Gail Sibley, "Two Daisies in a Vase," pastel, 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 in. An example of a high key painting

High Key Painting – What IS That??

I’ve just uploaded a video about high key painting and what it means. Have a look and let me know what you think.

Here’s the set up I was painting. You can see the beige paper behind the daisies that I reference in the video.

Daisies in a Vase - the set-up
Daisies in a Vase – the set-up

If you squint, you can see that the centre of the right hand daisy is pretty dark. I decided to take artistic license and make it lighter than it shows in the photo. In this way, I kept the painting high key.

Here is my thumbnail of the set-up. It’s not the clearest job dividing the work into three values (parts of the background look too dark) but doing a thumbnail allows me a chance to become familiar with the subject so when I come to paint it, I have a better understanding both of it and how I want to portray it.

Thumbnail of two daisies in a vase
Pencil thumbnail of two daisies in a vase – remember, it’s only about 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches!

And here is the set of Schmincke pastels I chose my sticks from:

Schminke pastels - all the pastels I didn't use - the darks and the ones in mid-value and light value
Schmincke pastels – all the pastels I DIDN’T use – the darks and the ones in mid-value and light value

(I have sorted this box of Schmincke pastels into values. For help sorting a box of pastels into values, click here to see my video.)

And the final painting:

Gail Sibley, "Two Daisies in a Vase," pastel, 5.5 x 5.5 in. An example of a high key painting
Gail Sibley, “Two Daisies in a Vase,” pastel, 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 in. An example of a high key painting
Gail Sibley, "Two Daisies in a Vase," pastel, 5.5 x 5.5 inches - in black and white
Gail Sibley, “Two Daisies in a Vase,” pastel, 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 in – in black and white

High key paintings are ones that feel airy and light. Often the light source washes out the scene and there are very few deep shadows. The subjects can be white or light-coloured themselves – eggs, a snow-covered landscape (with no dark trees), puffy white clouds, a white-sand beach for example.

The main thing is that the values used are from the lighter end of the scale.

Value Scale from 1-10. I've circled the values that can be used in a high key painting.
Value Scale from 1-10. I’ve circled the values that will make a high key painting. (I’ve linked the image to the blog where I found the scale. I’ve added my own annotation regarding high key values.)

How are you feeling about your understanding of a high key painting? Have you made a high key painting? Let me know in the comments!

All for now 🙂

~ Gail

PS. A couple months after I wrote this post, I wrote another about low key paintings. You can read it here.

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14 thoughts on “High Key Painting – What IS That??”

  1. Hi Gail, This presentation is very clear as to what a high key painting should be. Could you give us some examples of well known pictures??? Your positive energy comes through in all your videos. Well done. S.

    1. Thanks Sandy!! Funny, when I was writing this blog I thought, Hmmmmm…I should write a post with some well-known paintings as examples. You’ve just sealed the deal! So keep a look-out for an upcoming post with high key painting examples.

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Gail Sibley

Artist. Blogger. Teacher.

My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

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