Concepts of Painting

Chroma vs Value

When one walks into a live model painting session with beginner painters and looks at the paintings, a few common adjectives are often used to describe the quality of the skin colors: chalky, muddy, washed-out, and dead. 


The culprit is usually not the lack of understanding of how to mix R/Y/B, but in a misperception of Bright (chroma) vs Light (value).

When we encounter a situation where there is a high value and high chroma, the inexperienced student will often think the intensity, or brightness, can be achieved by adding white, or lightness, to the mixture. The problem, of course, is that white is a very neutral, sometimes bluish, color. It kills the chroma in a mixture, causing the flesh tone to no longer “glow.” Consider the following example: 

Erroneously Substituting Value for Chroma

This painting represents an accurate representation of the model under a very warm (orange) light. The colors are rich, and the scene overall looks bright.

If a student achieves the correct value, but incorrectly low chroma, the picture does not have the same intensity or glow.

A student’s solution is usually to add white paint to make the painting have the desired intensity, which results in washed-out flesh tones. 

Remember that bright colors appear lighter. Use a black mirror, reducing lens, or value isolator to keep the overall value structure correct. Increase chroma (by mixing with colors of the same family) to achieve brighter colors.