Color Wheel for Painting

What is the correct color wheel for painting? It has been hotly debated for over a century, and everyone seems to have an opinion about what the “real” primary colors are. In the following post I hope to educate you about some of the theories about just which primary colors are the best to be used for painting, and why. Of course I also offer some of my own personal opinion based upon my own studies of color as well as my experience as someone who loves painting in oils.

tertiary colors

The first problem we run into when looking at the various color wheels which can be used for painting involves something called Tertiary Colors. Tertiary colors are created when one mixes a primary color (Red, Yellow, Blue) with one secondary color (orange, violet, green). Generally these are the colors located next to them on the color wheel.

They often have specific names which can get quite exotic such as Sea Green, or Azure. This is because often designers want to come up with a cool name for a color so they can market it better. For various reasons painters have been taught and told to use the RYB color wheel. A few reasons include the fact that artist materials which are available now used to have toxic compounds in them. Now with the advent of dyes it is easier to synthesize a color such as cyan. The one thing to remember however when using these colors is that dyes will fade with age, while real pigments (such as cadmium) have already stood the test of time for centuries. 

First we will be focusing on the Red/Yellow/Blue color wheel which is most often used by painters. In the color wheel above the Tertiary Colors shown are Yellow Green, Blue Green, Yellow Orange, Red Orange, Red Violet, Blue Violet, and Blue Green. This was widely believed to be standard colors to use for quite some time, and is still often used in Art Education up to this day.

old color wheel

An RYB color chart from George Field’s 1841 Chromatography; or, A treatise on colours and pigments: and of their powers in painting

Back in the 18th century the theories surrounding color theory were cemented in the idea that the RYB (Red/Yellow/Blue) was the way to go. These theories have since changed over the years, however the RYB color model is still often used in teaching painting, and color theory up to this day.

These theories were enhanced by 18th-century investigations of a variety of purely psychological color effects, in particular the contrast between “complementary” or opposing hues that are produced by color afterimages and in the contrasting shadows in colored light.

During the 18th century the theory of the RYB model was furthered by two great thinkers. They were Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Michel Eugene Chevreul. They were both transfixed by what is called the Psychological effects of color, and obsessed with how our eyes perceive color. One of the main things they observed was how complementary colors (that means they are opposite each other on the color wheel) created afterimages in our brains when they were “burned” into our eyes. They were also interested in why shadows in colored light would create contrasting shadows. You can download Goethe’s The Theory of Colors here as I’ve uploaded it to this site. It is in the creative commons so there it has no copyright and is in the Public Domain.

After Goethe and his treatise on color, scientists moved away from the RYB color wheel and shifted towards a color wheel which most everyone sees every day. This is the Red, Green, and Blue (RGB) model which still dominates a lot of media to this day (Hint: It’s how your TV works). To understand how this color wheel operates we need to go back to the previous lesson, and further examine how different lights makes different colors as opposed to how pigments (or physical mixtures of color) differ.

In the previous lessons we have talked about Additive and Subtractive colors. Forgive me if I wasn’t clear enough before, but these lessons are meant to be sequential, and therefore sometimes I will withhold information so you can absorb it at different rates.

To put it simply, Additive Color is created by adding color. How do we add color? Well, by using light. That’s why if you get up close to a TV set you will see tiny little bars of Red, Green, and Blue. Learning about additive color is particularly important for those who use a computer to create their imagery, as they are dealing with a medium that is essentially based upon the glow of a computer screen.  Now, what happens when that person decides he wants to print out the image on his screen? The answer is that he will need to deal with another color wheel when the image is printed from a computer screen onto a piece of paper! This is because a piece of paper doesn’t glow, it’s reflecting light from a light bulb or the sun.  As we discussed previously, an object doesn’t hold a certain color because it reflects it, it is a certain color because it absorbs all the other colors in the spectrum. Hence the term, subtractive color.

So we, as painters, aren’t painting with light, we’re painting with paint. Hence, we need to use a color wheel which is specific to our needs. Let’s take a look at the two different types of color wheels. Check out the first one below. This is a classical color wheel which utilizes Red, Yellow, and Blue as the primaries.

There’s some nice oranges and violets in there right? Oh? What’s that, you want them to be brighter and more vibrant? Well, then you can use the Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow color wheel below.  CMYK is the color wheel which is utilized in printing, and has generally been regarded as the “true” set of primaries.

