Painters often refer to something known as Local Color. So what is it exactly? Well, there is a very simple explanation. Local Color refers to the color of an object if it is unhindered by shadows and highlights. Still don’t get it? Basically it is what the actual color of an object is. Take for instance a Tomato, now most people would agree that tomatoes are red, however that’s just part of the story and the way that our eye perceives colors. In reality if we really examine a tomato we will see all sorts of different tones and highlights. Take a look at the image below and you will notice the myriad of colors which are created just by one tomato. There’s pinks, violets, browns, and reds. Simply put, when painting any object we must consider all the colors and many times it isn’t intuitive to see the light violet colors because of our preconceived ideas about the local color of the object, which is red.
When it comes to painting it is very important to be aware of what the local color of the object is, however it is also vital that we delve further into the more nuanced colors that appear as well. This is even more important when we have multiple objects of different colors placed closely together. The light bouncing off of one surface can create a reflection and influence the surrounding areas. Therefore, if we look at the top of the tomato we can begin to see that the green vine above it is effecting the colors of the shadows as well. For this reason it is very common for painting instructors to say that students need to start examining what colors make up the shadows in the objects they paint. There’s a whole rainbow of color hiding in the shadows. This was most evident in the Impressionists’ works as they would commonly use blues, and even reds in their shadows.
It is the goal of this lesson to get beyond local color and we are going to make sure that there’s no chance it will seep into this exercise. You will be painting a portrait without the use of local color. It is up to you to use your skills in seeing the value (darkness) of a color and by doing so you can still create a believable space which is totally divorced from your preconceived notions about what the local color of the object is. For the first part of the assignment you will copy the painting below and this will give you a feel for how Color as Value works. I’ve included the drawing, as well as the original image (gridded out), and a picture of my palette so you can get a clear look at what these colors look like. Once you are finished with the first painting you will find an image of your choosing and will have to complete a second painting. In your second painting you will once again be looking beyond local color. Really push how intense you can make your colors, and you’ll also start to notice that the temperature (basically how warm or cool a color looks) also influences the way we perceive reality.
1. Source Image from which the painting will be made. Feel free to change the unit of measurement if you wish. One box could easily equal an inch or whatever fits the size of the canvas you are working on.
2. After gridding out your painting surface you will sketch in the big value shapes present in the photo.
3. You will then paint in the value shapes using the value of the color to create an illusion of depth. Disregard what you know about color intensity and local color. Be bold.
4. Remember that your palette should be a representation of all the colors you will use.
5. If possible take a photo of your painting and change it to black and white. This will be an indicator of how good your eye is. The painting should stand up as a black and white image as well as a color one. This is an extremely important aspect of painting. Seeing color as value.
Upon finishing this copy you will be creating another painting on your own in the same manner. Remember to choose an image that has a wide range of values from light to dark.
In this painting tutorial I go through how to set up a very basic palette, and how to use a palette knife to create value scales with various colors. By setting up these simple piles of color before you start a painting you can be assured that all of your colors stay within the desired range of values.
Color Matching Values
Matching colors to values (the darkness or lightness of a color) is the most important skill to learn when learning to oil paint. For further information on the topic of color values I would suggest checking out the lesson on Color Theory Basics.
In the painting tutorial video above I go into how to mix different values of color on a palette. I have chosen to use a painting knife however the same colors could be mixed using a brush. The palette is glass which has been spray painted grey on the back. I have chosen to paint it grey because this is a very neutral color, and I don’t want the color of the palette to interfere with how I see the colors I’m trying to mix. It is important to remember that colors will interact with each other. For instance a white square painted on a yellow background will appear to be darker, since the surrounding color is also light. However, a white square painted on a blue background will appear to be brighter since the background is darker.
Once you’ve got a palette with a neutral background you can begin to start making different value scales in different colors. You should already know about value scales as we have covered them extensively in the drawing section of this website. To make a value scale you must first have a guide to go from. So I would suggest making your first value scale in black, white, and greys. Then you can compare the darkness or lightness of your subsequent mixes of color against a black and white scale (this can be achieved by squinting).
If you came here thinking about trying to find what colors match (ie. which colors go together) I’m sorry to tell you that this isn’t something which can be summed up in a succinct manner. There are many factors which determine what colors will traditionally “match”. If you peruse my section here on Color Theory you can begin to examine all of the reasons why there isn’t any general consensus of what colors actually match, and which ones clash.
