top of page

BECOMING AN ARTIST SERIES (Blog 99) :Achieving Clear and Vibrant Colours in Oil Painting

One of the biggest challenges is achieving bright, vivid colours that don’t end up looking muddy or washed out. The key is using a proper mix of pigments and a thoughtful technique.

In this post, I will share some tips for creating clear, vibrant colours in your oil paintings.

Select high-quality paints.

Use artist-grade oil paints that have a high pigment load, such as Old Holland, Vasari, or Rublev.

These provide intense, concentrated colour that won’t get lost on your canvas.

Some specific pigments to use for bright colours are:

•Cadmium Yellow Light or Cadmium Lemon: For bright yellows. Cadmium pigments provide opaque, vivid yellows.

•Phthalo Blue (Red Shade) or Ultramarine Blue: For bright blues. Phthalo blue has an intense bright blue pigment perfect for skies or waters. Ultramarine is also a classic choice for deep blues.

•Cobalt Blue: For cerulean blues. Cobalt blue gives a bright light blue pigment.

•Cadmium Red or Permanent Red: For bright reds. These pigments provide popping warm shades.

Use a minimalist palette.

Limit the number of colours on your palette to avoid unintended mixing.

For bright paintings, stick to a warm and a cool version of each primary colour. This makes it easy to mix clean secondary colours and prevents the palette from becoming muddy.

Paint in thin layers.

Apply multiple thin layers of paint rather than thick impasto layers. Thin glazes and washes of colour are more translucent, allowing the brightness of the pigments to shine through. Let each layer dry completely between applications.

Maintain brushstroke clarity. Use minimal brushing and smoothing to keep each brushstroke distinct. Over-brushing can cause colours to become muddied and muted. Apply paint purposefully and thoughtfully.

With the right techniques and pigment choices, you can create oil paintings with clear, bright colours that pop. Achieving vibrant colour is all about using a selective palette, high-quality paints, thin washes, and maintaining the clarity of each brushstroke. Follow these tips and your oil paintings will glow with intense colour.

Here are a few more tips for achieving bright, clear colours in your oil paintings:

•Use a white canvas or toned ground.

A white canvas provides the brightest base for colours to shine through. Alternatively, a mid-tone ground like Burnt Sienna or Yellow Ochre can also enhance bright colours when painted over it.

•Start with lighter colours first.

Establish your bright base colours before moving on to darker shades. It is easier to make colours darker and more muted than it is to make them brighter. So lay in your bright blues, yellows, pinks, and reds first before adding darker pigments.

•Use palette knives.

Palette knives can apply paint in thick, textural marks that heighten colour intensity. They are also useful for mixing paint straight from the tube which helps preserve brightness.

•Paint wet-into-wet.

When painting areas of similar brightness, paint wet layers of colour next to each other before the previous layer dries. This allows colours to blend seamlessly on the canvas, creating smoother gradations and colour harmony. Soft edges prevent colours from looking disjointed.

•Leave areas of canvas visible. Exposing parts of the white canvas around and between bright colour areas helps prevent colours from looking heavy or muddy. The canvas provides brightness by contrast with the painted colour surrounding it.

•Step back and review.

Take steps back from your painting frequently to review the overall colour harmony and see how the bright colours are interacting. Make adjustments as needed to ensure colours remain clear and complementary. Bright colours can become overwhelming if there are too many competing focal points.

•Consider temperature contrast.

Placing warm and cool colours next to each other creates visual contrast, helping both warmer and cooler shades appear more vibrant. The juxtaposition of orange and blue, or red and green, helps each colour stand out.

•Add final highlights.

Apply bright highlights and accents at the end using pure pigments straight from the tube. A bit of Cadmium Yellow dabbed onto a flower petal or Phthalo Blue brushed into the sky can create a glowing effect. These final highlights help bright colours pop even more.

With practice, balancing bright and vivid colours will become second nature. Keep experimenting and have fun with it! Bright, clear colour is one of the joys of working with oil paint.

Here are a few additional thoughts on using bright colours in your oil paintings:

•Consider colour theory.

Understanding colour relationships and interactions according to colour theory principles can help you create colour harmonies. For example, complementary colours like red and green appear brighter when placed next to each other. Analogous colours like yellow, green and blue also enhance one another when used together.

•Use a colour wheel.

A colour wheel is a useful tool for determining which colours complement each other. Refer to it if you get stuck figuring out what colour to place next to a bright pigment to make it shine. The wheel provides guidance on complementary, analogous, triadic and tetradic colour palettes.

•Squint to check value.

Squint your eyes to determine if the values of your bright colours are even and balanced. If some areas of colour appear darker when squinting, they may be overpowering the brighter colours. Make adjustments to ensure the right balance of lights and darks for maximum vibrancy.

•Be expressive.

Emotional expression and visual drama come through when using vibrant colours. Don’t be afraid to load up your brush with pure pigment straight from the tube and apply confident brushstrokes. Expressive mark-making enhances the bright hues.

•Consider the subject matter.

Choose a subject that naturally calls for bright, intense colour. Floral scenes, beach scenes, fruit still lifes and landscapes at sunset all evoke warmth and chromatic richness. Some subjects demand more vibrant colour than others to be visually compelling. Match your colour palette to the mood and theme of the subject.

•Don’t overdo it.

Use bright colour judiciously and purposefully for maximum impact. Not all areas of a painting need to pop with intense colour. Having passages of more muted tones helps prevent over saturation while enhancing the brighter focal points. Develop a balanced, harmonious composition with light, medium and darker tones.

•Seek inspiration.

Look to the Post-Impressionists like Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin for inspiration on expressive use of bright colours. Notice how they employ contrasting and complementary hues to create drama and emotion. Viewing the work of masters who were bold with colour can spur you on in your own painting practice.

With experimentation, your ability to see and mix bright, vivid colours will become second nature. But don’t be afraid to challenge yourself by continuing to push the limits of colour in your work. When used thoughtfully, intensely saturated colours can transform a painting from dull to electric.

I hope these tips help you achieve striking colour in your paintings. Let me know if you have any other questions!

I hope you learned something new today!



bottom of page