Painting Demonstration | Using Color Intensity

By Jane Jones

In the following painting demonstration of Tangerines, I explore the use of varying intensities of color to create the glow of light as it passes through juicy tangerine slices. I used three types of contrasts:

  • value contrast between the light areas of the slices and the dark background to create the illusion of form and dimensionality
  • complementary colors, orange and blue, to intensify the orange colors in the tangerine slices
  • dull colors next to the brighter colors in the tangerine slices to enhance the illusion of light.

Any one of these contrasts creates interest in your paintings, but using all three together makes for a dramatic and powerful illusion.

Step 1 of "Tangerines" by Jane Jones

Step 1 of "Tangerines"

I began my painting with a layer of French ultramarine mixed with Liquin so that the blues of my background and drapery would cover well. This toning layer also gives a lovely blue glow behind the background. Here you see the background and drapery painted on top of the blue underpainting.

The background is a mixture of French ultramarine mixed with Payne’s gray and some Liquin to make the mixture a bit more transparent, allowing the blue from the first layer to show through. I painted the drapery with mixtures of French ultramarine, phthalo turquoise and titanium white, using more white in the lighter areas. This sets the stage for my tangerines. Then I painted an undercoat of titanium white in the areas where the tangerines and their slices would be. The white undercoat keeps the blues of the background from showing through and dulling my orange colors.

Tangerines (oil, 6x10) by Jane Jones

Tangerines (oil, 6x10) by Jane Jones

Above you see the finished painting, Tangerines. For the tangerines I used cadmium yellow deep, cadmium orange and cadmium scarlet, varying the intensities of those colors by adding their respective complements—Winsor violet (dioxazine purple), French ultramarine and permanent green light—as well as titanium white.

While value contributes to the form of the tangerine, part of the illusion is created by using duller colors in the areas that recede or wrap around the sphere and brighter colors in the lighter areas.

Look at the areas of the slices that seem to glow or have light coming through them. I created that effect by putting duller (less intense) colors next to brighter ones. Within the slices there are no pure colors, but the contrast between the lighter and duller colors creates the illusion that more light is passing through in the brighter areas.

Jane Jones is the author of Classic Still Life Painting (Watson-Guptill, 2004) and a popular teacher in workshops and on DVDs. Learn more at Also see Jane Jones’s Brushing Up column in the September 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine for more information on color intensity.

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