For this assignment you will have to create your own value scales in 6 colors and Black and White. Red, Yellow, Blue, Orange, Green, Violet. So there’s a total of 7 value scales which you will be creating. Once your palette is full of these colors you will then take a picture of it and post it to your student blogs.
During this lesson you will be learning how to construct and paint a landscape painting. I’ve chosen to begin with painting landscapes because they allow us to utilize all the different skills we’ve been working on so far. Instead of using “Plein Air” techniques which are very popular today among painters wishing to capture “light” I will be teaching about the structure of the landscape and letting you know about how it works. There are a lot of varying principles which should be taken into consideration. This may seem like a lot to consider but I’m more interested in giving my students a chance to make great work as opposed to praising mediocre work. Let’s first look at the steps involved and the things we are to consider when composing,drawing, and painting our landscape painting.
Finding a photograph to work from, or learning how to photograph landscapes yourself.
The first step is to find (or take) a photograph from which to work. If you want to find an image from the internet to work from then that is fine. You may want to jump to google images and use the first “cool” image you find. This is not the way to go about choosing a photograph. I would suggest looking for images in the creative commons. You can use this search engine to search the creative commons for images that you can use to create paintings from. When searching for a photo to paint from it is important to start seeing a few different elements. Take a look at the image below that I found in the creative commons from user Isamiga76 . It’s a photograph of a french landscape.
It’s very important to have an image that has high contrast and a clear definition between the foreground, middle ground, background, and sky. In the following photos below I’ve separated these different elements so you can see very clearly what I am talking about. If you are choosing to take your own landscape photos then having a definitive foreground, middle ground, and background should be one of your first considerations when taking a photo which will turn into a painting. This gives the image a sense of depth and creates clear markers for our brains to understand how the elements recede towards the horizon line.
The foreground will contain the brighest colors present in the entire painting. This is because colors lose intensity as they get farther away. This is a scientific fact based upon the amount of water vapor present in the air. You can imagine that as you look farther into the distance you’re actually looking through more and more water vapor. This clouds everything and gives it a cooler greyish blue glaze. I’ve also taken out the cows, and have chosen to ignore the barbed wire in the foreground.
Middle ground Landscape
The Middle Ground will generally contain the darkest values present in the painting.
The background of the landscape will be lighter than the middle ground due to atmospheric perspective (stuff farther away gets a cloudy blue glaze).
Clouds are an important element of any landscape and in this photo they seem a bit bland really. If you want to paint these types of clouds you can review Lesson 15 How to Paint with Acrylics . It is here where I first spoke about hard edges vs. soft edges and when painting clouds we are essentially looking at a large mass of hard and soft edges intermingling. This is the most important consideration to take into account when painting clouds. In the photo above we can see that the clouds closest to the horizon are also the most blurry (soft edges) while the clouds closer to us at the top of the photo have a bit more contrast and harder edges.
For this painting we don’t want to have some weak clouds so let’s try and energize this landscape a bit. I’m going to be adding some different clouds using a free image editing program called gimp. This is a habit you should also get into. If you find a photo, don’t just copy it, try and mix it up a bit to make it yours. Gimp is completely free opensource software and it works great for doing some simple editing to photos. There are also loads of tutorials all over the internet on how to use all of its different features. The good thing about painting is that you don’t really have to worry about making a perfect photoshopped version of what you want to paint. It can have clunky collaging and look ridiculous, but you can always clean up any of those edges in the final painting. As you can see in the photo below. The new clouds seem to make the entire image look brighter. You wouldn’t guess it but this image is quite dark overall. In the black and white version you can see the values of the colors and just how color intensity can trick you into thinking a bright color is light, in this case the bright green in the foreground is actually quite dark.
Black and white
Now that we can see the values of our colors we start to have an idea of the sort of color harmonies that are at play. One of the most memorable phrases I heard during art school was that your palette should look like an abstract version of your painting. To further visualize this I have created a value scale of the colors present in the image above. This will serve as a visual reminder as to what colors and values I need to be mixing during the painting process. If you are able to I highly recommend that you create a similar color value scale before you begin painting on your landscape.
Notice the cool and warm colors and the harmonies they create. For your white I would suggest that you never use pure white in a painting as it tends to stand out in an unrealistic manner. Your whitest white should be the light cream color which will only be used for small highlights and parts of the clouds.