Subtractive Color Wheel

But there’s a few problems with this color wheel. Mainly, it doesn’t exist in nature (as in, natural pigments) as readily available as the colors which have been used for thousands of years. However if you want to oil paint with Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow then you can. But if you believe that oil paints will mix similarly to  a printing machine then you’re fooling yourself. As you have probably already learned, different colors and different pigments have different strengths and weaknesses.

By this I mean every color has different properties. In the printing process CMYK(K stands for black) are often used in transparent glazes. For instance, in order to make red in in CMYK printing you first print a tiny little magenta dot, and then on top of that dot is a yellow which is semi transparent. That’s how you make red. Now with oil paint let’s say that you want to paint a giant red object. If you were painting by utilizing the CMYK printing model you’d have to first paint an entire layer magenta, wait three days, and then on top of that you would glaze a bit of yellow on top of it to get your red. So yes, it is possible to paint with CMYK, but the simple answer is that it would simply take FOREVER to finish a painting, because we’re not machines, and paint takes a long time to dry.

So what do we do as painters? Which color wheel should we use? I would suggest that you (that’s right, you) find a palette that you enjoy working with. Limit it to no more than 10 colors, and get used to it. It takes a long time to learn how to properly mix and see color so find a palette that you feel comfortable manipulating. I know for me I like to use Cadmium Red Medium, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Pthalo Blue, Pthalo Green, Alizarin Crimson, Yellow Ochre, Ultramarine Blue, Raw Umber, Permanent Violet Medium, and Titanium White. And that’s what I’ve used for numerous painting tutorials that I’ve done. It’s a hybrid of both CMYK as well as the Old RYB models. With RYB it can be difficult to make a nice brilliant violet as well as green. So what do you do? You buy them 🙂 And if you want to try to paint with Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow then you can. These colors are generally referred to as Process Blue, Process Red, and Process Yellow. They’re dyes so they won’t last as long (meaning they’ll fade faster) as the classical pigments  but they could be interesting to experiment with. For me? I’ll stick to Cadmiums, Ultramarine, Titanium, and Cobalt. There’s a reason why they’ve been around for thousands of years.

Properties of Color

Properties of Color

The three main properties of color are Hue, Intensity, and Value.

Hue refers to the color of something, meaning that when we speak of green (for instance) and it’s greeness we are referring to the Hue.

Intensity refers to the saturation or “vibrancy” of a color. In the graph below you can see how Intensity can differ in a color. Intensity of a color can be changed in a few different ways.

1: Adding white to a color will lighten it and also diminish it’s intensity. Adding white to a color is commonly referred to as tinting the color.

2: Adding black to a color will also diminish it’s intensity. This is commonly reffered to as a Shade.

3: Adding a mixture of grey to a color will dimish its intensity. Grey is often employed instead of using white and black (independently) as it can  allow the value of the color to stay close to the original and avoid making a color too dark, or too light.

4: Adding a compimentary color will diminish the intensity. If you don’t know about complimentary color then please check out Color Theory Basics.

Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. This was also covered in Color Theory Basics, as well as Creating Value Scales in Color.

Now that we know the three basic properties of color we can move on to some principles of color. Think of the properties of color as the skeleton of what makes a color what it is. But there’s a lot more to color than just it’s measurable attributes! Colors talk to each other and operate as a community. It is nearly impossible to experience a single color all by its self. So that’s the first hurdle you need to get over in beginning to understand color theory. Every color is effected by the colors around it.

But that’s not all! As we discussed in the introductory lesson (Intro to Color Theory) color is also based on subjective considerations as well. For instance, some color is used symbolically such as a bride wearing white at a wedding. This was originally done to show purity. On the other hand Black is generally symbolically worn at funerals. Green is worn for St Patricks day. Red and Green are the colors of Christmas. Orange the color for Halloween. But again, it is important to reiterate that these colors are just common for the culture I come from. Perhaps someone is reading this in Tehran or New Delhi. They will notice that they too have their own ceremonial colors that differ from mine (please comment any ceremonial colors distinct to your culture below!).  So remember that colors can also be used symbolically.

Another consideration is that there are real measurable frequencies and wavelengths for color. These are measured in Terahertz and Nanometres. In this graph you can see the measurable frequencies and wavelengths in the primary and secondary colors.

A very creative artist who had a strong proclivity towards scientific inquiry could surely make some interesting paintings based solely of the physical attributes of color and this measuring system. However, the vast majority of artists will be looking at different properties and principles of color in order to craft their works and the realism (or lack thereof) and mood they wish to transmit to the viewer.

