color exercises

Thinking About Color

Photo of a watercolor palette

A watercolor tray with a chart that shows how the colors behave on paper.

“I just start painting very excitedly and the last thing I think about is my palette. Most of the time, composition keep me so busy I completely forget about color.”
“I feel like an outsider during visits to the art store. I must be the only person in the universe that does not know what colors to buy!”
“My palette is so garish. Everything looks fine in the beginning but when I finish I see my colors are too bright for my taste.”

Color is one of the dimensions of design that seems the most inscrutable. While almost everyone can appreciate size, texture and contrast, color perception is highly individual. To complicate matters, as humans we have developed a series of terms to discuss color that vary enormously from person to person. Then there’s color theory. Some of us were taught color theory as a means to learn those specialized color concepts such as the law of simultaneous contrast. Others just remember the tedious exercises.

Photo of four flower still lives

Student Diane Platner tried out four different color harmonies for this subject.

Is there a way to make sense of color that is friendlier to the average art learner? I would say there are many, but what they all have in common is that they all involve today’s most precious commodity: time. “Serious” art students have for decades gravitated towards instructors with a mastery over color. Those instructors have in turn passed on their methods for making color decisions very much like passing on a recipe. Those students adopt those methods and use them forever.

Then there is the rare instructor who has developed their own teaching technique for helping students figure out color relationships on their own. Some host wonderful, meaningful studio discussions and others, like Josef Albers, have developed interesting exercises to stimulate this type of individual discovery. These two approaches require the context of a class in order for a student to have time to ponder what color is all about. In short, there is no quick and dirty method to “learn color” overnight.

Photo of a finished exercise with two limited palettes.

I send these exercises home as a way for students to experience a limited palette.

All of this would have no meaning if a students is not allowed to engage in the most important aspect of color learning for an artist, which is to integrate this new knowledge into the work they like to do. In my opinion, the only reason we learn about color is to develop and enhance our voice as visual artists. Questions like the role that color plays in our work, the mood that color variations bring to a painting, the importance that adopting a given palette might have or not have. This is why we would take a class, to engage in this type of thinking. No instructor can answer these questions for us. A good teacher will provide the space to answer them.

Choosing And Mixing Color Resources

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Choosing and Mixing Color

Pattern showing many possible combinations of blue, yellow and white.

These are colors that lie next to each other on the color wheel.

My popular eight-week class on the deliberate, mindful use of color in painting begins Sept 19 from 1-4 pm. We’ll focus on the application of color knowledge to the work you already do. Use the media of your preference and spend time in class painting and applying the concepts you’ll be learning. Take home color theory exercises designed to teach you about color through experience, not theory. Learn to keep your color options open as your painting progresses. Achieve clarity on the role color plays in your painting or illustration projects.

Format
Introduction to the concept, and short exercise in the first 1.5 hours. Painting – independent application of the concept in the next 1.5 hours. During this time, students are encouraged to pose color challenges for their own work and with the help of their instructor, arrive at multiple strategies to use. Optional homework will be assigned on some weeks.

Registration
Do not register on this website, because Choosing and Mixing Color is part of the Richmond Art Center’s Studio Program.  Go to the RAC site instead and register after July 31. The RAC asks that you please register before the first class on Sept 19.

Outline
Session 1 – Sept 19
Introductions. Goals for this class. Discussion of personal goals. Review of materials and supplies. The nature and quality of seven basic pigments. Warm and cold colors.

Sept 26 – No Class

Session 2 – Oct 3
Making secondaries, chromatic blacks and greys with synthetic and natural hues.

Session 3 – Oct 10
Mixing browns and flesh tones. Purple, violet, pink and lavender.

Session 4 – Oct 17
The important role of muted colors. How to mute saturated colors. Tints and shades for creating space and aerial perspective.

Session 5 – Oct 24
Limited palettes for simplicity, unity and easy color matching.

Session 6 – Oct 31
Conveying various moods through color harmonies.

Session 7 – Nov 7
Achieving colors with glazes in watercolor, oil and acrylic.

Session 8 – Nov 14
Light and shadow through the skillful use of color.

Nov 21 – Please reserve this day for a potential make-up session in case I get sick and cannot teach a class.

Classes

Cal Create Program
CREATE (Creative Residencies for Emerging Artists Teaching Empowerment) is a student-led group that promotes arts-based services. Through CREATE, Berkeley undergraduates teach classes in visual arts, theater, dance, and/or creative writing to meet the enrichment needs of local schools and community organizations. I am proud to be the visual arts mentor who advises them on curriculum design and age-appropriate activities. Access my CREATE portal with resources here.

Fundamental Drawing Class at the Richmond Art Center
Introduces drawing beginners to concepts and techniques artists use to draw realistically. Gain confidence in your art-making by sharpening your drawing skills with charcoal, graphite or ink. Learn various approaches to drawing and expand your strategy repertoire. Whether you are a stark beginner or a person returning to art after a few years doing something else, this class is sure to leave you excited about drawing, more confident and with a repertoire of strategies to help you tackle difficult subjects.Every Thursday night, beginning Thursday, Jan 17 from 6:30-9:30 pm. Register here.

Introduction to Acrylics Class at the Richmond Art Center
This eight week class will help you begin your painting journey with the most versatile medium. We’ll cover a new acrylic technique every week, how to begin various types of paintings, the use of acrylic additives, and much more. Geared at beginners and more experienced painters alike, this class will get you acquainted with all the possibilities of the medium. You do not need to have any type of painting experience to enjoy this class.  Begins Wednesday, Jan 16, from 1-4 pm. Register here.

Gel Printing Addiction Workshop at the Frank Bette Center
 It’s so much fun you won’t be able to stop! No previous printing knowledge is necessary to print multiple gorgeous, multi-hued textures for your collages, sketchbooks, and greeting cards. Use household objects and supplies found in your pantry. After a ten min demo, spend  the rest of your time experimenting with colors, techniques and layering. Learn how to create and reuse your own durable gel plates. Leave with a treasure trove of resources. Saturday, February 23, from 9-12 pm. Register here.

Portraiture Basics Workshop at the Richmond Art Center
Set yourself up for success in portraiture, using the media of your choice. Learn how to analyze and “block” the structure of a skull to get a likeness, mix flesh tones, observe and paint facial features, and maintain key value relationships as you complete your portrait. We’ll spend 10-12 reviewing key concepts with demonstrations, and after a lunch break begin the guided painting of a live model until 4 pm. No fume-producing substances can be used. $75, plus a small amount for the model’s fee payable at the workshop. Taught on a Sunday in March 2019 from 10-4 pm, the actual date is TBA.

Landscape Plein Air at the Richmond Art Center
Spend time painting au plein air at several beautiful great East Bay outdoor locations. Whether you are a beginner or a more advanced painting student, you’ll enjoy discovering beginner-friendly painting spots, and improving your technique in the company of new friends. You’ll receive support through the difficulties of painting outdoors. At various East Bay locations starting in April 2019.