Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light

Looking over my portfolio of cityscapes you might conclude that I have a thing about painting traffic lights. It's not really a "thing", but I like them as a focal point because they offer a great opportunity for sharpness against soft atmosphere giving the illusion of depth. They are also very forgiving. It doesn't take much to convince the brain that they are, in fact, traffic lights. And like in real life, your eye is naturally drawn to them (or should be if you aren't texting while driving).


I recently learned that the order of the colors on a traffic light must be, RED then YELLOW then GREEN (left to right or top to bottom). That is something I had never really thought about until someone pointed this out to me after seeing that I had them out of order in one particular painting. This makes perfect sense if you think about it since some people are color blind and need some consistency and order when it comes to traffic safety. Now maybe someone can explain the whole braille thing on drive-thru ATMs. Actually I get that one too, but it's funny at first glance. 


The first painting shown above (Red Light) was my first plein air during this year's Paint Historic Waxahachie, held each Spring for the last 14 years. I hadn't settled on a title for it until I painted my second one (Green Light) and saw an unintentional trend here. You know, of course, that I had to find another traffic light for a third painting (Yellow Light). Titles of paintings can be difficult as times. But on occasion, they kind of title themselves.

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Comments: 2
  • #1

    elizabeth mckern (Saturday, 29 December 2018 17:14)

    I recently found your website and admire your work. I'm currently painting city/street scenes and find traffic lights an interesting design element. I'd like to know if you have any "go to colors/mixes" for all three colors; red, yellow, and green.


  • #2

    Kent Brewer (Saturday, 29 December 2018 19:21)

    Thanks Elizabeth. I think I used a lot of cadmium for the red and yellow. The green is probably cad yellow and ultramarine blue, but I can't really remember.