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Understanding Hue, Value and Chromatic Intensity.  By Don Finkeldei.   We’ve all heard about hue, value and chromatic intensity but one thing most instructors don’t talk about is how these color properties relate in a well executed painting.

The term “Color” generally has a broad meaning.  People often ask me what colors (or hues) did you use to get that?  It’s not that simple.  I don’t think in terms of “color”.  Instead, I think in terms of the Properties of color: hue, value and chromatic intensity.  It’s a good idea to start thinking in these terms because it’s fundamental to making an entire painting read right with depth recession.  Here is the definition for hue, value and chromatic intensity.

  1. HUE:  In painting color theory, a hue refers to a pure color – one without white or black pigment added to it.  Color and hue in painting mean the same thing to most artists.  The primary hues are red, yellow and blue.  They are called primaries because every other color (hue) can be made from them.  Secondary hues are mixed from the primaries.  Secondary colors are made from any two primaries.  Notice I said “any two primaries” not any of the three primaries mixed together.  These are orange, green and purple.  Red and yellow make orange.  Yellow and blue make green.  Red and blue make purple.  Tertiary colors are made from all three primaries.  Another term for a tertiary color is called a GRAY.  I use the term gray instead of tertiary.  A flat neutral gray is made from using all three primaries in order to get a pure, neutral flat gray.  Grays can also be very colorful like blue gray, red gray, green gray, etc.  The color or hue of a gray can be as intensely bent toward any of the primary or secondary colors as you wish, it is still classified as a gray because it contains all three primaries.

  2. VALUE: The lightness or darkness of a color.  Another term for Value is TONE.  It has nothing to do with color or hue.  It’s how light or dark the color is with the color removed.  It’s the blackness or whiteness as if seen in a gray scale reproduction.  In fact, you can compare values in a painting by taking a black and white (gray scale) photo of your painting.  I do that with Photoshop by taking a color picture with my camera and then turning it to gray scale mode.  The highest or lightest value is pure white.  The lowest or darkest value is pure black.  Artists often divide the scale into 10 gradations from white to black.  High value is more toward white.  Low value is more toward black.  Key is also another term used by artists in relation to a completed painting.  A high key painting uses only the higher values.  A low key painting uses only the lower values.

  3. CHROMATIC INTENSITY:  The intensity of the color or hue.  Tube paints like cadmium red, cadmium yellow or ultramarine blue (the primaries) are considered the highest chromatic (also called Chroma) intensity or alternatively, the maximum color saturation.  A pure flat gray is considered the lowest chromatic intensity.  You can decrease the chromatic intensity of any pure color by adding gray.  For instance, to decrease the chromatic intensity of cadmium red and still keep the hue the same you can flat neutral gray to it.  That’s why I mix several values of a flat neutral gray and use them with any hue to decrease the chromatic intensity.  Adding a high value neutral gray to red still keeps it red, but it’s intensity decreases and raises the value.  Adding a very dark neutral gray to cadmium red will still keep the red hue, but make a lower value red with less intensity.
    Examples of using hue value and chromatic Intensity with depth recession in a painting.  Notice the  handling of value differences, chromatic intensity and hue in the  near vs. far similar type objects (rocks cliff faces):

    Hue, Value, and Chroma Examples in Oil Painting

How do you use hue value and intensity in a painting in relation to value planes, recession and light/shadow?   The short answer is:  the more a painting recedes into the distance, the value planes at that distance get lighter in value and the chromatic intensity decreases.  Also the values get closer together as distance increases.  My DVD explains and shows how that’s applied in an actual painting. .  It also shows how I use grays to accomplish this.  Also, there are articles on my website that go into great depth on this.  The sunlit area of a painting is of course higher in value than the shadows on the same plane.  Hues in sunlit areas on the same type of plane are higher in value than the same hues that transitions into a shadow area.  Of course, in a shadow area the reflection from the sky alters the hues somewhat.  They get bluer in shadow on a cloudless day.  Grayer on an overcast cloudy day (that’s a different subject and I’ll write an article about that later).

When I analyze a an object in a plein air scene that I want to paint, I think of what value hue and chromatic intensity is it and how that relates to closer and farther objects that are similar.  A pine tree in the foreground has much more chromatic intensity and lower values that the same type of pine tree a quarter mile away.  Learning to think like this will speed up your learning curve dramatically.


# joan smith 2013-07-28 13:13
don: love this article. as I paint, and go back to these articles, it really helps to get these terms into a visual understanding and not just terms. The grays and limited palette help to keep things somewhat simple.
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