What is a “Color Study” and how does it help you become a better landscape painter?

What is a color study? And how does it help you become a better landscape painter?

Let’s break it down.

A color study is a painting of a scene but rather than focusing only on creating a beautiful result, the goal is to explore different color combinations (or arrangements).

Typically an artist will do multiple version of the same scene but use different color combinations in each version. This allows the artist to directly compare how the various color choices change the mood or feel of the painting.

This knowledge can help in future paintings when you want to create a specific mood, i.e. serene vs. exciting.

But it does more than that!

Color studies are typically done using a limited palette of a select few colors. Take this page for example.

Landscape color studies with gouache
  • The top left was created with three basic primaries plus black/white.
  • The top right used a different set of primaries plus black/white.
  • The bottom left used no blue at all! Just yellow, red, black, and white.
  • The bottom right used the primaries, but with two additional focuses: 1. purple shadows & 2. adding white to every mixture.

Additional benefits of doing Color Studies

  • By mixing your colors from a basic set of primaries, you become more sensitive to color harmony.
  • By mixing your own colors, you gain muscle memory, which is important for painting intuitively. This can only be done with repetition.
  • Color studies teach you how to be more sensitive to subtle colors in your reference image.
Gouache color studies

I hope this post inspires you to try this for yourself!

You may find these videos helpful:

How I learn color (self-guided homework)
The EASIEST color mixing charts

Posted by

I'm an independent artist living in Scotland. Always chasing the light, and painting the beautiful highlands.

One thought on “What is a “Color Study” and how does it help you become a better landscape painter?

  1. Lovely art and informative videos. 😊
    I’m visiting Scotland in March with husband and daughter for a week. I’m soaking up all your info in preparation for our trip. Watercolors and paper are getting packed for daily pleinair sessions. Thanks, Kathy

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