A Palette of Two Triads with Varying Intensities

Using a pair of color triads, one high intensity and one low intensity, can lead to surprising results on the canvas.

Nude Study, a painting by Judith Reeve

 

Over the last two weeks, I have been experimenting with a new palette. Some of my palettes are very complex and need much time to be developed and refined. But sometimes, I like to have a palette that is very simple and can be used with any subject. This is important especially when one is painting away from one’s own studio and is in an unfamiliar space with different variables such as light quality. I have been apt to use a triad of primaries, red, yellow and blue in these situations. I usually create a hierarchy of intensity within the triad by adding an earth tone as one of the primaries. Some variations on this are:

Triads with Diff intensities

These palettes express a variation of intensity in one of the primaries and have been in application, used very successfully. But over the past two weeks, I have experimented with this palette:

two triads high low intensities

 

This is a set of two triads, the first with a high intensity chroma and the second with a low intensity chroma. This seems like a lot of repetition. But what I found is that rather than trying to subdue a color that was too intense, I used its low intensity version. An example would be an orange made with Cadmium vermilion + Cadmium yellow + White vs. English red + Raw sienna+ White. I also made a decision about the quality of the light source. While painting this figure study, the model was illuminated by an electric incandescent light, with a cooler sky light above. In this situation, the intensity of color came from the incandescent light. This left the shadows more neutral. There was also the play of a cooler light on the top planes that added some neutrality and temperature variation on the light side as well as the shadow side.

So in using this palette, I decided that the light side should contain the most intensity and therefore used the high intensity chroma triad to express the primary light source. And I used the low intensity chroma triad to express the shadow side and all receding planes including the background. This gave an immediate feeling of projection to the forms of the figure. The exception being that the triads intermingled in the neutrals along the shadow edge and the reflected light on the top planes on the shadow side. I found that adding a touch of cobalt blue and English red to the top planes on the shadow side united the two triads perfectly through the cobalt blue (high intensity palette) and the English red (low intensity palette).

This arrangement of the palette with its primary concern for the light source and its quality of intensity and color temperature was very successful. I have yet to experiment with the reverse situation, where the light source is cooler and most of the color intensity resides in the half tones and shadow side. But I believe that it will work in that situation as well, as long as I consciously organized and decipher the quality of light on my subject and use the palette accordingly.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

2 thoughts on “A Palette of Two Triads with Varying Intensities”

  1. This is very Interesting. A great idea. I wonder how it would work on a seascape on a sunny day I would like to try it.

    1. The concept of a dual triad of varying intensities can work for any painting. Although the triads that I have indicated may not be the ideal combinations for a seascape. Having painted many seascapes, I find that I cannot do without viridian. You can get a very good green of high intensity with the cadmium yellow and the cobalt blue, but would it be cool enough without the use of white. I also like to make a blue hue of less intensity by combining a violet with a green (viridian). I am not saying that you cannot use the two triads as I have indicated, but you might be better served with a cooler yellow and an ultramarine blue in the triad of greater intensity and/ or the addition of viridian.

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