Pastel Tip of the Day | A Note of Red


The Cove (pastel 14x14). Can you find the note of red?

Red is the color of passion. A little goes a long way in a landscape painting. Rarely is it found at its highest chroma (saturation) within nature. Because of the effect reflected light from the sky, which is blue, has on most local colors within a scene, there is a natural graying or weakening of intense reds when they are present in the landscape. This is not to say that it doesn’t exist within the landscape. It is just that it is usually weaker than straight cadmium red pigment. Even the intense warms of the Southwest Desert sections of Arizona and New Mexico share the color cast of the blue sky.

When the landscape is relatively void of local warm tones (yellow, orange, red), it is easy to work with an overly intense palette of green and blue. Since light is made up of all color (Sir Isaac Newton proved that when he bent a ray of light through a prism creating the appearance of the rainbow) all color should be represented in a painting to better duplicate light’s effect. Green, being a mixture of blue and yellow, introduces the second primary color. If violet is included, red is brought into play, completing the triad. Grayed or neutral tones, those weaker appearing colors, also help. When opposing colors are intermixed, a natural graying is produced. So gray can be thought of as representing all color and thus helps in representing a full spectrum of color within a painting.

Another so-called trick is to place a small note of red somewhere within the landscape. This doesn’t have to represent a thing, just the sensation of red. It is a bit of eye candy and the viewer will benefit from its presence within the visual space of the painting. It allows their eyes to have the complete spectrum of color represented without becoming overwhelmed. Historically, landscape artists have employed this to good effect. A pastoral scene, dominated by cooler color families, will have an added sparkle if a dollop of red is included. Too much and the effect is changed, making it a major player and ultimately altering the balance of color. While gimmicks are best avoided, understanding why the presence of a note of red works is empowering. Think of it as that little dash of spice that reacts to other ingredients to make the dish more delicious.


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4 thoughts on “Pastel Tip of the Day | A Note of Red

  1. Dotti Wilke

    That was really hard to find! I didn’t expect it to be so tiny. Do you remember why you decided to place it there?
    An unrelated question — is the far left side your underpainting? It looks like watercolor.

  2. Rita Young

    Wow, after reading the text I was looking for a red-violet to be the red in the painting. I had looked for cadmium red initially but didn’t see it until it was pointed out. Such a good lesson, I want to test this one out for myself soon.

    Rita Young