Hue, Chroma, Value

Now I don’t like to get technical – painting should be a matter of passion and instinct – but there are certain things I think it’s good to be aware of when it comes to colour, so here’s my take on the basics which are HUE, CHROMA and VALUE.

HUE is just a description of the basic (saturated) colour plucked from a rainbow. Easy, eh?


CHROMA is where it gets interesting. The colours we see around us are rarely rainbow intense. When I was a kid, I remember being taught colours – red, yellow, blue, orange… and I would go around the room trying to pick them out. I’m sure you did the same – everyone did. But do you remember having an uneasy awareness that the world didn’t generally conform to this simplified idea of colour and that they only really occurred in your toys, the red telephone and Mum’s dress?

We are, in fact, surrounded by colours we can’t easily describe and this is where chroma comes in, because nearly everything we see is greyed to some extent. The greyer, or more neutral, a colour is, the lower the chroma and it’s achieved by mixing ALL the primaries together in varying proportions, so to make a soft yellow, add a touch of purple. I always say the secret to a natural green is RED! So if your green is looking too intense (high chroma), try adding a little pigment containing red – maybe burnt sienna, or lilac. If you’re mixing a green from scratch, rather than using lemon yellow (yellow with a touch of blue) and pthalo blue (blue with a touch of yellow) try cobalt (blue with a hint of red) with yellow ochre for a VERY soft green.

VALUE for me is the king, sometimes described as TONE or TONAL VALUE. It is the lightness or darkness of the colour and is not related to the colour itself. For example, I have seen young students try to paint the sun using lots of intense yellow to make it bright, but value-wise it’s actually low on the scale. If you think in terms of colour washes, the paler the wash, the higher the value irrespective of what colour you’re using. So the brightest area of a painting could well be a neutral grey; don’t confuse brightness with chroma, as it’s very easy to do so. For example, a sky could be described as bright; that would be a high VALUE. We could also have a bright red car, but here we would be describing its CHROMA and a better word would be vivid. Don’t confuse the two – they are very different things. Language can be so confusing..

It’s the LIGHT that defines our environment more than anything else. Just think of an iconic photograph and the chances are that it’s in black and white.


Once you strip away the colour, all you have left is the light, and therein lies the drama! Here’s a very dramatic painting, containing the full value range from the deepest black to pure white.


And here’s something altogether more gentle (by Joseph Zbukvic), where the values are predominantly mid-range and the variations very subtle:


Two very different approaches and both equally valid. It’s all down to the values.

All very well, but how to put this into practice? I’m a simple soul and like to keep things a simple as possible. I’m sure you’ve seen dozens of books on colour mixing and a bewildering array of colour wheels; I’ve never used any of them. So confusing!


The very best thing you can do is PLAY! Play with colour combinations, play with pigments. Pick a triad of colours, reddish, blueish, yellowish, grab a piece of scrap paper and see how they work with each other. Here’s a couple of mine – a warm, earthy one and a cooler more vivid one; my take on colour wheels:


The blacks in the middle are a mix of the 3 colours in each case.

Personally, in the interests of keeping things simple, I think of pigments only in terms of primaries; this was my eureka moment. It all comes down to red, yellow, blue.

If you have a cheap printer, the inks will be magenta, cyan, yellow plus black to intensify the values, only because the printer can’t lay down the colours heavily enough to produce a deep black. So try to see the pigments in your palette as mixes of RYB; for example, I see Cobalt Blue as blue with a hint of red, Cadmium Red as a red with a touch of yellow and so on.

When it comes to choosing your pigments there is no magic combination; every artist’s palette is different, but they are all using red, yellow and blue in the end.

Experiment, play, have fun. The more you do, the better you get. So stop reading and get those paints out!


Less is More

A couple of quick sketches from Tuesday’s life class. I find these much more fun and dynamic than laboured drawings taking hours to produce. I have to think fast, work fast and extract the essentials from the subject without worrying about the fine details.

I’m always driven by the play of light and try to capture it as simply as possible. Look for strong contrasts, hard and soft textures, lost and found edges and so-called negative drawing, i.e. defining the shape by using dark tones around it, rather than using an outline.

Maximum impact with minimum effort!


Fitzroy Square, London

I was recently contacted by a young lady who is getting married very soon; she wanted a painting of the spot where the proposal took place as a gift for her new husband. Lucky for me, he proposed in Fitzroy Square, which I know very well; the buildings are magnificent, having been designed by the great Robert Adam.

I didn’t want it to look too illustrative/photographic and it took me a great deal of effort to hold off the detail; my architectural illustrator hat had to be locked away in a cupboard. Instead, I wanted to capture the atmosphere of the place; the tracery of the tree shadows across the façade, the contrast of dark trees against light buildings.

