Yellow: Detail of Two Lemons

Yellow: A Month of Focus On One Color


To explain, this May I am taking a beginning still life class with artist Karen O’Neil instructing. It is an online class offered by The Art Student’s League of NYC. And, we are exploring the color yellow.

Yellow: Soap Box

Warm or Cool?

You might think, or rather I might think, that yellow is yellow. What else is there to know? The short answer is that there are different yellow pigments and they all vary bit. Some tend to be warmer, which means they move toward the red end of the spectrum. Other yellows tend to be cooler, moving toward the green and blue end of the color spectrum.

A Color and It’s Neighbor Relate.

And, then, it is all relative anyway. To clarify, the color we see is often influenced by the color next to it. So, I might take a favorite yellow on my palette. Whether or not it is warm or cool depends on the color I place next to it. That is to say, if I place it next to a yellow that has a bit more blue, I’ll say the first color is warm, or at least warmer. The same can be said for a color that has a bit more red.

Yellow: Two Yellow Lemons

Other Considerations:

Light. But, oh, if only it were that simple. There is the light and the quality of the light. And, how the yellows relate to the light. And, then, the individual pigment’s relative value (light or dark).

Water. Or, when I am working in watercolor paints, how much water am I using to lighten?

White.  When using acrylic paints, on the other hand, I can use white to lighten the color.

It’s A Puzzle.  Hmmm, you see painting can get complicated. It is somewhat like a puzzle to be figured out.

Color & Still Life Painting.

In a way, I am surprised that we are spending so much time on color. But, then, I didn’t know what to expect when I signed up for the class. In anticipation of the class, I was thinking we would be talking about the drawing part of still life set ups. Or, maybe we would study the composition of still life setups. However, this is a painting class and it stands to reason that color and its complexities would be a theme of interest.

You could spend a lot of time studying color.

Yellow: Two Yellow Wooden Shoes

See Like An Artist.

Goodness! I almost forgot one of the main goals of the class: that is to learn to see like an artist.  And, being able to see and figure out the subtle variations in a “color” – say like yellow, is a big deal and part of learning to see like an artist.


I am pleased to say that our instructor, Ms. Karen O’Neil, is a good teacher. She does a demo which we can take notes or paint along with her as we like.  Karen considers herself a colorist; it is a big part of her art. And, the color in her demonstration paintings do glow; the yellows are lively!

My Still Life Work.

Which brings me to what is on my still life podium. I have a yellow soap box, sitting on a yellow surface. My challenge is to go ahead and search for the variations in the color; the color logic so to speak. And, then try to paint what I see. Simple?

Well,  you can see the result above!  Painting the yellow soap box was both fun and challenging.  Then, I painted a study of two lemons because the fruit are so bright.  And, while I was at it, I did a colored pencil study featuring a pair of pale yellow wooden shoes.

Yellow: KittyKitty In Orange And Yellow

Color Studies.

By the way, doing color studies is not a new exercise for me.  For example, you might take a look at my blog article: Why And How To Do A Series of Color Studies For Artists.  I looked at how color, in general, can influence the mood and content of a painting.

What is new for me, on the other hand, is how we are doing the color studies in Ms. O’Neil’s class.  That is, we are focusing primarily on the different yellows available to the artist and how we might use them in a painting.


Have I mastered yellow?  I think not!  Rather, I have only touched the proverbial “tip of the iceberg”.  One might say that artists can spend a lifetime studying color.  And, that’s a good thing; we never get bored!


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