The first step is to make a quick, yet accurate sketch of the landscape. You are mainly looking for the main lines that separate the foregound, middle ground, and background.
Next you will paint in the major values with a broad brush. Your goals is to have at least 4 varying tones, but not too many. This is not the point to be concerned with details. You are only looking for large value shapes and painting them with their corresponding values.
Step 3 Blocking in Color
Using a large brush block in the major colors in your landscape. You are going to try and create colors which are the same value as the grey you had previously painted. The reasons for painting the black and white underpainting are now evident during this phase as acrylic paint tends to be somewhat translucent. Your colors in your painting won’t look streaky and white but instead solid and bold. You can also notice how large some of those dark shapes are. This is because we can trim these value shapes down during the next step. At this point you want your painting to be a very quick impressionistic light study.
Step 4 – Details and Cleaning
This is the step where you get to cut away at your large value shapes with a smaller brush. It’s very easy for this step to continue on indefinitely as many beginning painters want to keep refining small details. The result of this can often be a painting that lacks freshness. Remember this isn’t meant to be a finished painting. These are still studies. They should be treated more as assignments, and less as finished pieces. I would suggest using these same steps to paint other landscapes as well. Practice makes perfect and this step by step process will provide the structure, and framework needed to paint countless landscapes.
You’ve now come to the end of a long journey, but it’s one that is just beginning. At this point I
would like for your to go back to the drawings you made in Lesson 3 “Creating your baseline”
and redraw them again. I am confident that if you have dedicated time and passion in this
course you will see an improvement that you didn’t even expect. This is the first installment
of three books which I have planned about painting. In the next we get away from the theory
and will begin to go further into edges, paint application, glazing, and other technical aspects
concerning paint. Please stay tuned at painting-course.com to see all the newest and latest
assignments and updates on the new “semester” coming. As I said previously what you have
just finished represents about 1 year of foundation level in college in painting. I intend to
continue on making this opencourse work free online as I believe there are too many books
which teach only technique, and no theory. So now that you’ve got a good grasp on theory it’s
time to start having fun, and getting messy with paint!
Final Assignment: Coming Full Circle
Redo your previous Baseline drawings and compare and look at areas you need to improve,
and other areas which you feel to sharpen up your skills. But don’t be too hard on yourself! Look
at all the progress you’ve made and realize that the more you practice at this point, the better
you will be. You’ve started the journey! Great work!
We’ve come a long way in this course so far. We’ve gone from drawing our hands and learning about basic forms to learning about color theory and finally making our first painting of the four major forms with black and white acrylic paint. . When I say “Learning to paint” this isn’t something that can just be learned with one quick lesson. There aren’t really any tricks or shortcuts. If you want to learn to paint you must dedicate yourself to it, and treat it as a discipline. You will improve with each painting you make. What I’ve outlined in the previous lessons is a foundation which will translate towards painterly thinking.
Upon completing the previous lessons you should now posses a skill set. Think of it as a certain set of skills which you are trying to master. There are analogies that could be made to a variety of other activities which need discipline in order to excel at. I compare painting to music a lot: but in this case I believe the philosophy you should develop towards learning to paint should be closer akin to a student of martial arts. It’s a body and mind duality. Both your dexterity needs to be improved in order to manipulate the brush in a deft manner, but also your mind needs to learn how to stay out of the way and stop naming the things you are drawing or painting. If you really want to learn to paint you can’t just read about it, you need to do it, make mistakes, and then do it over, and over, and over again.
Perhaps you understood how to mix color harmonies very quickly, but are still worried about your drawing skills. These are important factors to consider and if you are truly dedicated to learning to paint then you should begin to address the skills at which you feel the weakest. Below in the Report Card you’ll see a list of skills I’ve tried to teach so far. After each skill I want you to grade yourself on how you are performing at this point. Be honest, no one else will see them. Your weak areas simply need more attention. The problems can be addressed by redoing lessons you don’t feel confident in.
If you want you can print it out and hang it up on your wall to remind yourself what things you want to improve. You should always remember that you are learning a new skill for yourself, and that nothing should stop you from persuing your dreams. If Learning to Paint is a life long dream then it can’t hurt to jump in and try! Personally I feel it is best to show your friends and the world your work immediately (I even have a lesson dedicated to creating a personal blog of your art work), but if this isn’t your style, then so be it. Don’t show anyone your paintings until you are ready to do so, just don’t discount your abilities.