There’s one element of color I’ve been hiding from you thus far. And that is that color exists in two different ways. Color exists as pure sunlight which can be broken up by using a prism and these colors have their own properties, and through artificial means such as pigments, dyes, chemical concoctions, nature, and paint. Now the tricky part we need to reconcile is that without light we obviously can’t see colors. So in the full scheme of things we need sunlight (which holds its own spectrum of color) to shine down from the sky, hit an object on earth, bounce off the object, and into our eyes, where it’s sensed by light sensitive cells, at which point it is transmitted and processed by our brain, and then in our brain it relays the relevant information and associates it with words, feelings, or emotions. “Yes, the ocean is blue. Beautiful”

But it doesn’t stop there. Our brains also have a propensity to try and make sense of the world, and as painters we must walk the line of dealing with illusion. After all, a canvas is a flat two dimensional object and we want to create an illusion of depth, form, and emotion, on a flat surface.  So we must be aware of the properties of color if we want to have a full set of tools to create the illusions we want to on the canvas.

In the following frames we will be looking at some of the properties of color in sunlight. And some of the properties of color as they pertain to how the brain tries to make sense of them.

In 1676 Sir Isaac Newton used a prism to separate and analyze a spectrum of colors. He could see that by analyzing sunlight one could see all of the hues besides purple. We have the same group of colors  in the first image above. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Dark Blue, Violet. Now, if we take these colors,  and mix them, we will get white. Remember we’re talking about sunlight here! Obviously these colors react differently when they are in a physical form such as paint.

So why do we get white when we mix colors of light, and get brown when we mix paints? Well, the answer isn’t as simple as it may seem. Light works in a strange way so take a second to absorb what I’m about to tell you. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Dark Blue, and Violet all make up the full spectrum of colors in sunlight. Now, lets say we take one of these colors out, for instance Yellow. So we are left with Red, Orange, Green, Blue, Dark Blue, Violet. What color do we end up with? The answer is that we get the compliment of the color which we removed from the spectrum, so in this case of removing yellow from the spectrum we get violet. Since you all know your color wheels and complimentary colors by now it is quite easy to answer this question time and time again. If we isolate blue we get orange. Isolate Red and we get Green. Think of it like this, by taking out red we are still dealing with Yellow and Blue. Mix yellow and Blue, and surprise! It’s green. The compliment of red.

Properties of color

Now that you’re probably ready to start pulling your hair out let me try to explain why this is.  Our eyes can’t see the  individual hues when combined in the full spectrum . So what you probably were thinking is that things that are red are red because they are absorbing the red part of the spectrum of colors right? Wrong! 😀 A red apple is red because it can absorb every color but red! So when we see a red apple it is absorbing  Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Dark Blue, and Violet. It’s reflecting the red color of the spectrum because all of the other colors are absorbed! So what happens when we shine a green light on a red apple? The apple will appear black since there is no red present to be reflected and all the colors are absorbed.

Take a look at the image below. Here I have illuminated this strange furry green ball with a red lamp.  The result is obvious. The ball absorbs most all of the red light and doesn’t have any green light to reflect the “greeness” of the ball. This causes the ball to look black and not green.

So far we’ve spoke a lot about the different properties of color. We have physical properties of color (which are measurable), we have symbolic properties of color, we understand how the properties of color are different for light and paint. In the next lesson  I will speak about the elephant in the room. Our brains, and how they process colors. No, this won’t be another section about emotion or symbolism. In this section it is more scientific as well as a trip into an area of science which still hasn’t concluded just why our brains process color the way that they do.

Introduction to Color Theory

Introduction to Color Theory

Before we get into exactly what color theory is, and how it works, we need to first look at a broader concern as it pertains to how people experience works of art. This is the correct place to begin an Introduction to Color Theory as we will have plenty of time to delve into all of the principles and physical properties of color later. So, what exactly happens when we look at a piece of art and experience it with our senses?  This experience can be called an Aesthetic Experience. Aesthetics (also spelled æsthetics or esthetics) is a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste, and with the creation and appreciation of beauty. It is more scientifically defined as the study of sensory or sensori-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste. More broadly, scholars in the field define aesthetics as “critical reflection on art, culture and nature.”

