(Note: this is a continuation of the book I'm writing with the working title, Art Basics Workbook. It's for students at workshops who feel that they are being held back by a lack of understanding of the basics. This is copyrighted material.)
I asserted earlier in this book that burnt sienna was simply a de-saturated orange. You can prove this for yourself. Put some burnt sienna on a piece of canvas. Next to it, mix orange with a very little bit of ultramarine blue. You should be able to come up with a very acceptable mixture that resembles the burnt sienna. Understanding color saturation is important. if you work with just the fully saturated hues, straight from the tube, without any neutrals (de-saturated colors), your canvas will become a sort of battleground. This is ok if it’s the point you want to make (your message.) But judicious use of neutral colors with a few highly saturated colors (as accents) helps the viewer get “into” the painting.
As an example, when I was younger, I did a self-portrait without painting the background while I worked. I put the background in when I was satisfied with the portrait, and I used bright colors. The portrait, which has been looking pretty good to me up to that point, suddenly looked dull and sunken. What happened? The colors in the face were less saturated than those in the background and thus the background jumped forward. (This has to do with “depth” cues, which will be discussed further in the chapter on depth.)
If you notice, traditional portraits (by Rembrandt, for example) usually darken the background around the face. Far from making the portrait somber, the tones of the face suddenly leap out at you and look vibrant and alive!
On an exercise page or two, do many forms shaped like a lemon in bold yellow. Then, do many forms shaped like a lemon but in a dulled-down yellow (use purple to dull.) Allow it to dry. With a clean brush, try different background colors around each of the lemons. Notice the effect on the lemon. (Note: the value of the background color will also play a part in how vibrant the yellow looks so you must take that into account.) Write in your journal what you observe.