I know this is beginning to sound like some sort of motivational speech. But I include self evaluation as an actual Lesson because it is important to be able to self evaluate if you want to continue to learn how to paint better throughout the years. Learning to paint isn’t about one lesson showing you how to “shade” , it’s the culmination of many lessons and years of work. The next lesson in this course will involve your first real painting where you’ll have your first opportunity to bring everything that we’ve worked on so far into one painting. This is the reason why I want you to take inventory of your current skills before we proceed. We’re still working on basic ideas and techniques but as we begin to combine them things start to get more complicated pretty fast.
When learning how to paint with acrylics the most important thing is to first understand the properties of the colors (pigments) you have chosen to use. As you learned in Lesson 12 Color Theory Basics the most important factor as to how your paint will perform is dependent upon whether or not it is an opaque color. Opaque Acrylic paints will cover a surface better and avoid streaky transparent colors. Then you’ve got to make sure you have a nice surface to paint on. You can check out my Painting on Masonite video if you are looking for a cheap and easy way to have multiple canvases available at all times.
I received a few questions on twitter regarding the fact that I don’t use a paint knife, but instead use my brush to mix my colors on my palette. Instead of trying to explain with words my technique for mixing colors I thought it would just be easier to show so I made this short video.
Once your brush is fully loaded it’s time to paint. When painting with acrylics it’s important to use a lot of paint and kind of glide it onto the surface. If you’ve got a heavy hand you’ve got to lighten up a bit and just let the paint slowly flow off the brush. You can see in the video above when I was pushing harder this actually caused the paint to be more transparent (even though Im using opaque colors) so I went over the stroke again with a lighter stroke and this actually worked better.
When you are painting with acrylics (or oils for that matter) you are going to need to pay attention to two different types of edges which you will see in your subject. These two edges are soft (blended) , and hard. The easiest place to see this is in paintings done of tapestries. In this painting by Carvaggio we can see how he used both soft (blended) values with hard edges.
Look at the dark shadows and how they are crisp and hard, and then look at the large sections of fabric that slowly gradate from light to dark. These are the two types of marks you want to focus on creating. Always ask yourself when painting a shadow, “does this shadow have a hard edge, or a soft edge?” Does the light slowly gradate from light to dark, or is there a hard cast shadow cutting across/behind the object?
For the next assignment you will be creating paintings of the four different shapes found in nature. These are the cube, the cylinder, the cone, and the sphere. These forms can be used in conjunction with one another to create a multitude of different objects and creatures as you learned in Lesson 8 Drawing Form. Now you will be painting them. The process works best if you have some nice white objects that you can set up with a light. But I understand that most people don’t have access to these so I’ve given you the four different shapes from which to paint below. Your brush shouldn’t shade each form the same. For instance, while working on the cube think about making long flat marks. When painting the sphere you can act as if your brush is following the form which it is painting. When Painting the cylinder the strokes will be small little crescents. You will draw a basic sketch with a dark color first, and then plop down large areas of where your highlights and mid tones will be. The last step is to blend it all. There’s a few ways to do this. They are called the “dry brush blending” and “wet into wet” (alla prima) techniques.
With dry brush blending you wipe your brush with a rag after you’ve applied a color. It doesn’t need to be free of all paint, just DON’T put it in your water first to clean it. You want the brush to be dry. After you’ve applied two different values beside each other you can use the dry brush to mix the two values together, this could also create a third middle tone. Watch the video below to see how dry brush blending works with acrylics.
Using black and white acrylic paint you will paint each of the four forms to the best of your ability. You can use the following images as your source material. Take a look at a previous students work if you need inspiration.
Warm and cool colors are important in painting for a number of reasons. The most obvious is that warm colors tend to move forward in space, while cooler colors tend to retreat. This is mainly because of how we experience the world and is pure science. Within the atmosphere there are zillions of little water molecules floating around. The largest of which form clouds and eventually dump rain on us. But the air itself also contains water. So when we are looking faw away to the horizon we are actually looking through a lot of air, which in turn means we are looking at more and more water molecules, and the hills in the distance start looking blue and purple. This is called atmospheric perspective. And it was first labeled and widely used by none other than Leonardo Da Vinci. The second feature of atmospheric perspective is that objects also tend to lose their contrast and take on the color of their background (ie. sky)
Mona Lisa (Leonardo Da Vinci) Classic example of how cool colors recede and warmer colors come to the forefront.
