Portrait of Piers Sharman (detail), Anthony Ryder, Oil on linen, 7x10, 2004


The purpose of this page on Tonal Progression is to demonstrate some ideas about color mixing. The important thing is that you get the ideas, not that you copy the mixtures exactly, though in the beginning you may want to copy them in order to get the ideas.

I call the mixtures in this progression ‘neutralizing combinations’ since they are combinations of strong colors that result in neutralized, delicately modulated tonalities. They consist of two compliments (dyads), such as violet-yellow, or three primaries (triads), red-blue-yellow.

We use tonal progressions in representing rounded form. A tonal progression is a succession of color mixtures proceeding from dark to light. In addition to value change, tonal progressions also vary in hue and chromatic intensity. The tonal progressions we use depend on the tonalities of the person or object we’re painting as we perceive them according to the key of the light. The tonal scale shown below is an example of a typical progression, not a simple recipe for “how to paint flesh tones”. It shows a series of mixtures that modulate into one another gradually. The component tube colors are shown alongside.


Tonal Progression

A sample tonal progression chart showing relatively neutral tonalities produced by mixing compliments (ex. violet-yellow), and triads (ex. red-yellow-blue). These mixtures march up the value scale in small increments, making it possible to track the subtle value changes seen on the model. 

Tonal prog. ex.1

Examples 1 shows three different tonalities and the tube colors with which they were created. The darkest of the three is a mixture of the compliments blue and orange (burnt sienna is in the orange family). The middle mixture is a combination of the primary colors, yellow, red and blue. The light tonality consists of white, yellow and a pale, pinkish orange, jaune brillant. In this last mixture, the combination of white and jaune brillant produce a cool, pasty pink, which the lemon yellow warms up.   

Tonal prog. ex2

Of the three mixtures in example 2, two are of the red-yellow-blue kind. They differ in value due to the yllow component. The mixture at left is darker because it contains raw sienna, which is a middle value yellow-orange. The mixture at right is slightly lighter because of the presence of jaune brillant, which is somewhat lighter. 

© Ryder 2021