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Painting Terms

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Part of my objective in creating this site is to share knowledge. I feel that information about art should be shared. With your help, I intend to expand this database to provide fellow artists with more information.

These terms and tips are very practical. There is nothing revolutionary here, nor is there any discoveries, rules, or formulas for instant success. Your challenges in painting are resolved by experience and a bit of knowledge.

It's important to understand certain terms that are used among artists. Listed below are some useful definitions.

   Terms to remember:
Hue- This is the name of a color within a spectrum color. For example, Prussian Blue, Ultramarine Blue and Cerulean Blue are all blues which are close in hue. When describing close or similar colors, the word hue is often used.

Value- When you describe a color as pale, light or very dark, you're refering to it's value. Imagine a color wheel in black and white. You're seeing the values.

Intensity (or Saturation)- Refers to the brilliance or relative strength of a color. Adding a colors complimentary will reduce it's intensity.

Tints- A color is refered to as a tint when white is added. They're always lighter in value to it's hue. By adding white to red, a tint of pink is created.

Shade- A color that is darker than it's normal value is refered to as a shade; deep green, dark blue.

Color Temperature- Colors are warm, hot or cold in appearance; orange, red, blue. This is true within each category of color. There are hotter and colder colors in every catagory.

Local Color- The true color of an object removed from all outside influence.

Atmospheric Color- As the sunlight ascends and descends from day to day, its effects on forms optically influences how we percieve it's color. Prevailing light conditions in nature is constantly changing, which affects color relationships. In addition, there are gaseous molecules and water particles in the air which affects the atmospheres appearance regardless of the season. Fog will further deminish the intensity of a color.

Advancing Color- Dark or hot colors tend to move into the foreground. They're very aggressive... heavy tones such as Red, Black, Dark Brown, Dark Blues and Greens are among these.

Receding Colors- Pale or cool colors tend to recede into the background, thus they give us the impression of distance.

Primary Colors- Blue, Yellow and Red. These are colors that you simply cannot mix by using other colors. These are the three basic colors.

Secondary Colors- Green, Orange and Purple. The combination of two primaries results in a secondary color. Red and Yellow makes Orange.

Tertiary Colors- This is a mixture of a primary and secondary color. Red and Orange makes Red-Orange.

Complimentary Colors- Red and green; blue and orange; yellow and purple... Colors that are opposite one another.
When placed side by side they will intensify one another, making each more vibrant. This is useful when attempting to emphasize an emotion in your painting.

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Tone- The darkness or lightness of a color.

Support- This refers to any surface on which a painting is made... canvas, masonite, illustration board, paper, etc.

Toned Ground- A support which is coated with an opaque color prior to painting is refered to as a Toned Ground.

Imprematura- A transparent wash of color applied over a white support is called an imprematura. Bright colors are the best choice for this.

Glaze- Glazes are transparent colors applied thinly over an opaque color. It's usually brushed over a lighter hue. Glazes will intensify a color or subdue a color.

Scumble- A Scumble is a semiopaque or opaque color applied thinly over a darker color. Like glazing, Scumbling is transparent, which is optically mixed with the color under it to produce a third color.

Underpainting- The first stages of a painting in which the elements and the tonal values of a composition are established is known as the Underpainting.

Overpainting- Layers of paint applied by scumbling or glazing is called Overpainting. The underlying colors optically mix with the subsequent layers creating a third color which is much richer than combing complimentaries on the palette.

Optical Mixtures- Pointillists such as Georges Seurat placed dots of colors side by side to create another color when viewed from a certain distance. The colors are Optically mixed. Seurats juxtaposition of color is brilliant.

Scumblings and glazings are similar in that layers of color over another color Optically mixes to create a third color. Imagine a sheet of yellow stained glass placed over a blue table. What you'll see is a vivid green; an optical mixture.

Juxtaposition- Colors place side by side.

Wet-in-wet A technique used in painting in which the colors flow together. There's a risk of creating a muddy look when painting in this manner. Many brilliant masterworks have been painted using this technique. It's often used by Oil Painters.

Wet-on-dry- Painting over a dry layer of paint. It's much easier to control than wet-in-wet. Most acrylic painters use this technique.

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Here are some helpful tips about Color...

Black- I feel that black is a color and lends itself well in mixtures. It's the richest of all colors. I use black in mixtures as I do with any other color. For instance, if you add black to a Thalo Blue and Cadmium Yellow mixture you will produce the color you're looking for to paint those deep greens of an evergreen forest.
This color should be treated like a primary color. Its integrity should be maintained without destroying it's identity. Categorize it as blue when mixing with warm or hot colors.

White- Like Black, I consider White a color also. It's a very brilliant and helpful color. It's very important for modifying local colors. Be careful how you use it though; the tinting strength of white varies with each pigment. You can bring out the brilliance of a hue by adding a touch of white to very dark colors such as Alizarin Crimson or Thalo Blue.