The second thing to remember about warm and cool colors is how they create balance and a sense of fullness within a piece. This is easier to do when painting a landscape where there could be a cool blue sky, and this could be contrasted against the warm orange color of some leaves. But take a close look at an object, and you should be able to see a multitude of other shades and colors within that object itself. The cooler colors can be tints, shades, or tones. But be careful because you can also find warmth in certain shadows as well. However, generally cooler colors are used as shadows, and warmer colors as mid tones, and highlights.
In this painting by Lucien Freud we can see very cool colors dominating many of the shadow tones. This may be because Freud often lit his models with fluorescent lights. Nonetheless look at the nice interplay between warm colors and cool colors in this piece. I’ve made a small scale of colors taken directly from this painting as an example to further study.
Extra Credit: Create a small painting using these same warm and cool colors for all of your values.
The next most important part of color theory is harmony. Color harmony is essentially the art of putting colors together that look good. That’s pretty much it la notice de viagra. I’ll keep using the musical metaphors because in music we also have harmony. So think about color harmony in the same way, except visually. When you here a song you can tell if the musicians are all singing in harmony or not, if there’s one person who is out of key then it also throws the others off as well. Think of color harmony in the same way. When placing colors on a canvas you are creating visual vibrations which can either work, or fight each other. Your goal may be to create intensity and a feeling of unease, and if that is the case then by all means use the opposite of what would be a comforting and harmonious color scheme.
Analogous Color Schemes
Analogous color schemes make use of colors that are directly next to each other on the color wheel.These colors are reminiscent of nature and can be calming to the eye. When using an analagous color scheme it pays to have a very high contrast between your colors. Take a look at the examples below and take note of how they make you feel as you look at them. With painting it is important to remember that you are creating an overall feel to a painting. You’re not just illustrating an event. Things likes analogous color schemes are simply tools which can be utilized to create a certain mood.
Example 1: In this image of various analogous color schemes we can feel a kind of groovy style. Very reminiscent of the 1960s because these types of natural analagous schemes were used very frequently in interior design. What I want you as a painting student to start to see is how this particular color scheme evokes a certain feeling within you.
Example 2: Here’s a great example of analogous color schemes in space. Notice that all these colors are also virtually the same value. The blue end of analogous color schemes can also seem serene and mystical.
Example 3: Here we can see how these color schemes are present in small sections of nature all around us. When looking for this particular color scheme it is sometimes better to look very closely at a small section of nature. In the example above we see yellows, oranges, and some light greens mingling together nicely.
Extra Credit!: If you have access to a digital camera. Go out and take 20 photos of various analogous color schemes which you can find in nature.
3) How to see the value (shade) of color. (Color Value)
First things first! It is important that you know how to buy the right paint for what you want to do.
There’s two types of paint. Transparent and Opaque. When you start painting it is HIGHLY recommended that you start by using only opaque colors. This will reduce the possibility of your paintings becoming streaky and dull. Transparent colors can be used later when we get into glazing. For now you need some strong opaque colors in order to learn how to mix your colors and get them to stick to a surface. So how do you identify which colors are opaque, and which are transparent? Many tubes of paint will have a small box graphic usually on the front underneath the brand name. If the box is black, then it’s opaque. If the box is half full then it’s semi-transparent. And if the box is white, then it’s transparent. Stick to the basics.
The ideal starter palette of Opaque colors would include
Cadmium Red Medium
Cadmium Yellow Medium
That’s it. You can mix all the colors you’ll need from these three. It should be noted that Cadmiums are toxic, as is Titanium white. So don’t eat them. They’re the best available and have been used for centuries. If you’re scared of them then ask the person at the store for help finding other opaque primary colors. I don’t know of any.
Second thing you need is a brush. For brushes there are a few different types. For now just buy a simple mid sized Flat, or Philbert. Around a 6 to an 8 (that’s the size as indicated by a number stamped on the brush). You don’t need any little brushes for details. Not yet. Just get some flat synthetics like the one below, and you’ll be fine.
Find an old cup you don’t want to use anymore to hold some water. And for a palette you can use a piece of cardboard.
The Color Wheel
At this point in the course you will be concentrating on a few basic elements of color theory. This will be expanded upon later but currently you need to grasp the essentials so you can begin painting.
