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.

Plein Air Sundays Session 8

Topic
The cell phone as a tool of the landscape painter.

Directions To Lake Anza

No exact address is provided by Tilden Regional Park, but the lake is located at the end of Lake Anza Rd. The exact GPS Coordinates are
37.89700°N / 122.25359°W

If coming from Richmond, el Cerrito, Berkeley or Albany:
Go to the intersection of Arlington Blvd and Boynton St. Get on Boynton, go uphill until you see Colorado Ave. Continue going uphill until you hit Michigan Ave, then Spruce. Turn left on Spruce. You’ll cross Grissly Peak later, and find yourself on Wildcat Canyon Rd. Go on Wildcat until you see a Lake Anza sign pointing to your left. You will get to the multiple intersection, and take the one that seems to go in the opposite direction, which should be Lake Anza Rd. We’ll meet at the very last parking lot.

If coming from Emeryville, Oakland, Lafayette:

The Shasta Rd entrance at 1180 Park Hills Rd, Berkeley is your best bet. There is a map here. Go north on Grizzly Peak, then turn right on Shasta Rd. Make an immediate left on Park Hills Rd. Stay to the left at the fork on Park Hills Rd. Continue on Park Hills Rd, then cross Wildcat Canyon by making a right and an immediate left onto Central Park Dr. Make a right onto Lake Anza Rd. We’ll meet at the very last parking lot.

Plein Air Sundays Session 3

Topic
How to begin a landscape painting part 2.

Event Location Changed! – Directions to Hoffman Marsh
There is a plant sale at the Tilden Botanical Garden. No parking and too many people around for us to paint comfortably.

Directions to Hoffman Marsh
On highway 80, get off on Central Ave and go towards the bay. Make a right on Rydin Ave. There won’t be a sign. It is the first right you’ll see as you drive towards Costco. If you see Costco you have passed Rydin. Park anywhere along Rydin. There will be a lot of dog owners parked there. Walk towards the dog park entrance but don’t go in. I will be standing there with my gear.

Plein Air Sundays Session 2

Topic
How to begin a landscape painting part 2. Safer painting practices.

Directions to Miller Knox Park
Take 580 in the direction of San Rafael. Get off at the Point Richmond/Canal Blvd exit. Make a left at the ramp in order to get on Canal, then make a right on Cutting Ave. Continue on Cutting until you hit Garrard, then make a left and go through the tunnel. When you get to the other side, you´ll be on Dornan Dr and will see Keller Beach to your right. Pass the Golden Gate Railroad Museum at 900 Dornan Dr to your left, and enter the last of a couple of Miller Knox park entrances to your right. If you find yourself at the Ferry Point Trailhead, you’ve gone too far.

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.

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