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Painting for Beginners: What Is Saturation In Art, And Why Is It Important To Understand It?

Cat. No. 1228 Xiamen Huli Shan Theater
Xiamen Huli Shan Theater, by Barry John Raybould

The saturation of a color is its degree of richness, purity, or grayness. Other commonly used terms are intensity, and chroma, which is technically a different attribute, but to simplify things we will treat it the same. For example, cadmium orange is a high saturation color, and burnt sienna is a low saturation color. 

Both colors are the same hue (orange). 

Similarly, yellow ochre is less saturated than cadmium yellow. Any given hue reaches its highest saturation at different values. Understanding saturation is an essential skill for creating an interesting color design.

To add interest to your paintings, use a variety of saturation levels. For example in the painting above I used saturated colors in the lit part of the temple, and grayed colors in the buildings at dusk.

Munsell notation — saturation

saturation in art
Munsell Color System

On the left, you can see how red goes from high to low saturation in art. In the Munsell system on the right, the saturation increases from the center pole moving outwards. The Munsell notation goes from 0 (neutral) to 12 for the most saturated tube colors. It is a useful way to denote color saturation in art.

Many beginner students over saturate the color in their paintings. It is a common problem, but all it takes to fix it is better observation.

To learn more

To learn more about the components of color and how to take advantage of grays and saturation in art to make your paintings glow, join the Virtual Art Academy® Apprentice Program.

Thank You

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you find it useful. If you would like to get free painting tips by email, please sign up for my free tips newsletter.

If you are interested in a structured approach for learning how to paint, take a look at my online painting classes.

Happy painting!

Barry John Raybould
Virtual Art Academy

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Painting for Beginners: What Is Saturation In Art, And Why Is It Important To Understand It?

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