Task 9: Colour Values and Still Life

This task is broken down into 2 parts so that you can explore colour further before you take on your full colour still life art work.

If a painting is going to be successful, you must get your tones right, otherwise, it’s just going to be visual noise. The first step to doing this is to remove colour from the equation, to create a range of tone using only black. We did this in an earlier task and it is the main reason for beginning this series with tonal drawings, in black and white.

It’s now possible to create a value scale with every colour in your palette. Once you’ve painted a grey scale, it’s well worth the time painting a series of value scales with every colour you use frequently. Then if you’re struggling to get the right tone in a painting, you can easily consult your value scale.

You can use a range of media too and this will alter your tonal scale and how the colours work:

For watercolour, one way to make it lighter is to gradually add a little more water to the colour each time. You can also try using glazes, creating a series of values by painting a series of blocks, each glazed over once more than the previous block.

With oils or acrylics, the easiest way to lighten a colour is to add white. Remember from our previous discussion that this reduces the intensity of the colour, and therefore may not be ideal. Instead, think about lightening a colour by adding another colour of a lighter value. For example, to lighten a dark red, you can add a little yellow.

We have spoken about complementary colours in our previous lessons and with this exercise you can now explore more in depth your colour wheel. To lighten or darken a colour look at its position on the colour wheel–what is directly opposite? This is its complementary colour. We can use these to create value and it makes for a more interesting painting 🙂

Also consider the harmonious colours to get a range of value. To get a lighter tone of green, try adding yellow, not white. To get a darker tone green, try adding blue, not black. Harmonious, or analogous, colours are next to each other on the colour wheel.

Explore with many value scales, as that way, you can choose the right colour schemes for your art work. You need to understand exactly what colours do when mixed together and this takes practice and experimentation, but it’s time well spent.


Some painters start a painting with the highlights, some with the extreme darker tone. Doing this will make it easier than starting with mid-tones.

When your painting is ‘finished’, check whether you’ve still got your “darkest darks” and “lightest lights”. If you haven’t, the painting isn’t finished yet and you need to adjust the tones.

When painting, get into the habit of squinting your eyes at your subject, which reduces the level of detail you see and emphasises the light and dark areas.

Mid-tones are harder to judge. Compare them to the adjacent tones in the subject and to the lightest or darkest tone. If you struggle with this, a monochrome filter will help you to distinguish tones or value in a subject. Which is what we have been looking at in earlier tasks.

If you struggle with tone or value, doing your value study will be invaluable before painting with colour. Also, painting entirely in monochrome until you’re more comfortable with tone or value is recommended, so keep returning to earlier tasks to ensure you progress. Post your work for feedback and get some expert advice to keep moving forward 🙂

Here is a PDF resource to support you further:

Colour Scale and Colour Still LIfe

…and another quick reference to support this task 🙂

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Why not have a go at this and post your artwork for me to see. Maybe I or the community can offer support, encouragement and helpful feedback.  – share your work on TWITTER and INSTAGRAM – POST  using our hashtag #ONLINECOLLEGEART

OCAD Studio: Introduction to Paint



All paints are made with two basic components; a binder and a pigment.

A binder is an adhesive liquid that distinguishes one type of paint from another. A binder can be spread by brushing, spraying, knifing or any other means. When left, it will dry to a more or less continuous layer.

Pigments are coloured powders mixed into the binder to give it a specific colour.

A paint is made by mixing a quantity of pigment into a binder. When the paint is applied to a surface and left to dry, the pigment is locked into the binder, leaving a coloured mark. This is the most basic definition of how paint and painting works. There are infinite variations of paint application, layering, production etc. to be discovered from this simple starting point.


