Exploring Color

Exploring Color

I just posted a new color chart on my Instagram @linda.wandt.art and it got some comments from people saying they wanted to do the same! That makes me so happy, so here’s a new technical post.

I paint with oil because I adore what can be achieved with them, and I’m sort of addicted to the tactile sensations of working with oil paint. Beyond that, the colors are vibrant and luscious – if you are working with professional grade paints. Color is such a crucial part of painting, and I’d like to go into that a bit by talking about some of my favorite color charts and explorations into color theory – the caveat of this is understanding that I still have A LOT to learn about color theory, but I do want to share some of what I’ve explored so far.

The charts I’ve found to be most informative as a starting point are from the book “Portrait Painting Atelier” by Suzanne Brooker. I can not recommend it highly enough. For more detail, check the book out!

Taking a good look at your colors and understanding them by Hue (color family), Value (light or dark) and Chroma (intensity) will help you a ton and facilitate the choices you make. If you have never made your own color wheel (as an adult), I recommend doing that before this. For value, you can buy a grey-scale chart, but I recommend creating your own for the experience and deepening your understanding.

grey scale-web
My grey scale and blacks chart. Mine has a mistake! I recommend your scale goes to 11, so your mid-value is actually, you know, mid.

For this exercise you need a 16 x 20 sheet of canvas paper or canvas, which you grid out with pencil and ruler into 1 1/2 inch squares, seven across and about 9 blocks down. I like to add a block at the end (making 8) for notes – the pigment number, it’s opacity rating, and what I used to neutralize it. I also label the hue and brand. This chart takes time – be prepared for that, this is a labor of love! I also recommend you date your chart on the back, for more information about the colors you are using over time. I use a 3/4” flat synthetic brush. The first square is the color straight from the tube, the second is the tint (mixed with white). Next is tone (mixed with mid-value grey), then Shade (mixed with black.) Next you Warm the color, and in the next square you want to cool it. Finally, create a neutral by mixing the color with its compliment. This chart can now serve as a reference and builds your memory of altering your colors. If the colors being mixed are too dark, I sometimes add a teeny tiny bit of white to the mix to show its properties better.

New Blue Chart-web
New Blue Chart I just made. Compare it to the old one below, and you can see the advancement of my understanding about creating neutrals – here, the color in hue remains, it’s still blue in the first neutral column. The second neutral column is a sometimes a chromatic black, since I used orange, the compliment of blue to neutralize my mixes.
Old Blue Chart-web
This is my blue chart from years ago. I wanted to revisit my charts for the experience and with the paints I am currently using. Notice how green some of those “neutrals” are!

Here is a chart I just made from Al Gury’s “Alla Prima” – (another book I can’t recommend highly enough.) tint chart_webIt’s basically a tint chart with some color interactions to show how one color can affect another by being next to it. It also starts to show the properties of earth reds that can be selected as flesh recipe bases, but I’m working on a more thorough chart of that and it’s not done yet. Want even more? Make charts like the value scale, but with the colors’ compliments ranging from (for example) alizarin crimson to viridian green with the chromatic black in the center. Play with other color interactions! It’s fun and hands-on learning!

Check out this link for Munsell color information.

Let’s talk real quick about creating form and the two ways to do so – through value, or temperature. We are all familiar I think with value change, but a really important aspect is temperature change. Remembering that warm colors pop forward in space and cool colors recede is invaluable for creating the illusion of forms in space, in addition to neutralizing colors to look farther away.

What are your favorite color theory books? I’m waiting for a classic Joseph Albers (this link is great!) to arrive by mail, and would love to hear what other people have found most informative! Thanks for reading, and don’t be shy, keep in touch!

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