The colour yellow

Welcome once again to Emily McCormack-Artist’s blog on all things Oil Painting.

Over the last few blogs, we have been taking a beginner’s look at the primary colours. In Part 1, we looked at the colour Red, in Part 2, the colour Blue and in this week’s blog Part 3, we are looking at the colour Yellow. *


The colour yellow is probably the most luminous of all the colours in the colour spectrum. (Morton, Colour Matters, 2021)

When I think of yellow, I see smiley emojis, Sponge Bob Square Pants, Pac-Man, Post-Its, daffodil beds in the springtime, the sun, and my morning fried egg.

It is the colour of happiness, optimism, enlightenment, and creativity.

Around the world and throughout the ages, yellow was used to represent many things. In Japan, yellow often represented courage, whereas, in some other countries it represented cowardliness or death.  (Morton, Colour Matters, 2021)

The very best example of yellow or gold, that I have seen so far on my travels, was at the Chora (Kariye) Museum, located in Istanbul’s Edirnekapi neighbourhood. I was genuinely blown away by the incredible detail and extent of mosaic images, which could easily hold their own when compared to the Hagia Sophia (Istanbul) and St. Marks Basilica (Venice). It’s a little off the beaten track but you can get there easily by taxi.

Chora Musuem
Chora Musuem


There are many shades of yellow, including yellow and gold ochre’s, Indian Yellow, Naples Yellow, Cadmium Yellow (Lemon or Light, Medium and Deep), Gold, Chrome Yellow, Zinc Yellow, Titanium Yellow, Gambouge, Hansa Yellow and Orpiment (which was used in the Book of Kells (housed in Trinity College, Dublin)).

For those who are only tuning in here now, below is a sample of some of my work using the colour and shades of Yellow:-

Emily McCormack yellow paintings
Emily McCormack paintings with yellow

Top Painting is ‘after Serebriakova’ – Russian Artist.

I have also included, below, a small selection of some of the oil paintings and ‘warm up’ pastel drawings, I used to teach beginner students, in the painting workshops before Covid 19 hit. The images are from the painting studies I do beforehand to show the students.

warm up paintings in the workshop using yellow

(After Van Gogh, Constable, Hench and Sorolla.)

warm up paintings in the workshop using yellow

(After Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse, Degas and Peploe.)


Artists who used yellow and for the Beginner artist are worth looking at, include, Turner, Klimt and Van Gogh. I have also added a few new ones for you below, such as Giotto, Kandinsky, Hassam, Lautrec, Sickert and Rothko:-

The Burning Houses of Parliament (c.1835)

The Burning Houses of Parliament
JMW TURNER (1775-1851)
Cleveland Museum of Art

The Kiss (1907-8)

The Kiss
GUSTAV KLIMT (1862-1918)
Österreichische Galerie Belvedere museum

The Arrest of Christ (1304-6)

The Arrest of Christ
GIOTTO (c.1267−1337)
Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy

Arabs Cemetery (1909)

Arabs Cemetery
Kunsthalle Hamburg, Germany

The Room of Flowers (1894)

The Room of Flowers

The Spanish Dancer (1883-5)

The Spanish Dancer
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Large Sunflower and Clematis (1943)

Large Sunflower and Clematis
EMIL NOLDE (1867-1956)
The Museum of the Nolde Foundation and the Ada and Emil Nolde, Neukirchen

Ennui (1914)

The Tate, UK

No. 13 (White, Red on Yellow) (1958)

No. 13 (White, Red on Yellow)
MARK ROTHKO (1903-1970)
The Metropolitan Museum


A few weeks before Covid 19 arrived on our shores in March 2020, I had a lovely new beginner student in one of the workshops. She had always wanted to learn to paint but never really found the time, as she was a full-time horse trainer. During one of the workshops, she told us a story about a postcard she had received, which had Van Gogh’s Irises on the front, and asked if I would show her how to paint it.

So, I started an easier version of the painting. Then Covid19 hit and I had to close the workshops. The painting sat unfinished in the corner of the studio. Then last week, I took it out and finished it. Now, I think I have a little more tiding to do, but when it’s safe again to reopen the workshops it will be a lovely one to add to the course curriculum.

How to paint Van Gogh's vase of irises

If you would like to try it at home, below is my palette and the colours I used. If you are a beginner, I might suggest for this painting, that you avoid using Phthalo Blue, as its inclined to get into everything, and can bleed into your yellows, creating greens where you do not want them!!!

My palette for Van Gogh Vase of Irises


As a beginner, it is good to have a cool and a warm yellow such as a: –

  • cadmium lemon yellow (cool);
  • cadmium yellow medium or deep (warm); and perhaps a
  • yellow ochre (warm).