In addition to simply adhering the pigment to the surface of a painting, it is also possible for binders to perform other functions:

  1. If a binder is strong enough, it is possible to work it up to fairly substantial thickness. This is evident in oil and acrylic paint compared with watercolours or tempera. However, most binders perform better when applied in relatively thin films.
  2. Binders also have a visual effect on the pigment suspended within them. If you look at dry pigment compared to the pigment in a binder you will notice that there is an intensification in the colour when the pigment made into a paint.
  3. The amount the colour intensifies depends on what binder it is suspended within. So Ultramarine oil paint looks more intense than Ultramarine watercolour paint. This is due to the relative transparency the binder. The more light that travels through the paint and reflects back, the less intense it will be. Oil is much less transparent than watercolour so it is a lot more intense.

Take a look at the image below to see the difference in colour intensity between dry Ultramarine pigment and Ultramarine oil paint.

These are the ideal requirements for any binder:

  1. Binders should not change colour as they age, as this will affect the colour of the pigments in them. Unfortunately, oil paints yellow and darken over age – if you take a look at the older paintings in a gallery, they are always noticeably darker than newer ones.
  2. Binders should not affect the colour of the pigment directly. This doesn’t happen often, but some acrylic binders will cause certain pigments to bleach (become lighter).
  3. Binders should stay structurally sound as they age, and resist cracking, peeling and flaking. The way that paint is applied combined with the conditions the painting is kept will also have a great impact on cracking and peeling over time.
  4. Once a binder is dried, it shouldn’t be easily dissolved by solvents. Watercolours and are particularly susceptible to damage if water is spilt or poured on them.

Types of Binders

Drying Oils

Cold-Pressed Linseed Oil

Steam-Pressed Linseed Oil

Safflower Oil

Walnut Oil

Waxes (Encaustic)

Gum Arabic (Watercolour)

Emulsion (Egg Tempera)

Synthetic Resins




Pigments are small particles of coloured material. The earliest types of pigments used in prehistoric times were found in the earth – minerals that had specific colours. Early artists also used charred wood and bones to make blacks.

From that point onwards, more complex pigments were produced from metal ores and chalk. The next development was to introduce vegetable and animal materials to expand the range of potential colours further.

In 1704 the first man-made pigment, Prussian Blue, was produced, followed by numerous other man-made colours. These became indispensable to modern and contemporary artists. Making much brighter colours affordable for use in artworks.

We usually group pigments into two categories; organic and inorganic.


Earth colours, or natural mineral colours

Processed natural mineral colours

Synthetic mineral colours


Animal-derived organics

Vegetable-derived organics

Synthetic organics

When using any pigment, it is important to be aware of its properties. Most binders are fairly consistent in texture regardless of pigment (such as acrylic and watercolour) but oil interacts with each pigment in a specific way

As a result, all genuine artist quality oil paints have unique qualities.

That is why It is important to avoid cheaper artist paints (particularly oils) as they are full of additives that make the paints more consistent with one another. This sounds good but in fact, the addition of extra chemical often leads to incorrect mixing and problems with ageing. I would always recommend that you buy the highest quality oil paints you can afford straight away. It is better to limit the range of colours you use rather than buy lots of cheap alternative colours.

Pigment Properties That Apply to Oil

The following properties apply more to oil paints than other binders.


Different pigments require a different ratio of oil to powder to form a consistent paint. You will notice that some colours, such as Alizarin Crimson come out a tube in a very oily consistency whereas something like Viridian Green tends to be very dry. Cheaper manufacturers also tend to add an excessive amount of oil to their paints to cut down costs (as making a paint with a higher quantity of pigment is more expensive).

Drying Rate

Certain pigments have a chemical effect on oil, causing it to dry much faster. Anything with Cobalt, for instance, speeds up the drying time of the paint film. Whereas Titanium slows down drying time (so Titanium White dries very slowly).

Pigment Properties that Apply to all Binders

Tinting Strength

You will notice when painting in any medium, that certain colours are much more intense  (saturated) than others. For instance, if you mix Cadmium Red with Yellow Ochre, a large amount of yellow will be transformed by a tiny amount of red. Whereas a tiny amount of yellow mixed into red will have barely any effect at all.

