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Lesson 3 - Essential Darks, The Key To Brilliant Color

The Temperature of Darks

Our eyes depend on light. It’s as simple as that. If we take a good look at everything around us, we notice how light is the life-force of our vision. Without it, we cannot discern what is in front of us — without it, we cannot see.

With that being said, as artists, we can use light to make our paintings more relatable. Using color temperature is one way to bring more depth to our paintings and add to the realistic point of view.

Color temperature is basically a description of the color of a light-source. It involves the coolness and warmness of the color when put into context.

Ordinarily, yellows and reds are considered as warm colors while blues and greens are cool. Warm colors appear to have more of a prominent attitude whilst cool colors tend to recede or blend into space.

In our previous modules, we showed you what value is and how it can make your paintings more realistic. Now, we’ll add color temperature to that concept. Although most people won’t consider temperature when used in the concept of value, when you're developing a value plan for the painting you can begin to think of temperature as well.

One of the reasons as to why that is, is because the perception of color and color temperature is conflicted.

The difference between seasoned painters and beginners is that the former would know that the perception of color temperature is not only physical, but also psychological.

What I mean by that is when people see a specific color firsthand, they associate it with something they know. For example: when we see red, we instantly think fire — we instantly think hot. Or when we see blue, we think of water — we feel cool.

As painters, we have to think differently. Now, I could go on and on about the science of color and color temperature but it all boils down to this: color temperature is never predetermined and it should always be used after considering the nature of light-source.

With that in mind, we can conclude that color temperature and all of its benefits are preceded by the one thing that rules our vision — light.

But why are we studying darks? Aren't darks the absence of light? Isn’t darkness voided of temperature?

Most people would think so. However, if we incorporate what we already know about value, we’ll find that even the darkest of the darks can be warm or cool.

Temperature and value are two distinct concepts of color. However, despite their differences, both of them actually work well together. Using both of these concepts can ultimately bring our paintings to a more realistic and resonating level.

Going back to color mixing. Let’s explore Transparent-Oxide Brown and Cobalt Blue and how they can work with each other. These two colors are different for several reasons but here, we consider how color temperature is affected when these two are at play.

When mixed together, they create this dark and brownish hue. But if we continue to experiment with the consistency of the mix, and observe keenly, we’ll find what most novices can’t see — temperature in the darkness.

Mix more of the Blue than the Brown, you’ll get something cooler. The other way around, you’ll heat things up.

To further explain how temperature and color work together, we recommend that you do the exercises on our website: Our website not only paves the road on how you can find the proper darks, but also, offers a comprehensive painting lesson that allows you to experience firsthand the capability of these darks.

In this lesson, we’ll delve into the world of still-life — which is a whole other genre in and of itself. However, if we look into how still-life paintings are made, we’ll notice several techniques that use the temperature of darks rigorously.

But first, here are some tips on how you can set up a still life:

1. Position your painting and still life ergonomically

Like any other activity that requires constant movement, we should find the optimal position on how to do it. In our case, our paintings should be set up at the opposite side of our painting hand. This will allow yourself to have as little over extensions as possible — and ultimately, you’ll have a lesser chance of muscle strain.

2. Consider your light-source.

Remember what I mentioned earlier? Temperature is never predetermined. It is dependent on the light-source.

This tip emphasizes that. You can either use natural or artificial light for your still life. We recommend artificial lights though since it is more controllable (at least 55,000k gives a true representation of color.)

Furthermore, we recommend you set up your still life in something like a box or use poster boards to contain your light-source — light, most of the time, bounces around and can be hard to control.

3. Consider the shadows as part of the composition

A rule of thumb is to angle your light source so that ⅓ of your subject stays in the shadow.

Shadows are essential to still life. They make paintings more dynamic and realistic. However, we must also keep in mind that subjects with stronger contrasts are easier to paint.

Remember, our goal in this lesson is to learn how darks can make our paintings more dynamic. With that in mind, I guess you can say shadows will be our main point of interest.

4. Set your subject at an optimal height

This is entirely up to you. However, we recommend your subject to stay at eye-level, its easier for perspective and drawing. Be resourceful and use anything (like a box) to elevate the subject if needed.

