2 Keys to Success Using Cadmium Reds and Yellows in Oil Painting

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Have you ever been painting with either Cadmium Red or Cadmium Yellow and gotten frustrated because you couldn’t get the color mix right?  When it comes to mixing colors with the cadmium, they can be a little tricky.

I have devised 2 strategies that can help you strengthen your oil painting when it comes to this difficult family in oil paints.  This article is a continuation of my previous blog 3 Color Palettes for the Serious Oil Painter.  I am going to take the ideas about the simple or limited color palette and explain them further and refine them.

You will notice in my previous article, I say to buy Cadmium Yellow Light and Cadmium Red Light.  In the cadmium family of colors, there are usually 2 other steps or levels.  For yellow, it will be Cadmium Yellow Medium and Cadmium Yellow Deep (or sometimes Dark).  And for red it will be Cadmium Red Medium and Cadmium Red Deep (or sometimes Dark).  Don’t waste your money on buying these 2 other levels, and here’s why:

Key #1) Buy only Cadmium Yellow Light and Cadmium Red Light

These 2 colors are the most versatile and easiest to work with.  They save you money and here’s why.  You can easily go from cadmium yellow light to cadmium yellow medium or deep just by adding a little red and maybe graying just a little.  So it’s easy to create the other 2 from the single light color.  But you can’t go back in the other direction.  In other words, you can’t make Cadmium Yellow Light from Cadmium Yellow medium or Deep.  And, of course, the same thing is true of Cadmium Red. Do you see?  So it really makes no sense to spend the extra money to have these colors in your palette.   It’s just another trick of the paint manufacturers to give you something else to spend your money on.

Key #2) Avoid Mixing White with the Cadmiums

Basically, whenever you mix white with a color it will dilute it or make it weaker. This is especially true of the cadmiums, as they become somewhat “chalky” when you mix them with white.  This is due mostly to the chemistry of the pigments and how they combine.  Whenever possible, try using an analogous color to get a lighter value, such as for a highlight, or other lighter value.  So when you need to go lighter for Cadmium Red, don’t reach for white but try mixing Cadmium Yellow instead.  You will get a brighter and more vivid color rather than that chalky mix instead.

Comments

  1. Very helpful article. You saved my money because I was about to buy all shades of cadmiums.

  2. David Hughes Jones says:

    Thanks! Very useful!

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