Learning to Paint Flat Colors

artist brush mix color oil painting on palette is holding in his hand closeup
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A flat color is an area of color painted in a uniform or identical tone and hue, but getting acrylic paints to dry completely flat and streak-free can be challenging for beginner painters. Fortunately, there are a number of techniques to help painters flatten their images, providing crisp backgrounds and splashes of color in paintings.

Flat colors can be quite important for layering paint on the canvas, which provides depth and complexity to paintings; by painting large swaths of identical hues and tones and covering those in further layers of flat colors, artists can create uniformity across images while also adding details—for instance, a woman's dress could be painted in a flat blue but filled with darker navy hues to account for shadows.

Several artistic fields outside of painting also rely on flat colors, including interior design, graphic design, and even photography and film—when painting a room, an interior designer uses flat color palettes to select the best color for the room; when creating a website, a graphic designer will use the universal color palette to determine the best colors for the website's theme; when taking studio images, a photographer will oftentimes use drastic splashes of flat color to make the photo pop.

How to Paint Flat Colors

Painting flat colors is a relatively simple concept to grasp, but a sometimes-difficult task to actually complete, mostly because the brush strokes often lead to paints like acrylics streaking, especially when layering paint. Most importantly, you should first check that you're using opaque paints, but you should also make sure to blend the paint down before it's dry to ensure there's no exposed canvas remaining before adding the next layer.

For other types of paint, achieving a flat color is relatively easy, you simply have to make sure the paint spreads evenly over the canvas and dries before applying a new layer—unless you want to make a blended or gradient color). Varying these two techniques in paintings can create more dynamic images, as long as the intention of selecting and using individual flat and blended colors is apparent.

Essentially, the term "flat color" refers to a painted color that is solid, uninterrupted, and completely uniform in brushstroke, depth, and shading. In order to achieve this, make sure you improve your ability to make consistent, intentional strokes and allow the paint to dry between coats to ensure an even finish and true uniformity in the final product.

Emphasizing Flat Colors in Painting

As one might expect, it's rather hard to make a compelling image using only flat colors, and for this reason, many painters either combine flat colors with blended and gradient colors to provide variety to landscapes and portraits alike.

An easy way to improve the quality of your paintings, or to develop a special style of art that appreciates and captures the beauty of each color on its own, is to frame each swath of flat color with sharp lines that provide context, depth, and emphasis to guide viewers through the piece. It might surprise you how quickly you can colorize an entire pirate ship or even a beautiful head of golden hair with flat colors outlined using sharp lines.

Another way to improve your color usage is to juxtapose flat colors with blended or varied colors, creating a dichotomy of chaos and order within the overall work of art. Playing with methods, concepts, and styles such as these is the essence of art—so feel free to experiment with different ways of painting to really bring your imagination to life.