Side-by-side comparison with the first version (left) and the subtle adjustments (right)

ART MEDIUMS Editors choice 2 min read

Small Changes that Matter: The Power of Color

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Have you ever noticed how sometimes even the tiniest shifts in color can totally transform a painting? Let’s dive into this idea further using this example from my recent adventure in Italy that resulted in tons of photos of vineyards, villas and stunning views.

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The journey begins by selecting a photo that stirs up emotions. In both the initial sketch and the larger studio work, my aim is to understand these feelings better, going deeper into our emotional responses.

Reference Photo

A small 8×14-inch oil painting on paper attached to a panel serves as a testing ground for exploring how the scene is comprised: its light and dark areas, size, texture, and, of course, color. This small study helps to identify the big challenges and exciting discoveries to tackle in a larger painting.

The photo can be divided into four zones:


The Sky


The Distant Landscape


The Hills Up Close


The Villa and Vineyard

Once the small painting is nearly complete, I let it sit for a week, allowing for time to reflect and observe the painting. In this study, there’s an uneasy feeling about how the distant landscape (Zone 2) and the nearby hills (Zone 3) work together. The colors in these zones don’t quite harmonize with one another.

First version of the study

In my subsequent painting session, I add a thin layer of color to the sky (Zone 1) and the distant landscape (Zone 2). This softens the difference between them. I make these tiny changes by using less yellow and adding a touch of magenta, which makes everything look better. These zones now harmonize with the foreground hills (Zone 3) while maintaining its atmospheric depth and quality of light.

The second version of the study
A side-by-side comparison with the first version (left) and the subtle adjustments (right)

The painting is all about an old villa, surrounded by vineyards and perched on a hill, that overlooks a vast Italian landscape leading to the Aegean Sea. What really makes this painting exciting is the way the colors subtly shift in the landscape as we move into the distance. Just thinking about these small color shifts makes my heart race as I look forward to exploring them on a larger canvas.

Artist’s Toolkit

These are the oil paints and materials I’ve used in this study. You can purchase all of these products directly from Dick Blick now.

Utrecht Artists’ Oil Paints

Stonehenge Oil Paper

Gamblin Solvent-Free Medium

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Meet the Artist

Meet the Artist

Scott Maier is an artist and a content contributor to He’s also the author of the instructional art book, See, Think, Draw: An Easy Guide for Realistic Drawing and Beyond.

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