oil painting

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.

Blake Garden Did Not Disappoint

Photo of a woman with a viewfinder

Finding the best composition in a field of flowers.

Photo of a man painting

A sunlit path makes very dark shadows.

Photo of a mom and daughter

These students are clearly having too much fun!

Yesterday was our first Plein Air Fridays session at the Blake Garden. The day was beautiful and the temperature, perfect. This Berkeley garden did not disappoint those of us who were hoping for an afternoon free of cold wind and overcast skies. Everybody was on time and we met near the reflecting pool, where dappled light dotted the grassy area around it.
After a demo on how to use a viewfinder and how start an acrylic painting, the students dispersed and I began making rounds. I forgot how much walking is involved when students are spread out. The Blake Garden spans ten acres!
There are two spaces left in this class. Registration ends June 30.

A Fragrant Still Life

Photo of woman, painting on a table.

A student covers the broad areas of her painting with mixes she is trying out.

Several new students came to my studio on a Saturday morning to try their their hand at painting a still life with a beautiful flower arrangement. This was our first Free Painting Workshop of the year, a way for adult students who have never taken a class with me to check out my teaching and learn some painting basics. Some students were beginners and others experienced, but they all wanted to spend two hours making art in a relaxed mood. I was hoping to open one end of the studio so we could enjoy the sunshine, but we had fog instead. So we stayed inside, sitting a little closer than I would have expected, but having a lot of fun along the way.
Photo of vase with flowers-

One of the bouquets we painted at the first Free Painting Workshop.


The flowers came from the garden of my student Margo Hackett. She gave me enough foxgloves, hydrangeas, nasturtiums, roses and sage flowers for four vases. I didn’t want anyone to feel nervous about drawing, so we began by rehearsing the use of a viewfinder, because it makes marking the location of objects so much easier. Then each one of them had the chance to choose one. I passed out a handout with notes so that no one had to worry about writing while painting.
Photo of woman painting a vase of flowers

The background is almost done!


We worked on primed cardboard. Everyone took home the “recipe,” and some students loved the idea that they could recycle their Amazon boxes in this manner. Then we moved to composition, how to mix a good color for the background, and when to tackle details. This workshop had something new for almost everyone in the room. Most students had questions about mixing specific colors, and others were new to acrylics.
We ended by talking about something we learned during the workshop and it was then that I found out most of them appreciated painting and learning in a supportive atmosphere. The next Free Painting Workshop is on Saturday, September 9. Register through Eventbrite a month before.

Oil Painting Bootcamp

Photo of two students using oil paints

Learn to achieve the effects you want.

In this one-day workshop, we’ll review the basics of oil painting, including materials and techniques, with an emphasis on safer practices. We’ll learn how to begin a multi-session oil painting, how to pick good pigments for our palette, when to use oil and when to use turps as we paint simple still lives.

Summary: Students of all levels will be able to work with the materials they already have and sample some new ones. Instead of lectures, a series of short exercises coupled with individual feedback will help you become acquainted with this traditional medium without having to resort to the use of turpentine or gamsol.

Format: The first half of this class is devoted to the exploration of various brushes and pigments by painting very small paintings. The second half introduces the student to thinking in layers, to limited palettes, and to the differences between an alla prima and a multi-session painting.

Cancellations:
Registration fees can only be refunded in full if canceled up to three days (72 hrs) before class. With less than 72 hrs but more than 24 hrs notice, you receive 75% of your registration. If you give less than 24 hrs notice and do not attend the first class, you’ll receive 50% of the registration fee. No refund will be given to students who attend the first class but decide not to continue.