Paint Colors: Tips & Techniques


How about learning a bit about painting today, like how to create highlights?! Even though I don’t really blog much about it here, I’ve been a painter for decades…

Highlights for Focus & Drama

Let me share some painting techniques/color tips on how to make colors a shade lighter, as that happens to be a most important technique in making a painting exciting and placing things in focus. It a technique that can make a painting ‘work’ and become alive. I transforms a flat painting of a bouquet of flowers that resembles a ‘historic record of ‘the flowers were here’ into a ‘flower story’.

Acrylics Paint Colors

Let me start sharing that I use acryclics, a medium of choice. So versatile. Dries quickly and one of the most forgiving. But I dare you to become a mixed media artist, and just use acryclics OVER whatever you’ve already made, provided your paper surface can handle the water-based nature of acrylics. This reminds me to mention my site sponsor, Amazon. You can get the best paints there, and the ones to go for are the Golden brand or Liquitex Classic. It’s ok to experiment with the cheap school supplies kinda paint, but if you want to sell your paintings, go for good quality acrylic paint as that will last a century or more, and ultimately adds more value to your paintings.

Painting Techniques for Highlighting

OK. that’s said, there are several ways to make your colors palers, and how you do it, depends on why you need your colors to be paler.

We use light in painting to draw attention. Our eyes will go to where the light is, so we give our work a focus by just adding white/pastels in certain areas.

The colors are real life are usually lighter where the light is hitting an object, right?! Ditto in painting. Paler colors are used for highlighted areas.

Planned Painting

If you like to plan a painting, make a base drawing and depict realistic situations, then you’ll know exactly where you’ll need your lighter areas in advance. In this case, you can simply mix a bit of whatever color the object is, say teal, with white. Then when you get the shade of the color you need, you’ll apply.

Organic Painting

In contrast, if you’re like a spontaneous conbuxtion when you’re paintings, so that your painting totally unfold, intuitively, in seeming random, orderless manner, then you’ll may prefer the next technique: make a wash of white paint and water, apply it lavishly over the area you wish to become lighter, and take it immediately back off with a rag. This also works fabulously if your painting is somehow ‘not working’ and you get to shape it, ie. create accents and more drama in your art. Now, this technique really works best if the base you are painting onto is also of a relatively light color already. Otherwise you’ll have to make a wash with whatever that base color is plus white.

Now exceptions apply to any rule. Neither technique may give you the result you’re after when working with red. White mixed with red makes pink. Unless you’re painting a feminine rose, like the painting above, the pink may change the mood of your painting to be more feminine than you’d like.

In this case, try this: ensure your base color paint is dry. Then paint a layer of white. Let it dry too. And then add a wash of red over that. Easy as pie. Well, not really, as you usually don’t work in solid color blocks. But, you get the drift of it.

Experimentation Makes You a Master

I suggest you experiment and test things a bit on an old canvas before applying your diluted whites onto that precious painting you are working on. White can become chalky when diluted with water, and as water actually kind of ruins your paint, I highly advice you to use a paint medium instead to thin the paint. So, you got to test things a bit and play with it to get it right. Well, that’s why they call artists artists. We get to play around, a lot.

If you are trying to add a highlight, for example, to an area that you have already painted then let the paint dry before adding a thin layer of white to the area for the highlight. Use quite a watery mix if you want some of the red to show through. White is an opaque colour in acrylics and the area can look a bit chalky if the white is applied too thickly.

Highlights are relative.

This means that you could also simply add a darker wash over the rest of the areas you do not wish to highlight. Personally, I love to apply thin orange washes. Usually once over the whole painting, but sometimes I add several washes topically. Washes turn out great, making your painting colors richer. I love it. Also, washes unify all the colors in the painting, and I think they are best reserved for towards the end of your painting.

Last but not least: Make sure that your over-paint is not thick, but more like a voile. You want your highlighted area to have the most build-up paint, having the focus of the painting accented with texture.

Other articles about painting and drawing

How to draw a rose
Which brush for what job
Stamping as Painting Technique

Find more projects tagged …