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Dominate Painting

Updated: Mar 21, 2021

Using dominant & recessive qualities of pigments to your advantage.

Painting is about contrasts. Big against small, thick against thin, bright against dull, light against dark or shadow, bold against quiet, colourful against pastel, etc. These dominant and subordinate relationships are what create tension and interest in a work of art.

Dominant/recessive juxtapositions are throughout your work and extend to your palette. There’s a simple rule to follow that will help - Always add dominant to recessive...

As most of you know, each pigment has a different strength when it comes out of the tube. Some colours, like Alizarin Crimson, are very rich and very strong in their tinting strength. Other colours, like Viridan Green, are very weak and you will use a lot of it before it has any effect. The stronger tints are referred to as dominant and the weaker tints are recessive. These qualities go across all mediums - oils, acrylics, watercolours, pastels - and can be used to your advantage.

The more you mix colours together the duller they get. The more White there is in your mix the cooler and duller it will be. Because of this, it is to your advantage to always mix the colours in a certain order. For example: We all know the strength of the Phthalo colours. If you were to mix White into Phthalo Green it would take you donkey’s years to get it to lighten. However, if you do the opposite and mix a daub of Phthalo Green into White, you can get it to lighten very quickly. By mixing the dominant colour into the recessive one, you will not only save time but a lot of paint and money and the result will be a cleaner mix of colour.

This dominant/recessive method goes even further. It’s easier to lighten a dark than to darken a light. Lights are dominant and dark's are recessive. This is why when you have the option, always start with your dark's first. Dark's are recessive and easily manipulated while lights are dominant and hard to change.

It’s also easier to cool a warm colour than it is to warm a cool colour. Warm colours are recessive and cools tend to be dominant. Ever notice that a lot of artist’s palettes have more cool colours than warm ones? It’s because cool colours don’t change easily whereas warm colours change without much coaxing and are therefore prone to getting muddy. So put your warms down and leave them alone.

Of course, all of this is the leopard and her ever-changing spots. Just as when you say that blue is a cool colour and then you put a warmer blue next to it - well there you go - there is now a warmer cool blue and cooler cool blue. The rules change all the time because everything is dependent on the relationship to what is near it or what is mixed into it. Keep your eyes on the prize! One colour will dominate against White but may be recessive next to an overpowering colour like Prussian Blue. Once you start learning the nature of pigments, you’ll be on your way to cleaner colours and big $avings.

Keep your brush moist.

Your friend in art,


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The leopard, with her ever-changing markings, is the embodiment of all of this. In the same way that you would argue that blue is space bar clicker a chilly color, but then you would accompany it with a blue that is warmer.

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