We know that still life can be complicated. So we decided to walk you through the painting process. At you’ll find the intricate process on how to do it yourself — and how it relates to the necessary darks. Go check them out!

Here’s the gist of what you’re going to find on the site:

Step 1: Drawing

We start this exercise by drawing our subject on the canvas In this step, we must focus on the shape of the subject. The shape together with the light-source are the two most important factors to remember in order to create a more three dimensional painting.

Placing lines or makers at the center of your subject helps with the symmetry of the drawing. Better symmetry means a more organized painting experience. Use straight lines first to describe the general shape then once you think you have what you want, proceed with the curves.

Step 2: Look for the Darkest Darks

These kinds of darks are what make the “base” of the subject. They create the platform on which the subject can stand.

In this step, take a small clean brush and look for the darks. Once you’ve established the right value and temperature, paint in the darks and use them to build the foundation of the subject.

Step 3: Keep Your Whites at Bay

This is more of an efficiency step since it’s considerably harder to correct lights than darks. When you’re painting the whites, we suggest not to use the whitest value right away. This is because once the lightest is already painted, there won’t be any other brighter colors to use for your highlights.

Continually squint at your subject to find the true value it will always be darker than you think. Keep you paint thin in the beginning. This gives the illusion of softness to your whites. Even if the part you are painting is closest to the light source, don’t use your lightest value right away. If you do, you will lose the sense of depth of your paintings.

We recommend that you start off with thin, transparent type layers. The thinner the layers you make, the easier it is to get through your painting — always leave some room for correction

Step 4: Look for the Core Shadow, Reflected Light, and Cast Shadow

Determining these parts of the painting can help with the process of making it more realistic since the transitions of value are what make the subject pop.

The darkest shadow tends to be the closest and behind the subject. Then it slowly fades to light as it goes further from the source of light.

The Core shadow is the darkest part of the shadow. It is the dark band visible where light and shadow meet. It is the point at which light can no longer reach the form to illuminate it. Core shadows between the edge of your object and the light side of your object (usually a warmer going to a cooler light)

The reflected light can be found on the shadows of an object. The easiest place to find reflected light is near core shadows. The light you are looking for creates a certain glow on the area opposite to the light source. A distinctive factor of reflected light is that it can be one or two values lighter than the shadow.

Step 5: Look for Areas of Value to Change.

This is the step where we painters should get creative. Constant reevaluation of value and temperature can help you find values shapes that need to be changed. Even if they’re subtle, they’ll make a difference and make your painting more dynamic and three dimensional.

Remember, before you commit to a value mixture, it’s best if you “test the waters” with a small brushstroke first before investing in bigger commitments.

Step 6: Refine What You See

Again, we should be creative here. This step is kind of like an exaggerated version of step 5. How far you go at the detail is up to you. However, different kinds of values and temperatures of darks can be seen in the smallest of areas. It’s always good to take second looks and use a smaller brush to get to those details.

Building your layers slowly and don’t be afraid to wipe away if it’s not looking correct, that is the beauty of oil. The more you spend slowly building the form, the more realistic your paintings will become. And always remember, it’s all about starting thin and getting thicker as you go along — efficiency can mean a more color-accurate subject.

Step 7: Figure Out Your Background

Establishing the background can either be done at the before or after the subject is painted.

Always remember that contrast makes the painting world go round. To paint the background you must determine the temperature and the value of your background first. You don’t want your background to be one solid color.

Painting the background after the subject can give you the headroom to correct your edges. Considering each edge in the painting. Edges in painting are the window to style and a whole topic in itself.

Artists use edges to direct the eye to the focal point or the center of interest. You can do so by using sharper edges in the focal point and softer one in the rest of the painting.

That’s it! Fun, right? For a more complete guide, visit

In painting, there are a lot of methods to get the same result. It's no different for the temperature of the darks. There are a plethora of colors we can use — not just Transparent-Oxide Brown and Cobalt Blue.

Nevertheless, the most important thing to keep in mind is how temperature and value work together. Using them both in one painting will bring us one step closer to more realistic depictions.


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