A Color Study To Understand Color

Create Light and Form With Chroma, Temperature and Value

Work with three characteristics of color – chroma, temperature and value – to create an illusion of light and three dimensional form. The paint is guided by a simple thumbnail sketch with values combined to create a strong underlying composition and arranged to create an illusion of light. 

Converting Value To Color

For the most part, paintings are done in color. But, for the best results, the underlying composition is best defined in simple value.

The transition from value composition to color painting can be difficult, especially when trying to manipulate several Characteristics of Color to get the effect of light and the illusion of three-dimensional form.  It is made more difficult when working from a photo reference that shows every detail and wants to dictate placement of every element in the painting.

This lesson uses a color photo as the starting point.  For the painting, the photo is used only as a reference for general color choices and is then set aside. Instead of the photo, the value thumbnail sketch is used to guide the painting.

Manipulating Color For Effect

The value thumbnail defines the simplified composition shapes and the relative light or dark value in each.  As we begin to place color, the value sketch tells us how light or dark the color needs to be.  This is a good start and by itself, would create a strong painting with a strong composition.

Aside from value, there are two other Characteristics of Color that can be used to support the illusion of light and three-dimensional form. These are Chroma and Temperature.  The interaction of Chroma, Temperature and Value is complex and can change dramatically even with subtle changes in light.

For this lesson, we’ll use some simple formulas to make changes in each characteristic. The simple formulas are discussed in the lesson and mentioned when adding strokes of paint to the study.

Pencil Lines In The Drawing Layout

One note on the drawing layout. The downloadable layouts are done with heavy lines to make it easy to see and copy onto your watercolor paper. It is best not to draw the lines too heavy on your paper, especially in the sky, since there is a good chance the lines will show through the paint. It’s not a deal-breaker, but those heavy pencil lines are sometimes a distraction.

What you’ll need




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Related Lessons

Value Sketch and Study

The lesson above is based on a value thumbnail sketch and value study created in this lesson. It isn’t necessary to do the lesson first, but it’s a good idea to go through the process to learn how to simplify values for composition and light.

This lesson shows how.


Other Related Lessons

The Basics Of Color



Light and Form