The color wheel
The three primary colors are Red, Yellow, and Blue. Primary colors are called “primaries” because they aren’t a mixture of two other colors. When you mix two primary colors together you get a secondary color. The secondary colors are???…..You guessed it. Orange, violet, and green. Easy isn’t it? So, for those who don’t know, in order to make violet you mix blue and red. To make orange you mix red and yellow. And to make green you mix blue and yellow. Pretty straight forward.
Now, we’ve got some colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. yellow is opposite violet, orange opposite blue, and green opposite to red. These colors which are on the opposite side of the color wheel are called complimentary colors. It is important to memorise all the colors compliments because you use a color’s compliment in order to control color intensity.
Color intensity is, well, the intensity of a color. Think about it as “brightness” or “radiance”. Color straight out of the tube is generally high intensity. In order to lower the intensity of a color (aka make it less bright) you are going to add a small amount of it’s complimentary color. For example: for red, you add a small amount of green to lower the intensity of the red. Just a dab of green and the intensity of that red will come down. Yes they do get darker.
Now, Take a look at the image below. We’ve got a red which is super intense at the top, then by adding green to that red we take down the intensity (as indicated by the second strip down). I know what you’re thinking. It looks brown!! That is where you have to be careful. Take a look at the second image. That is the “brown” (or more correctly a lower intensity red) surrounded by a black box. That brownish red in the context of another color will be red. For the purposes of this course you will be taking down the intensity of all of your colors by adding their respective secondary colors. This is because our eyes rarely see super intense colors in the real world.
Assignment #21 Playing with color intensity.
For this assignment you will start with an intense color, and then slowly add it’s complimentary color in gradual amounts to create a color intensity scale. As you can see in the examples below you can start with a Red, then add a bit of green to get the second gradation, and then more green to that mix to get the third gradation etc. When it comes to dark colors (Blue, and Violet) you can add a bit of white to these in order to see the color intensity manipulated.
The Value Of Color
The darkness or lightness of a color is its value. Just as we can make grey scales from pitch black to white, we can also do the same with colors. Take a look at the image below. We’ve got our happy little primary and secondary colors cascading from light to dark.
This is the one you will be copying.
And here we can see all of their values (darkness)
Now lets look at how we can use the value of color in painting. Check out this painting by Rolling Stone illustrator Philip Burke. Notice how the shadows of the face are done in green, and bright dark reds, but the painting still flows and makes sense. This is because the green/red is the correct value which corresponds to the shadow. You can throw any color in there and it will makes sense as long as the darkness of the color correctly matches. Think of whatever you are painting as a black and white photocopy, and you are simply mixing your colors to match the various greys on the photocopy. Also beware of red, it seems lighter than it really is. A medium red is actually very dark.
Now compare the high value contrast of Philip Burke with the low level color contrast of Edouard Vuillard. In Vuillard’s painting he broke the rules of what color value meant by keeping all of his colors this medium grey. The gradations in value are extremely subtle, but they are still there nonetheless. In the black and white copy of you can still make out how Vuillard finely manipulated the value of his colors to create shadows and depth.
Assignment #22 Color Value Scale.
For this assignment you will be copying the color value scale above. The important thing to remember is that you’ll start with the color out of the tube
Many claim that the real color wheel contains Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and K (which stands for key, not black) . This is true for printing processes and was largely taught to graphic design students in the 1990s. However using cmyk as a color wheel for painting doesn’t make much sense because it ignores a few important factors.
For instance. In printing, in order to make red, one must mix magenta with yellow optically. This means that in order to get a true red (following the cmyk model) you would need to mix a magenta, and then put a thin glaze of yellow on top of it. But in painting there are many more variables at play. For instance there is no “red” as we all know when we go to buy paints. There’s cadmium red, vermilion, and permanent rose and so forth and so on. But the point is that the red that we choose to start with can vary greatly from the get go. When you create any palette of colors you are immediately limiting yourself in some way.And if you limited your palette to cyan, magenta, yellow (not even specified), and key (which isn’t a color, but a tone) then you would be given a different set of limitations.
There is one other commonly held idea about the “real” color wheel. It is a 12 color system based on a rainbow and the proponents believe that this gives an artist the largest possibilities for mixing . If you want to try it the colors are
Cadmium Yellow Pale
Cadmium Green Pale
This set of colors could easily cost more than two hundred dollars. So that’s one major downfall. The second is that you shouldn’t think about one palette as your savior. It won’t be, in fact in the beginning your palette should be limited because the more tube colors you introduce, the harder it will be to create any type of color harmony. Also you should remember that artists personal decisions as to what colors to use on their palettes is as varied as art itself. There is no absolute answer one way or the other. Giving a beginning student this 12 color rainbow mix would be like buying a 7 year a drum set the size of a living room.