Introduction to color theory

So what does this mean exactly as it relates to an Aesthetic Experience, and what does this have to do with painting? Well, believe it or not, you most likely encounter and experience many Aesthetic Experiences every day. These could range from looking at a flower and admiring its beauty, to sitting on the couch and watching a commercial. Both of these actions are sensory ones. Since you are a passive observer who is experiencing the world through sensation, and perception. As with any Philosophy there has been much disagreement throughout the years as to what exactly is happening in our brains when we have an Aesthetic Experience.

Kant said that aesthetic experience of beauty is a judgment of a subjective but similar human truth, since all people should agree that “this rose is beautiful” if it in fact is.

Shopenhauer believed that aesthetic contemplation of beauty is the most free that the pure intellect can be from the dictates of will; here we contemplate perfection of form without any kind of worldly agenda, and thus any intrusion of utility or politics would ruin the point of the beauty. It is thus for Schopenhauer one way to fight the suffering.

Oscar Wilde stated that the contemplation of beauty for beauty’s sake was not only the foundation for much of his literary career but was quoted as saying “Aestheticism is a search after the signs of the beautiful. It is the science of the beautiful through which men seek the correlation of the arts. It is, to speak more exactly, the search after the secret of life.”

So before we get into the nuts and bolts of what makes color theory work it is important to first understand that Aesthetics do exist, and the merits and qualities of what makes up an Aesthetic Experience have been debated for quite some time.

A common question regarding Aesthetics is whether or not they are universal, cultural, or personal. For instance someone may have a different reaction to looking at a painting of a rose who has a strong personal memory of the flower. Perhaps seeing roses reminds them of their childhood and cutting them in the garden with their grandmother. In this case it is important to note that Aesthetics aren’t necessarily a rigid set of rules by which one must abide. Rather that our Aesthetic Experiences are also guided by cultural as well as personal experiences. They are more fluid rather than concrete. With this being said it is also important to understand that there are a certain set of rules which have been successful throughout the years in creating a desired response from the viewer. To put it simply, how do we as humans create works of art that elicit certain internal responses in those who view our artwork? And this is where we come to color theory.

As many students on this site have probably already noticed I make a lot of correlations to music as this is an easy comparison I’ve found that many people can grasp. In the case of color theory it is no different. Simply put color theory investigates what elements work in creating a desired effect, much of which is the same as music (listening to music is also an aesthetic experience as it is an experience where someone is experiencing something with their senses that is beyond words).

First take a listen to Mozart’s Requiem while looking at Rubens’ Adoration of the Magi.

Notice how all the notes create harmonies that our ears latch on to? See how the tempo and intensity of the music changes throughout the piece to evoke a certain feeling inside of us? Pay attention to the lack of dissonance, and what type of emotions are stirred up while listening to this piece. Mozart’s Requiem is regarded as a masterpiece not only because of how it makes us feel, but also because of how Mozart interpreted music and utilized his own creative vision to use the tools of music (which had been around hundreds of years before him) to craft something new which struck a nerve with the listener. In painting, one of our tools is color, and how we place our colors on a canvas could be compared to how Mozart arrange his notes on paper.

Now lets listen to another composer who used these same tools of music to create a feeling of dissonance and anxiety. His name was Alfred Schnittke. Take a look at the painting by Jean Michel Basquiat below while listening to Schnittke’s piece and examine what type of emotions begin to well up inside of you.

Now, Schnittke used dissonance, a feeling of chaos, and strange time signatures in his work. Does that makes the work more difficult to listen to?  If so, does this make the work bad? Or is there really such a thing as bad music? And the most important question, could Schnittke have created these compositions without a firm understanding of the rules of music and how to take them apart? Sure, Schnitkke’s pieces aren’t for everybody, just as paintings by Jean Michel Basquiat aren’t for everyone. But what we’re really examining here is just how the use of the mechanics of sound and color are used in order to make us feel a certain way. As we look at the piece by Basquiat we may experience a similar feeling, but here we are experiencing things visually.

Hopefully you have gained an insight into just what Aesthetics as well as Color Theory are, and how to identify the different ways different artists can use the conventions of sight and sound to ellicit certain feelings, and sensations in those who view them.  As we continue on we will be looking at just what are the mechanics of color, and how to use what painters and scientists have studied for hundreds of years and apply them to our own works. It is important to remember however when embarking on this journey that these rules alone will not make “good” paintings. They are just tools, which when combined with finding your own personal inspiration can be manipulated to be used for your own desires in how you want to depict an object with paint, and more importantly, what Aesthetic Experience you wish to invoke in someone else.

