Four acrylic mixed media abstracts; all with the power of blue.

Harnessed together with opposing forces of tonal values.

Discover how you can effectively use these intriguing differences: high key and low key.




Light and Shade

Light and shade, or as I term it, Tonal Values.



High Key

With a “high key” painting, the prevailing dominant ratio of tones will be on the Lighter end of the scale.

Perhaps, about   75% – 80% Light Tones.


Tips for  High Key Watercolor: you would use more water with your paints and, leave a lot more of your paper – White.

High Key Acrylics and Oils:  you would increase the amount of white to all the paints you use, and in many places use nearly straight White out of the tube.


Second Tip:

when we are trying to learn and cement a specific skill, we really will learn it faster, if we focus on that skill.

And lessen the pressure to ‘do well’  with the all  rest of the skills.


By limiting my colors ie to blue and focusing on the Key, I’ll increase my speed of learning and proficiency.

And thats what we all want to see.

Evidence… of Progress!




A High Key painting creates the feeling of space.

Of Freedom, movement, breath, light, air, action.


It is lighter, breezier, cheerier.

It uplifts, and is much more joyous.


hints of blue, high key painting, bleu ocean beach abstract acrylics,
High Key, hints of the blue



high key blue abstract painting, using texture tone and color in art,
High Key, in blue


In both of the above images, the Light and Mid tone percentages are greater than the much smaller percentage of Darker tones.

This is what gives the paintings the ‘airier’ lighter feel compared to the paintings below.







Low Key

These paintings below, have a higher percentage of darker and mid tones.

The mid tones and dark tones dominate the image.

Rough estimate 75% or so.   Give or take.


The Low Key paintings create a more somber feeling to viewers.

There is a sensation of being more contained,  but it also can have nuances of foreboding at times as well.


abstract acrylic on board, low key painting, diagonal patterns,
Low Key painting, Cerulean with black,  abstract on board panel




blue abstract on board, heavy texture, darkness to light painting,
Illusion of the darkness of space, A low key painting  in blue




When you wish to convey summer, celebrations, joy, movement, spaciousness, etc.  you now have a definite tool to rely on.

Simply ‘High Key.’


Same thing when painting to express the opposite.   Use,  ‘Low Key.’


Awareness of our options, gives us the strategies and the power to execute them –  as the subject and mood dictates.





High Key  –  Watercolor Mountain

This is my rough estimate of  the painting’s tonal value ratios….

Light tones 40%

Mid tones  50%

Dark tones 10%


Additionally…. with a Vertical, format rather than a traditional horizontal, it provides us with an increased sensation of movement, of implied action.

Of Space and of Depth.


Staining watercolor paints, prussian blue pb27, Impressionist watercolor landscape mountain, granulating paint manganese blue, cerulean blue, debi riley watercolor,
Mountain Prussian Blue watercolors, full sheet 22×30 


I included this at the last minute, because it illustrates nicely the ‘sensation’ of high key using vertical format.

And to show you how you can ADD Light Tones (white,)  by using light white matts to increase the light ratios, if, that is what is required.