The palette I have given above is a very powerful starter palette. As you may have noticed the weakest colors created by this palette were the greens, and the violet. If you are looking to make a stronger green then I’d suggest buying a Pthalo Green, and in order to push your violet I would suggest Dioxazine Violet. Remember though that it is important to master the basics before moving on to a more extended palette!
Up to this point we’ve been focusing on some very basic skills. And many of the techniques and elements will be learned through practice. However, there is another part of becoming a painter that also requires practice. And that is teaching yourself how to look at, and create compositions within a picture plane. Your picture plane is simply the area in which you are drawing. It is the shape of your paper, or canvas. But that rectangle has certain rules regarding how to arrange the elements of your drawing/painting. Composition is the placement or arrangement of visual elements or ingredients in a work of art. It can also be thought of as the organization of the elements of art according to the principles of art.
Ok, so let’s think about painting as we would a musical composition. Musical notes by themselves are not necessarily music until someone comes along and arranges those notes into a composition. The same is true for painting. The elements of music are notes, tones, keys, and beats per minute. These are like the skeletons of what music is made from.
So what are our Elements of Art? Well, here you go. ( I’ve coupled every element with an artist that makes it easier to understand.)
The Elements of Art
Line – the visual path that enables the eye to move within the piece (Ralph Steadman illustration)
Shape – areas defined by edges within the piece, whether geometric or organic (Leger)
Color – hues with their various values and intensities (Josef Albers)
Texture – surface qualities which translate into tactile illusions (Albrecht Durer)
Form – 3-D length, width, or depth (Jenny Saville)
Value – Shading used to emphasize form (Carvaggio)
Space – the space taken up by (positive) or in between (negative) objects (Richard Diebenkorn)
Now you should have an idea as to what the Elements of Art are. Line, Shape, Color, Form, Space, Texture, Value. These are the skeleton, the basic elements. So let’s get back to what makes a composition. As we previously stated a Composition is the organization of the elements of art according to the principles of art. The principles of art are the set of rules or guidelines of art that are to be considered when creating a piece of art. They are combined with the elements of art in the production of art. So these principles are somewhat more abstract than Line, or Color. But they aren’t too difficult to understand. The principles are movement, unity,harmony, variety, balance, emphasis, contrast, proportion, and pattern.
Movement shows actions, or alternatively, the path the viewer’s eye follows throughout an artwork. Movement is caused by using elements under the rules of the principles in picture to give the feeling of action and to guide the viewer’s eyes throughout the artwork. (Degas)
Unity is the quality of wholeness that is achieved through the effective use of the elements and principles of art. The arrangement of elements and principles to create a feeling of completeness. (Japanese Print. Artist Unkown)
Harmony is achieved in a body of work by using similar elements throughout the work, harmony gives an uncomplicated look to your work. The way the picture makes everything come together. (Van Gogh)
Variety (also known as alternation) is the quality or state of having different forms or types. The differences which give a design visual and conceptual interest: notably use of contrast, emphasis, difference in size and color. (Diego Rivera) Also check out how he used pattern, and repetition to create Unity! 😉
Balance is arranging elements so that no one part of a work overpowers, or seems heavier than any other part. The three different kinds of balance are symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial. Symmetrical (or formal) balance is when both sides of an artwork, if split down the middle, appear to be the same. The human body is an example of symmetrical balance. The asymmetrical balance is the balance that does not weigh equally on both sides. Radial balance is equal in length from the middle. An example is the sun. (Wayne Thiebaud)
Contrast is created by using elements that conflict with one another. Often, contrast is created using complementary colors or extremely light and dark values. Contrast creates interest in a piece and often draws the eye to certain areas.(Raymond Pettibon)
Proportion is a measurement of the size and quantity of elements within a composition. In ancient arts, proportions of forms were enlarged to show importance. This is why Egyptian gods and political figures appear so much larger than common people. The ancient Greeks found fame with their accurately-proportioned sculptures of the human form. Beginning with the Renaissance, artists recognized the connection between proportion and the illusion of 3-dimensional space. (Brueghel)
Pattern and rhythm (also known as repetition) is showing consistency with colors or lines. Putting a red spiral at the bottom left and top right, for example, will cause the eye to move from one spiral, to the other, and everything in between. It is indicating movement by the repetition of elements. Rhythm can make an artwork seem active. (Duchamp)
Now that you’ve got a good idea about all the elements and principles of Art is is time to incorporate them into some small sketches.
