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"Why Does my Painting Look Chalky?"

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

How to Fix a Washed-out, Chalky-looking Portrait

Occasionally I'll have a student that can't figure out why his painting looks dull & lifeless. The root of the problem boils down to a misunderstanding of color and where to use it. In this blog post we will discuss why a painting looks chalky and what you can do to combat it. In my 11-Min Draw-over Demo, I will show you how I apply these techniques to a real painting.


Reasons a Painting is 'Chalky'

  • Both the shadows & the highlights have cool color temperature

    • (When both the shadows & highlights are warm, your colors will look muddy.)

  • Your colors lack chroma*

  • Your colors are the wrong value

  • You're using too little paint

*Quick Note on Color

What is commonly misunderstood about color is where it actually occurs. If you've ever played with a digital color saturation slider, you quickly learn that a color reaches max saturation (i.e. max chroma) in about the mid-tone of a color. If you make it darker, the color becomes a shade; if you lighten it, the color fades into a tint. If, therefore, you wish to put more chroma into your painting, you will be doing it via mid-tones.


Assessing the Problem: Anti-Chalkiness Checklist

☑︎ Use less white in your paint mixtures

☑︎Make the shadows warm & the light side cool-- or vice versa

☑︎Paint the light side with mostly mid-tones, saving those highlights for the corners of plane changes

☑︎Paint more thickly


Time for a Demo!

Here are the before- and after- shots from my demo. In my 11-min draw-over video, I demonstrate how to deal with chalkiness and show you how I help breathe life back into this portrait from a practical application standpoint. To watch the transformation & hear my commentary on this process, play the video below:

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