I wish the couple a long and happy life together and hope the painting is a constant reminder of the joyous day.

A Demo for Stevenage Art Club

I took a fairly simple street scene and decided from the outset that my focus would be on the two central figures. If you look at the painting, the sharpest contrasts, darkest darks, lightest lights (white paper) and hardest edges are all in this area; that’s what attracts the eye.

I treated everything else as a backdrop to the main characters, simplifying detail or omitting it completely. Did it work? Let me know what you think!

Cromwell Stevenage Hornblower watercolour demo

The Hornblower guide to Composition

I’m not one for rules in painting – the most exciting things happen when they are broken – but there are a few things to be aware of when composing a picture. You don’t have to apply every rule to every painting, but knowing the rules means that when you break them you are doing so consciously. If you look at the examples below, they each illustrate one of the principles of composition and, in all likelihood, break most of the others.

A famous Chinese painter was asked by the Emperor to paint a decorative screen for him, the brief was a flock of geese. The artist painted the background landscape – and one goose, disappearing off the screen stage right. The flock was implied by the single goose. The Emperor was delighted, fortunately for the artist. He broke the rules and won – my kind of guy.

So here they are:

No.1 – The Rule of Thirds. By putting the focal point at one of the third points gives a nicely balanced asymmetrical picture. There are a myriad of classic paintings which don’t appear to have a focal point at all, so don’t get hung up on it!


No.2 – The Golden Mean. There are many learned texts which extol the virtues of the magic “Golden Mean”, a rectangle with the proportions of approx.  1:1.6. They illustrate this by superimposing these rectangles, seemingly at random, all over classical paintings (see below). I take it with a pinch of salt; there is even a Golden Triangle and Spiral!

I would ignore this one; in fact I do ignore it…


No.3 – Think about the orientation of the paper, landscape or portrait. Landscapes don’t have to be in landscape and portraits in portrait. Gustav Klimt went through a phase of painting in square format, very successfully.


No.4 – Simplify! Think about what the painting is all about – the reason you’re painting it in the first place. The chances are that there’s a lot of surrounding clutter which would distract the viewer; get rid of it, or at least play it down. In the same vein, look for strong silhouettes. Often, this is the boundary between sky and earth and painting against the light enhances the effect beautifully. It also has the added advantage of unnecessary detail being lost in the shadows.fig4

No.5 – Leading Lines. These are lines which draw the eye into and around the picture, for instance kerb lines, fences or an avenue of trees.fig5

No.6 – Diagonals. following on from no.5, diagonal lines add dynamism to the picture, whereas horizontals and verticals are static. Moving in closer can often enhance the effect, so where you sit, or stand, is important! Do you need to be near, far, high or low?fig6

No.7 – Sense of movement. If your subject is people, cars, boats etc. give them space to move into. In the example below, the figures are set to left of centre because they are facing right.


No.8 – The Rule of Odds. Odd numbers tend to work more harmoniously than evens. Don’t ask me why.


No.9 – Balance. A large object on one side needs to be balanced by something on the other side. That’s all.



No.10 – Framing. I like to have something dark at the edges/ foreground to frame the picture. It helps lead the eye into the scene and also gives a feeling of aerial perspective.fig10

Also look for patterns of texture, shadows, colour etc. and a sense of harmony and rhythm. These come down to your own gut feelings and judgement; in the end, it all does, so if you think it works, do it!

I hope this helps and I’d love to hear your own ideas. Leave me a comment!

Mall Galleries

Great news today – my painting “Kitchen Door” was accepted into the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours 2016 exhibition in the Mall Galleries, London. It’s the first time I have entered, so feeling particularly chuffed! The exhibition commences 6th April 2016 and runs until 16th April.

The painting is a slightly unusual choice; I used very thick paint, laying it on, lifting it off and scratching through it to achieve the desired effect. Hope you like it.

Kitchen_Door_Hornblower_watercolour_flowers in vase

Another demo

This is a watercolour demonstration for Maulden Art Society – an imposing view of Husbourne Crawley. I used to pass it regularly on my way to the M1 motorway and the sight would always catch my eye. It was painted very quickly and simply using a limited palette; in fact, I finished half an hour early leaving more time for discussion.

I have received some very nice feedback from Jenny of the Art society:

“A big thank you from all at Maulden Art Group.

We were once again treated to an excellent masterclass demonstration of your very personal approach to using water colour. We all so admired what we perceive as pure bravery ( although it is clearly natural talent), when the darks and shadows are applied and all with the largest of brushes! It is what many of us aspire to but never quite relax enough to achieve the looseness we all so admire .

Thank you so much for sharing so much of your knowledge and experience with us once again and I’m sure the group will be suggesting a further visit from you in the future.”

Thank you Jenny!