High Key Painting Tips

I just finished this painting. It’s based on a local fishing spot, Tingalpa creek. I went out early that morning on the kayak. Glassy water, not a person in sight, and a first-row seat to nature’s orchestra.

I painted in a high key (light colors) to try and capture the peaceful feelings and shimmering colors from that morning. Claude Monet’s Morning on the Seineprovided inspiration.

In light of this, I put together a few tips for painting in a high key:

– Go lighter than expected with your colors. It will feel uncomfortable at the start but will make sense towards the end.

– Consider not staining the canvas. It’s common practice to start a painting with a wash of burnt umber (or some other dull color). But this can work against you in high key painting. You end up battling the dark surface.

– High key painting comes at the sacrifice of the full value range. That is, you only have light colors to work with, plus maybe a few dark accents. You won’t have dramatic shadows, as you might see in a Rembrandt. To make up for this, take advantage of visible brushwork and texture to create interest and render form.

– Use dark accents to command attention, but careful not to overdo it. Less is more here.

– Dark accents don’t need to be that dark. They just need to be dark compared to the surrounding colors. In a high key painting, dark accents might be around the middle value range.

– Be careful with titanium white. Reserve it for your brightest highlights, if at all.

– If studio painting, make sure you have enough light on your palette and canvas. You need to see your colors clearly.

Kind regards

Dan Scott