Oil painting is a unique art form due in large part to the individual qualities of the pigments, as well as the great diversity of mediums. Each pigment brings challenges as well as rewards. The array of paints on an artist’s palette is not just a color spectrum, but a texture spectrum as well. There are also other spectrums of contrast in a painting, and the use of them can help an artist create great paintings. Here are some examples….
1) COMPLEMENTARY HUES – This is a standard approach to the use of color, taught in any beginners level painting course. Basically complementary colors are any two hues positioned directly opposite each other on the color wheel. The pairs of colors enhance and enliven each other. Examples include red and green, yellow and purple, and blue and orange. Notice that complementary colors always match a cool with a warm color!
2) LIGHT AND DARK – The light and dark areas are so important - there are even “schools of technique” that depend on them. For example, “chiaroscuro” is the technique used especially by Caravaggio and Rembrandt. With chiaroscuro, three-dimensional shapes are suggested by the range of colour and the spectrum of light and shadow. This technique is, of course, essential to artistic black and white photography.
3) PAINT TEXTURE – The texture of the paint itself is easy to overlook, because paint manufacturers often strive for uniformity between one color and another. The truth is, there is a huge variation between one pigment and the next. Historically, artists have known this, and taken advantage of it. Painting is not the same as printing. Ultramarine Blue has a completely different feel than Sienna or Ocher.
4) OPAQUE AND TRANSPARENT – Some pigments are naturally transparent and some opaque. Often an opaque paint can be made more transparent by adding additional medium. Generally, this is part of the technique called “glazing”. Artists who paint in large impasto strokes (such as plein air painters) often prefer opaque paints, but artists who like to work on details may employ glazing. It is not uncommon to combine both techniques by beginning a painting with large opaque areas, then finishing with highly detailed glazing in the compositional area of focus.
6) HUE SATURATION - Using various levels of hue saturation, an artist can create amazing works. Leonardo’s sketches are one example. Also, duotones make use of a single hue, in addition to black, to create the illusion of many colors. Sometimes this approach has been used because of expense considerations. It is related to the “limited palette” approach where an artist will self-limit resources in order to emphasize creativity using what is available.
7) WARM VS. COOL – Colors opposite each other on the color wheel will always be a warm and a cool hue. Rather than adding black to an excessively bright color as a way to tone it down, you can simply mix a bit of the complementary color with it. This is generally regarded as a superior approach. Also, the use of warm and cool colors in close proximity to each other can add dynamic interest to the painting.
8) LARGER AND SMALLER SHAPES – Often the larger shapes set the overall tone of the painting. Turner landscapes are a great example, where the entire painting is determined by a few large shapes. Smaller shapes may be reserved for details, particularly in the area of the focus point of the painting. Renaissance paintings often have fine detail on the faces and even the hair, while using a hazy atmospheric perspective for the background.
9) EDGES – Some of the most neglected areas of a painting are the edges between larger shapes. It is tempting to concentrate on lines and large areas of color, but the way an artist deals with edges can determine whether or not the painting has depth, perspective, or richness of visual impression.
There are many other techniques that can be immensely helpful to a painter willing to work at developing artistic skills. These are just a few of the essentials that can contribute to the making of the next great painting!