Essential Yellow Hues for Art

Yellow pigment form an important part of the artist’s palette as yellow is a primary color. For this reason, it is important not to confuse primary yellow with any other yellow pigment which may not be a primary color at all. To understand the difference between a primary yellow and non-primary yellow, exploring the pigment color chart is necessary.

What is the Best Yellow Pigment for Art?

Without yellow, an array of greens or oranges cannot be mixed. A yellow that closely approximates a primary yellow is vital. In fact, in pigment terms, there is no such thing as a true primary color as impurities will exist, regardless of how small. Examine many yellow pigments and a few will be ‘biased’ one way or the other. This might be a ‘golden yellow’, that possesses a little brown or orange, or lemon yellow which is slightly biased towards green, as it has a sharp, acidic quality.

About Cadmium Yellow

Look at oil pigments and there are a few different types of cadmium yellow. There is cadmium yellow (deep) which is almost red in hue; simply cadmium yellow, which appears almost orange, and then there is cadmium yellow (pale) which is a rich, yellow hue. Cadmium lemon can also be found, which is a sharp, bright yellow. In my personal opinion, I find cadmium yellow (deep) and cadmium yellow redundant for the art palette, and prefer cadmium yellow (pale). This color has a sharp, yet rich quality which closely approximates primary yellow. Lemon yellow is also a very useful color to have, as this yellow is more acidic in quality and is great for mixing greens.

Cadmium yellow (pale) is ideal for rendering bright sunlight and golden linings in clouds. When mixed with a little burnt sienna and white, an approximation to Naples yellow can be achieved. Lemon yellow is ideal for expressing sunlit lawns and under-ripe fruit. Both these yellows cover the yellow spectrum, from warm yellows to cool yellows.

See my Youtube clip on how to paint a lemon in 6 steps.


Useless Yellow Hues

There are lots of other yellows the artist may discover when poring over pigments, which I personally find redundant. These are: yellow ochre, a dirty, tawny-yellow; Naples yellow, a creamy, brown-yellow and Bismuth yellow, a pale, greenish yellow.

Yellows that are more useful and might be worth exploring are Winsor yellow, a bright, pure yellow and cadmium lemon. A few other yellows might be worth trying out if wishing to expand the color palette, which are Indian yellow, a rich, bright yellow and chrome yellow, a slightly cooler, yet still rich yellow.

Color Mixing Guide for Yellows

Lemon yellow is rather transparent in nature than cadmium yellow (pale) and therefore needs a little white to give it covering power. It is also easily overpowered by another color and therefore needs only the smallest amount of the other color to affect it. The smallest amount of viridian will transform this yellow into an iridescent green.

Cadmium yellow (pale) has a heavier consistency and therefore has better covering strength. Since it is slightly orange in bias, is not the best yellow counterpart for a clean green mixture. However, it is great for warm greens and oranges. Add cadmium yellow (pale) to cadmium red or scarlet lake and a rich orange-red will result. Add a little burnt sienna into this yellow and golden-yellow will result.
 
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How to Paint Yellow Objects
 

Daffodils contain a lot of lemon yellow, as does under-ripe apples and sapling leaves. Cadmium yellow (pale) can be found in dandelion heads, terracotta pots and sunlit paths. As both yellows possess different characteristics, each behave differently when mixed with other colors. Apply lemon yellow as a thin glaze and it will have little influence on the color beneath unless it is applied on a pale surface. For this reason, lemon yellow is ideal for glazing techniques (explored in another article). Cadmium yellow (pale) is richer in consistency and therefore requires a little additional linseed oil to create a thin glaze.

Color Mixing Guide for Yellows

Lemon yellow is rather more transparent in nature than cadmium yellow (deep) and therefore needs a little white to give it covering power. It is also easily overpowered by another color and therefore needs only needs a tad of the other color to affect it. The smallest amount of viridian will transform this yellow into an iridescent green.

Cadmium yellow (pale) has a heavier consistency and therefore has better covering strength. Since it is slightly orange in bias, is not the best yellow counterpart for a clean green mixture. However, it is great for warm greens and oranges. Add cadmium yellow (pale) to cadmium red or scarlet lake and a rich orange-red will result. Add a little burnt sienna into this yellow and golden-yellow will result.

How to Paint Yellow Objects

Daffodils contain a lot of lemon yellow, as does under-ripe apples and sapling leaves. Cadmium yellow (pale) can be found in dandelion heads, terracotta pots and sunlit paths. As both yellows possess different characteristics, each behave differently when mixed with other colors. Apply lemon yellow as a thin glaze and it will have little influence on the color beneath unless it is applied on a pale surface. For this reason, lemon yellow is ideal for glazing techniques (explored in another article). Cadmium yellow (pale) is richer in consistency and therefore requires a little additional linseed oil to create a thin glaze.

The Best Yellows for Painting

Prefer the brighter, cleaner yellows for your painting palette. The dirtier yellows, such as Naples yellow and yellow ochre can be achieved by mixing other colors into a pure yellow, although they can be included in the pigment collection for convenience. Two yellows, a warm yellow and a cool yellow between them will produce most yellows found in the color wheel.

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