite like):

    I quite like it like this too.
  • If you like Erin Hanson painting try maxfield parrish 
    he too was confused about color but I love the way he resolved his issues 
    GOod luck with yours, @Richard_P
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