Drawing #19 Thumbnail Sketches of the 9 Principles of Art.
Time Required: 30 minutes to 1 hour
For this drawing you will first draw 9 small boxes evenly spaced across your paper. In each box you are going to illustrate a principle of design using only rectangles and squares. No round edges! Really think about how to best illustrate each principle and you’ll start to get a feeling for what they really mean. These types of visual thinking are better taught through practice rather than words and explanations. You can see an example of a students drawing below.
Drawing#20 Small object compositional sketches.
Time Required: 1 Hour 30 Minutes
For this drawing you will divide your paper into smaller sections (at least 5) . In each small rectangle draw a sketch for a composition based upon 4 or 5 different small objects. Play around with proportion and cropping the image. Make sure your composition incorporates all four edges. This is most easily achieved by having the objects you are drawing to be cropped off be the edge of your picture plane. Then start working with different principles of art, and look at how you can use these ideas to create more interesting compositions.
Continuing our exploration of the elements of drawing/painting now leads us to Value and how to shade. Value is the term we use when referring to how dark or light a shadow is. This is extremely important as we progress towards painting because every color also has a darkness. We will be exploring the value of color in subsequent lessons. This easiest way to understand Value is to think about shading. The “value” is basically how dark the shading is.
Another important thing to remember is that every object because of it’s color will utilize a different section of the value scale. In the interest of clarity we will assign each differnt darkness on the value scale a number. 0 will be the darkest dark and 10 will be the lightest light. Thinking this way enables us to see what range of values we will need to utilize in our drawings. A black bowling ball in low lighting will have a value scale of around 0 to 6, while a snowman in the sun will have a value scale of around 4 to 10. It is impotant to know where the objects we are drawing lie on the value scale because we want to accurately portray what is in front of our eyes. It is quite common that during figure drawing sessions that a beginning student will make the entire drawing all too dark. Making a caucasian model appear as if they were of African decent.
Drawing # 17 Value Scales
For this drawing you will be utilizing the grid below. Print out the grid provided and do your best to shade the values as close as possible. You can apply shade in a number of ways. As you can see in the example below the student has utilized different techniques including scribbling, making little circles, holding the pencil on it’s side, pointalism, and cross hatching. Get creative and explore different ways to apply value to paper.
Now that we have some practice matching values we can move on to applying what we’ve learned here to a drawing. Find an image (photograph) which has a broad range of values. Print it out (or you can use a photo or magazine image) . It is important that you also have a printed out value scale at this point, or you can use the one you just shaded. As you look at your image – hold up the value scale right up against the image and find out how dark you will need to render the drawing. Be careful when looking at your lights (whites). Many times what you may assume is the whitest white ( 10 ) on the value scale will be closer to a light gray ( 7 ) . It is not necessary to include all 10 values in one drawing. When you are starting out just try to get three or four different values in your drawing. The more values you can realistically render, the more realistic the drawing will look.
Drawing #18 – Value Drawing from a printed image (charcoal)
Set aside an hour and half of time and try to copy the images major values as accurately as possible. Start off with gray paper. You can buy gray paper, or rub down a white sheet of paper with charcoal and rub it in with a tissue until the entire page is a silvery gray. Start off plotting out where the darkest darks go and work towards the light. If you are using gray paper then you can use white chalk to render your lights. If you made your paper gray by rubbing it down with charcoal you can use your eraser as a drawing tool and you will simply erase your lights. You can use charcoal pencils, or the old fashioned sticks. Once the drawing is finished you can”fix” the drawing by spraying it with an aerosol hairspray. This will prevent the drawing from smudging. There are commercial fixatives available but there’s nothing wrong with just using hairspray.
How many different values can you see represented in the example drawing below? Before you learn how to shade you must learn how to see different values. Once you can look around a room, and imagine that everything is black and white, then you will know that you can draw virtually anything. How to shade is in reference to a technique such as cross hatching, or scribbling.
copy of a duane kassan drawing
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