I refer to White as a Modifier.

Grays- Gray isn't just a mixture of black and white paint. It's a family of warm and cool colors which can be mixed with any color on your palette. How many ways can you think of to mix grays. An entire picture can be painted with warm and cool grays. Velasquez painted masterpieces using browns and grays.

Mixtures of grays is a blend of colors mixed with White. Ivory Black mixed with White produces a warm gray. Mixed with Paynes Gray, you'll produce a cool gray. Different proportions of other colors will produce a variety of variations.
Experiment with Black to create pleasing grays. Ivory Black mixed with Yellow Ochre may produce a pleasing green gray for that plant you're painting.

Blue- This is a primary color. You can extend the range of this color by adding other hues to it. Viridian green and a touch of white mixed with it will produce the (mid) translucency of a breaking swell in a seascape.

Red- This is a primary color. Alizarin Crimson and Cadmium Red Light are the most brilliant of the reds. A more intense hue is created when you mix the two colors.
You can add browns to Red to soften it, such as Burnt Umber or Burnt Sienna.
Remember reds complementory color? Green! Use greens to darken or subdue this color.
Yellow- The color Yellow (also a primary color) can be difficult to work with without modifying it when mixing with other colors. There's a major loss in warmth and brilliance when you do so. Adding the cool colors of blue is quite difficult so I stay away from mixing Thalo Blue with yellow. I lean toward less powerful mixtures when using this color.

Wonderful Greens- It's not neccessary to buy a tube of green, but I must admit that I can't live without Chromium Oxide Green. I use it in most of my nature paintings. This premixed hue can be modified very easily with warm and cool colors. I typically use it as a base modifier when painting landscapes.
Other premixed greens that I use are emerald green, vivid lime green and viridian.

The color of green can be easily mixed. Black with Cadmium Yellow produces a rich olive green. Ultramarine with Cadmium Yellow creates the perfect color of young trees in Spring. Prussian Blue is an important color to add to Yellow to produce a wonderful, vivid green.

Brown- There is a diverse amount of Brown in nature. This color can be mixed with any other color. It can be modified very easily without destroying it. Adding a touch of white to brown will bring out it's richness. Brown can be enhanced by adding red. Blues and Greens are used to darken this hue.
The range of possibilities by adding other colors to Brown is endless.

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Golden Section- Or Golden Mean is a compositional procedure to harmonize and unify unequal parts into the whole. It's a mathimatical sequence found in nature... 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc.
It's applied to a composition by dividing the support mathimatically with lines and curves that intersect to delineate perfect proportions.
A much simpler device would be to use the Rule of Thirds.
the Golden Section

Rule of Thirds- The Rule of Thirds is simple to remember and implement. It's similar to the golden section and just as effective. All you have to do is visualize your support as divided into thirds. The lines intersect at four points. These are called focal points. The center of interest is placed at one of the points. A horizon line in a landscape painting is often placed along one of the lines.
An experienced painter may break this rule in order to emphasize drama or emotion.
If you're new to painting, follow this rule until you gain a greater understanding of composition.

Rule of Thirds

Circle- Following the rule of thirds, you can place the center of interest in one of the focal points, then arrange other objects in your design to lead the viewers eye back to the center of interest.

Line- By positioning the center of interest to the left or right of the focal point (following the rule of thirds), you can design a line for the viewer to other elements of the composition. For instance, a deer painted on the far left of a wide formated composition would confine the viewers attention to that area of your painting. If you include a river bank or a shore line that's below or intersects the deer, you're creating a line for the viewer to follow, thus leading the viewers eye through the rest of your composition.

Focal Points- One of four points in the rule of thirds is designated as the center of intrest in a composition. Limit your Focal Point (or center of interest) to one area. Any more than this will create conflicting elements in your design. You can get away with secondary centers of interest but make sure that your major Focal Point is up front in volumn, size and shape.


Linear Perspective- This is the idea that receding parallel lines meet at vanishing points along a horizontal line called the horizon line. The horizon line is at eye level. As your view point changes, so does the angles of the parallel lines.
Utilizing this system resolves much of your foreshortening issues; particularly when painting cityscapes.
Linear Perspective

Atmospheric Perspective- Understanding Atmospheric Perspective or (Aerial Perspective) is invaluable when painting landscapes. Using this system alone will give the impression of distance.
Distant forms in a landscape are cooler and lighter due to gaseous molecules and water particals in the atmosphere which affects a colors intensity. The tonal contrasts in the distance are subdued.
So, add more blue in the distance and add the modifier (white) to subdue the colors.

Color Temperature- Colors will affect the perspective and mood in a painting. Blues and purples will recede while reds and yellows will advance. The "cool" colors like blue is overpowered by the "warm" yellows and oranges.
This is not to say that "warm" hues such as a red barn, should not be placed in the distance. One must use a modifier to subdue the intense reds of the barn.

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