This is called tinting strength, and it’s very important that you are aware of the tinting strength of all the colours you use, either by experimenting with them or researching them online (or in a book). Otherwise, there is a risk that you will ruin a large amount of paint by mixing it incorrectly, which will make your painting harder to complete and leave a big hole in your wallet.


Another property of all paints is lightfastness, which is the measure of how much a pigment will fade over time when exposed to light. For the sake of future generations admiring your work, it is important to be aware of how ‘permanent’ a colour is. Otherwise it will disappear from your lovely picture after a few hundred years (a lot shorter for watercolours).


The final property we will cover is the most important of all – toxicity. Many pigments used in painting are derived from heavy metals and as such are highly toxic. It is important to avoid handling paints with bare skin, inhaling pigment dust or ingesting paint. All of these acts will introduce hazardous elements into your body. Don’t worry too much though, it’s just a case of being careful when you paint and taking precautions.

Future lessons will cover how painting processes affect the ageing and appearance of a painting.

Why not have a go at this and post your artwork for me to see. Maybe I or the community can offer support, encouragement and helpful feedback.  – share your work on TWITTER and INSTAGRAM – POST  using our hashtag #ONLINECOLLEGEART

OCAD Studio: Glazing and Scumbling

Both scumbling and glazing are indirect methods of painting, which means that they are applied transparently over a dry layer of paint. They were often used by the old masters because they can make for paintings with great deal of luminosity, depth and lustre without requiring a lot of expensive colourful pigments. The traditional way to use glazes and scumbles was to produce a grisaille monochrome underlayer in browns or greys which would describe the forms of the subjects, before allowing this layer to dry and thinly applying  transparent colours over the top.


Glazes are applied by diluting the paint with a medium to make it easier to spread over the surface and leave a thin film of transparent colour. A glaze can be used to change the colour of a paint layer without affecting the drawing or thickness of the paint layer below. As such, they are very useful for adding colour to monochrome underpaintings as well as altering colours in paintings.

For instance, you may be painting a figure wearing a yellow coat and decide you would prefer it to be green. It is possible to achieve this by applying a transparent layer of blue paint over the yellow coat, the blue and yellow layer will mix visually and produce a green. The advantage of taking this approach rather than repainting it in green, is that you will retain the original shape and form of the coat, saving you time and paint.

Another common use of a glaze is to subtly change flesh tones in a figure or portrait. The colours in skin vary from browns to creams to greys to reds with many shifts occurring over the surface of the skin. For instance, cheeks are often more red than the rest of the face, so you may find it helpful to apply a thin layer of red over the cheeks to give a portrait more life and variety.

Glazing can be used extensively when working in a traditional manner. You can quickly produce a complex coloured image by painting a detailed image in monochrome before adding colours with glazes once this underpainting has dried. However, you must make sure you are aware of the glaze will alter the values and temperature of the layers below. If a glaze is a darker value than the layer below it will produce a darker and warmer effect when painted over. Sometimes this can result in unwanted lurid oranges, so it is recommended to experiment with glazing to see how much it can affect colours.


Scumbling is slightly different to glazing: it refers to a lighter colour applied over a darker layer and it usually uses thicker paint rubbed over the surface rather than paint thinned with medium. The result is often more textured (as it only catches the raised portions of the canvas, paper or panel) and cooler. The same effect can be seen when smoke rises from a chimney; when the smoke passes in front of a darker object (like a tree) is looks cool and blue, whereas when it passes in front of a lighter object (like a white cloud) it looks dark yellow.


Most artists use glazing and scumbling at some point when painting, even if they aren’t away that they’re doing it. So now that you know a bit more about the technique, I recommend trying it out and taking notice of how your glazes and scumbles affect your paintings.

Why not have a go at this and post your artwork for me to see. Maybe I or the community can offer support, encouragement and helpful feedback.  – share your work on TWITTER and INSTAGRAM – POST  using our hashtag #ONLINECOLLEGEART