What’s the Impressionist Way of Painting with Color?

24 Jul 2014

In Dancers at the Bar by Edgar Degas, 1888, the artist used complementary colors to make a sharp contrast between the figures and the space.
In Dancers at the Bar by Edgar Degas, 1888, the artist used complementary
colors to make a sharp contrast between the figures and the space.

We all know that Impressionism heralded a new way of painting. Material and technical advancements--metal tubes instead of delicate bladders for holding paint--allowed artists to go wherever they wanted, observing nature on their own terms. This was also a period when color options for an oil painter's palette increased like never before.

The Impressionists use color distinctively in their oil paintings. Warm golden lights against cool purples and blues are what come to my mind whenever I think of the movement as a whole. This could be as simple as the violets of flowers against warm summer sunlight or as involved as using those deep violets and blues to create atmospheric effects and spatial depth in a scene.

In Impression, soleil levant by Claude Monet, the artist uses cool blue and violet hues to create a sense of atmosphere and send the viewer's eye deeper into the space.
In Impression, soleil levant by Claude Monet, the artist uses
cool blue and violet hues to create a sense of atmosphere
and send the viewer's eye deeper into the space.
Exaggerating color temperatures and putting cool and warm colors side by side intensifies pigments in a way that is very "Impressionist," as in Monet's sunrise and sunset scenes or several of Degas' ballerina studies. But to make the most of these oil painting techniques and assure that you have depth and light effects while still getting those intense contrasting effects, you have to be mindful of value and temperature.

The other thing about Impressionist oil painting art, which I realized only after a professor pointed it out to me years ago during an oil painting lesson, is that they use a lot of grey or "muddy" colors. Without them, intense colors can turn harsh and garish. When I Nuance is key in Impressionist colors, and subtlety--using complementary colors while not over-mixing or incorporating too many hues--allows for more lush colors to stand out. 

If you are as intrigued by color as I am, as well as form, composition, edges, and narrative, these resources--ArtistsNetwork.tv and ArtistsNetwork University--offer a wealth of insightful, instructive information to you. See how to push color to extremes and pull it back to make an impact. With such guidance, I now know what all the colors on my palette are capable of and how I can use them with control and expressiveness. I hope it is the same for you!

 


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Comments

HERBERT3 wrote
on 25 Jul 2014 7:49 AM

" I Nuance ? " A Slip of the Tongue.  Are you using Dragon?

HERBERT3 wrote
on 25 Jul 2014 7:50 AM

"When I Nuance is key in..." A slip of the tongue. Using Dragon?