Tonality of Colors in Painting

Colors not only exhibit hue but also tone. But brightness of color can interfere with our appreciation of its tonality and so does the notion that certain colors are seldom darker than another. When it comes to color mixing in art, any color can be darker or paler than another.

When Yellow is Darker than Blue

In certain circumstances blue can be paler than yellow and pink can be darker than blue. Place two opposing colors of similar tone side by side and they will appear to shimmer, as can be seen in the green and red image. Let’s take a look at blue which can most easily be expressed as any tone.

Pale Blues and Dark Blues

Certain blues are paler than others, but unlike other colors an array of dark blue pigments can be found. These include ultramarine, pthalo blue and Prussian blue. Mid-toned blue such as cerulean and manganese blue form useful pigments for their hues differ to adding white to an aforementioned dark blue. The artist need only add white to blue and array of pale blues can be produced.

Green Pigments

Like blue, dark greens can easily be found in pigments, such as viridian green, olive green, sap green and Prussian green. A variety of pale greens can easily be produced by the addition of white (and yellow if need be). But what about warm, bright colors such as red, orange and yellow?

Mixing Dark Bright Colors in Pigments

How can yellow appear darker than blue? Sunsets and dazzling flowers will exhibit such tonal inversions. In fact, yellow can be darkened by introducing any pigment containing yellow’s opposite color which is violet (see the color wheel to find the opposing colors). Any pigment that contains violet would be suitable such as mauve or dioxazine (Winsor violet), although ultramarine with a dab of permanent rose would do as well. A cool earth color such as burnt umber would also deepen yellow.
 
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Deep Bright Colors in Paint

Similarly orange can be darkened by introducing a pigment which contains oranges’ opposing color, which is green. Viridian, pthalo blue or a cool earth color can be mixed in. Remember to introduce the opposing color by small degrees until the desired depth of color is achieved, or the whole mixture will end up sullied.

How to Mix Opposing Colors

The color wheel shows how an opposing color can be found, (also known as complementary color). Green can be darkened with red or any color containing red (burnt sienna, cadmium red or permanent rose); blue can be darkened with orange or any similar warm color (cadmium orange or burnt sienna.) The introduction of any color’s complementary color can deepen its tone.

Hue and Tone in Oil Pigments and Acrylics

In order to see past the color’s hue, half close the eyes, and its tonal value will become apparent. A blue summer sky can be paler in tone than the golden sand dunes below; a bright red pepper can be darker in tone than a green tablecloth on which it rests. An aspect exhibiting very bright colors can often confuse the issue of tonality. Establishing if one color is darker than another is half the battle. It is then just a matter of making the decision of whether to leave the hue as it is, adding white, or adding a little of its complementary color

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