Making Color Count

Color intensity refers to the visual brilliance or purity of any pigment or hue. The intensity of a color depends on three factors: the natural color of the pigment; whether the color is used in a pure or blended state (colors used straight from the tube are more intense); and in a composition, the intensity (or dullness) of the surrounding colors.

When planning your color scheme, remember Robert Henri?s advice to use a combination of ?grave? and ?pure? tones. In your compositions try building up your surface with grays or neutralized colors. Then add a few select spots of pure color. You?ll notice how strategically placed areas of color, such as those in Kurt Anderson?s Scent of Summer (at right), liven up the entire painting.

To keep your colors intense, mix lightly or not at all; overblending with a knife or brush will dampen the strength of your color. By following the principles of color intensity, you?ll be able to create paintings that pop off your canvas.


The Character of Color: You can see in example A that cadmium yellow light (top) is naturally more intense than yellow ochre. For B I surrounded cadmium yellow light with a background of the same color neutralized with gray. Notice how the neutral background makes the cadmium yellow light appear more brilliant. In example C, I put cadmium red on an orange background and on a gray one. The orange background fights for attention while the gray makes the cadmium red look more vibrant.

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