  1. To get a Naples yellow just add Titanium White to your yellow ochre. Remember to place the white first and then add a little yellow ochre at a time until you get the desired tint.
  2. When mixing white and yellow – always place the white first – see Colour Mixing – 5 Top Tips.

Below, is a list of some of the yellows that are available on the market, and I marked in bold, the yellows, I currently have in my own palette.

The information used was extracted from the K&A Evans website, but other art stores where you can purchase your paints include Cork Art Supplies, Art Materials, Kennedys Art, Jacksons, The Range and Eason’s to name a few.

Cadmium Lemon Hansa Yellow Light / deep
Cadmium Yellow Light Naples Yellow
Cadmium Yellow Medium Radiant Lemon
Cadmium Yellow Deep Nickel Titanate Yellow
Radiant Yellow Transparent Earth Yellow
Yellow Ochre
Michael Harding (Extra to above)
Aureolin Genuine Naples Yellow Light / Dark
Bright Yellow Lake Indian Yellow
Cadmium Yellow Golden Lead Tin Yellow Lemon
French Yellow Ochre Lead Tin Yellow Light
Warm Light Yellow Yellow Lake (also Deep)
Yellow Ochre Deep
Old Holland (Extra to above)
Naples Yellow Extra (also deep) Brilliant Yellow Light
Mars Yellow Brilliant Yellow
Gold Ochre Brilliant Yellow Reddish
Scheveningen Yellow Lemon (also light / med /deep) Naples Yellow Reddish extra
Transparent Oxide Yellow Lake Yellow Brown
Indian Yellow-Green Lake Extra Gamboge Lake Extra
Indian Yellow Orange lake Extra Indian Yellow Brown Lake Extra
Winsor Newton (Extra to above)
Winsor Lemon Jaune Brilliant
Winsor Yellow (deep) Transparent yellow
Bismuth Yellow Chrome Yellow Hue


All extracted from The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St. Clair which is well worth reading.


Used by Van Gogh in the Sunflowers. Discovered in 1762, when a scarlet-orange crystal was excavated from the Beresof gold mine, in deepest Siberia. It was called crocoite (Greek word for saffron – krokos) and the French chemist, Nicolas Louis Vauquelin, discovered it contained a new element, a metal, he named Chrome (after another Greek word meaning colour). ‘The problem later discovered by artists and art lovers was that it has a nasty habit of browning with age’, case in point, Van Gogh’s sunflowers, are browning with age ‘due to the paints reaction with other pigments in sunlight’. (St. Clair, Kassia, The Secret Lives of Colour, 2016)


‘When William Winsor and Henry C Newton first started selling artists’ pigments from a small shop at 38 Rathbone Place in London in 1892, gamboge, one of their principal pigments, would arrive in regular packages from the offices of the East India Company. Each package contained a few thin cylinders, about the circumference of a ten pence coin and the colour of old earwax, wrapped in leaves.’ (St. Clair, Kassia, The Secret Lives of Colour, 2016)

These were then broken down with a metal anvil and a hammer and fixed into little brown cakes, once water was added, it, ‘yielded a yellow paint so bright and luminous it almost seemed fluorescent’. The paint was ‘solidified sap of Garcinia trees,’ from Cambodia – so you had to typically milk the tree (which was a ‘least a decade old, deep gouges can be cut into their trunks’ and ‘[h]ollow lengths of bamboo are used to catch the sap as it trickles out. It takes over a year for the bamboo to fill up and the sap to harden’. ‘Workers who crushed gamboge at Winsor & Newton would have to rush to the toilet once an hour while working with it’. (St. Clair, Kassia, The Secret Lives of Colour, 2016)

Winsor & Newton continued to receive its packages right up to 2005. It was used by Rembrandt, Turner and Reynolds (but was later replaced by many artists with aureolin – an artificial yellow – less bright but not prone to fading). (St. Clair, Kassia, The Secret Lives of Colour, 2016)

You can also read about Indian Yellow and if it was from Indian cows fed on mango leaves and the history of Saffron in Saffron Walden (UK).

In Colour by Victoria Finlay another good read, Finlay provides an account on Ochre and the Ochre Massacre in Australia, Indian Yellow and her journey to find out if the story was true and she also looks at Saffron Walden.

In our next Blog we will be starting our journey through the Secondary Colours, commencing with the colour Green then Violet and finally Orange in further blog editions.

Until then stay safe and keep painting.

Emily McCormack

* As always, I am not affiliated with any brands, stores, or persons I may or may not mention and your use of any of these products, links and the like are your own risk and it’s up to you to do your research/homework before you use them. This is just my opinion and experience.

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