Try High-Key Painting for Springtime

If the delicate colors and gentle air of spring were to inspire paintings, they would be painted as high-key paintings.

Value Scale
A high-key painting is one in which the values are predominantly lighter and fall within the top to middle half of the value scale. Darker values are kept to a minimum, and forms are determined by a shift in color temperature, rather than tonal values. Most shadows would be no darker than a 50 percent gray value and are generally filled with a luminous reflected light to add interest.

Sophie Gengembre Anderson (b.1820 d. 1903) was a successful, self-taught painter known for her Pre-Raphaelite style. She lived in France, America and England and is most know for her depictions of Victorian children.

French-born artist Sophie Gengembre Anderson’s painting Song of the Lark is a high-key painting with the subject lifting her lovely face to full sunlight, and yet the shadows are kept soft and depicted with cooler colors rather than harsher dark shades. Most of the shadows in the painting live in the upper range on the value chart and the only dark tones, sparingly used, are employed to lead the viewers’ eye gently across the painting. The darker smudge of green on the upper middle left edge shifts to the dark blue of the ribbon at the girl’s neck, down to the dark green at the bottom edge, on to the black belt, the sliver of dark shadow under her hand and to the right middle edge of green shadow in the distant landscape.

Anderson’s beautiful painting is filled with vibrancy and soft sunlight. The interesting contrasts in the piece come from color contrasts rather than tonal contrasts, such as the pink skirt again the green hills, and the peachy skin tone against the pale blue sky and blue ribbon. This painting shows how high-key painting with limited value shifts can still be full of life and interest.

 “Springtime” by Ora Sorensen. Copyright © Ora Sorensen. Used by permission of the artist.

“Springtime” by Ora Sorensen. Copyright © Ora Sorensen. Used by permission of the artist.

Try your own high-key painting, a painting that is airy and happy and evokes the joy and promise of an emerging spring season.

A suggested color palette could include:

Titanium White

Cadmium Lemon

Hans Yellow

Yellow Ochre

Napthol Scarlet

Quinacridone Red

Transparent Oxide Red


Cobalt Blue

Ultramarine Blue

Ivory Black

Artist Ora Sorensen ( was born in New York but grew up overseas. She has owned a gallery in Delray Beach, Florida, for 20 years, and has also been represented by other galleries across the country. Sorensen now lives and paints in North Carolina, and her paintings are collected worldwide and have been shown in numerous exhibitions.

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