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Assessing your progress

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.

Learn To Paint

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.

How To Paint With Acrylics

How To Paint With Acrylics

Lesson 15

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.

paint with acrylics

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.

Assignment #23

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.

cone

Cone

cube-shape

Cube

<img class="alignnone size-full wp-image-317" title="cylinder-shape" src="http://painting-course.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/cylinder-shape.jpg" alt="cylinder-shape" width="467" height="514" srcset="http://painting-course.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/cylinder-shape.jpg 550w, http://painting-course.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/cylinder-shape-272×300 viagra online.jpg 272w” sizes=”(max-width: 467px) 100vw, 467px” />

Cylinder

sphere-shape

Sphere

con-shape-painting

cube-shape-painting

cylinder-shape-painting

sphere-shape-painting

Color Theory Basics

Color Theory Basics

In this Lesson you will learn:

1) What type of paint to buy (Materials)

2) How to control color intensity  (Intensity)

3) How to see the value (shade) of color. (Color Value)

Materials

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

Cobalt Blue

Titanium White

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.

flat-brush

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

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

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.

color-intensity

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.
Color Theory Basics

red-black

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. color-intensity-1

color-intensity-2

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.

color-value

This is the one you will be copying.

————————————————————–

And here we can see all of their values (darkness)

color-value-black-white

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.

philip-burke

philip-burke-scale

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.

vuillard

vuillard-copy

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

Important NOTES!:

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

Titanium White

Cadmium Yellow Pale
Cadmium Yellow
Cadmium Orange
Cadmium Scarlet
Cadmium Red
Quinacridone Rose
Dioxazine Violet
French Ultramarine
Thalo Blue
Thalo Green
Cadmium Green Pale

rainbow

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!

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Composition in Painting

Composition in Painting

Lesson 11:
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)

alice-in-wonderland-drawing

Shape – areas defined by edges within the piece, whether geometric or organic (Leger)

leger

Color – hues with their various values and intensities (Josef Albers)

Homage to the Square, Gained 1959 Josef Albers

Texture – surface qualities which translate into tactile illusions (Albrecht Durer)

durer_rabbit

Form – 3-D length, width, or depth (Jenny Saville)

Jenny-Saville-fat-Female

Value – Shading used to emphasize form (Carvaggio)

david_and_goliath_by_caravaggio

Space – the space taken up by (positive) or in between (negative) objects (Richard Diebenkorn)

diebenkorn-scissors

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
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)
degas-horses

Unity

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)

unity-art

Harmony

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)

van-gogh-iris

Variety

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! 😉

diego-rivera-creation-popol-vuh

Balance

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)

Composition in Painting

Contrast

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)

pettibon-ink-drawing

Proportion

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)

brueghel_hunters

Pattern/Rhythm

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)

duchamp-nude-descending-staircase

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.

principles-of-art-design

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.

composition-drawing

How To Shade

How To Shade

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.

value-scale

How To Shade

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.

skull-drawing-med

copy of a duane kassan drawing

Drawing Skills: Measuring

Drawing Skills: Measuring

Lesson 9

This lesson will deal with learning how to improve your drawing skills by creating a unit of measurement for drawing. You will use your pencil to measure and draw a still life which will be set up in front of you. In the first drawing by Honore Daumier you can see that the practice goes back many hundreds of years. People still use it, because it works.

daumier-pupil-teacher-drawing

All you have to do is hold a pencil or brush at arms length, close one eye, and move your thumb up or down the pencil to make a measurement. then compare that measurement to something else. Check out these two photos of me measuring distances between points on my guitar.
drawing-skills
Here I measure from the bottom of the hole to where the neck meets the body.

measurement-drawing-2

I then keep my thumb in the same place on the pen, and compare my first measurement against the new one.  Now I can make a better estimate as to how wide I need to draw the guitar.  Judging from this photo it is about 1 and 1/3 pens wide at that point.  Now correlate these measurements onto the paper in front of you. Remember, you don’t have to draw it to the scale of your pen measurements. Once you’ve committed to the first initial marks on your drawing you have already created a measuring system.Your units can be whatever size you desire.

Amazon.com Widgets

Drawing #16 – Measuring and drawing a corner of the room.

For this drawing I want you to draw a corner of the room while using this technique. Set aside one hour of time for this drawing and keep measuring and drawing until the hour expires commander viagra belgique.  Remember that it is important to get a base unit of  measurement first!