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Chroma Cluelessness Syndrome

Severe Chroma Clue­less­ness Syn­drome affects about 32% of artists. It is char­ac­ter­ized by mak­ing paint­ings with uncon­trolled high chroma (inten­sity). Symp­toms include:

  • High chroma col­ors make up most of the patient’s paintings.
  • The patient might agree that a sym­phony that con­sists only of high notes would be excru­ci­at­ing to lis­ten to, but thinks that a paint­ing that con­sists only of high chroma col­ors is “col­or­ful” and “exciting.”
  • The patient doesn’t actu­ally know how to adjust the chroma of mixes. In severe cases, the patient may apply only straight tube col­ors to your paint­ings, with­out ever mixing.
  • The patient never uses earth colors.

Please give gen­er­ously to the Inter­na­tional CCS Insti­tute. CCSI doc­tors are work­ing tire­lessly, day and night, to develop new and inno­v­a­tive treat­ments for this debil­i­tat­ing disorder.

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Color and Color Mixing

Posted in art technique, color.

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9 Responses

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  1. Dori Anderson says

    I con­fess to being a vic­tim of this dis­ease! I think though, that I want to be more sub­tle, but I have a hard time actu­ally see­ing and dis­tin­guish­ing between the var­i­ous hues and shades. It is hard for me to see the gray­ing of color, so it is hard for me to paint it. I end up tak­ing pic­tures of my paint­ingd, con­vert­ing them to black and white so as to try to see the inten­si­ties. Can you help me?

  2. David says


    I think the answer is twofold: first, look at a lot of good (and bad) paint­ings, and decide what you want yours to look like. Which artists do you admire? How do they man­age the issue of chroma? Do they use high-chroma col­ors indis­crim­i­nately or are they used with moderation?

    If you do want to limit your use of color, you;ll need to be able to both plan how to do that and be able to exe­cute your plan. It helps when plan­ning to do a very small color sketch of any paint­ing you plan to make. Don’t worry about mak­ing a detailed, good-looking paint­ing. Just work out the color com­po­si­tion, mix­ing the col­ors you want and putting them down in that sec­tion of the painting.

    You also need to be able to mix the right color. You might want to look at the Arti­cles sec­tion of this web site or look at the “color” cat­e­gory. There’s lots of mate­r­ial on how to mix the chroma you want.

  3. Ben Sones says

    Dori—I’ll add that tak­ing pic­tures of your sub­jects and con­vert­ing them to black and white is not at all a bad way to train your­self to see value. (Value clue­less­ness is actu­ally as big a prob­lem in many artists’ work as chroma clue­less­ness; in fact, I’d say the two often go hand in hand. )

    Alter­nate tools include set­ting a dig­i­tal cam­era to black and white mode and using the LCD to check value rela­tion­ships on your sub­ject, or the old stan­dard of look­ing through a fairly thick piece of red trans­par­ent acrylic, which acts as a fil­ter that allows you to see your sub­ject in mono­chrome. Use these tools for long enough, and even­tu­ally you will find that you need them less and less, and even­tu­ally you will come to be able to judge chroma and value in your sub­jects with­out them. It just takes practice.

  4. David says

    Great sug­ges­tions, Ben. Thanks.

  5. Dori Anderson says

    Great ideas– thank you so much for your quick response!

  6. David says


    You’re wel­come.

  7. Decker Walker says

    I agree that indis­crim­i­nate reliance on high chroma leads to dis­cor­dant, brassy, loud paint­ings. But the alter­na­tive of match­ing the chroma of nature is not, in my opin­ion, the best solu­tion. Since paints have such a lim­ited range of value and chroma com­pared to nature, painters who try to match nature’s col­ors exactly wind up with a dull, dim pic­ture. This is most evi­dent in a clear blue sky. No paints can mix a blue that is as intense and yet as light in value as that sky. Only by selec­tively and art­fully exag­ger­at­ing the chroma rela­tion­ships and value dif­fer­ences observed in nature can a painter approach the color rela­tion­ships we see in nature. I’m not speak­ing here of the expres­sive exag­ger­a­tion of color for emo­tional effect, but sim­ply of paint­ing a real­is­tic pic­ture of the scene before you.

  8. Yvonne C says

    I’m try­ing too fig­ure out the word chroma in the film­ing indus­try Chroma key.

  9. David says


    Sorry, but I have no idea.

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