I have been experimenting with different painting keys. “High key” paintings (like the seascape below) are painted with pale, light values, and according to this website, can be either high or low color saturation.  My paintings tend to be on the dark side, because it allows me to use full saturation colors for the lights.

High Key Seascape Study – Oil on Canvas – 8×10


Here’s a Comparison you may find interesting

This is how I typically handle a subject like this, with a full range of pigments from the darkest I can create to the lightest. For the feeling I wanted to convey, it works: the saturated color is lively, and high contrast adds drama.  Where it falls short is light.  Do you get a sense for what the light was like that day? This is a new “high key” approach I’m experimenting with, used by painters like Dale Axelrod.  The values are kept much closer together, and saturation is kept to a minimum.  i think this approach gives a better sense of light and atmosphere. It’s not as exciting as the full key painting on the left, but it’s purpose is different. It calms.

Also, here are some examples of high-key and full-key paintings from Bato Dugarzhapov, a Russian artist I greatly admire:

Full Key
High Key

by Bato Dugarzhapov

“Three graces”
by Bato Dugarzhapov

“Shady nook”
by Bato Dugarzhapov

by Bato Dugarzhapov

Other artists who often paint in a high key, include: Dan McCaw, Peter Bezrukov, Dale Axelrod and Quang Ho (see 1, 2, and 3).

What do you think of these different approaches?


5 thoughts on ““High Key” Seascape

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