Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Learning color for beginners

Dear Stape:

My query is to hear your thoughts on tips for learning color for beginners.... Ive have taken the daunting step of wanting to learn all about color but don't know what should be the first thing I should start with?
I predominantly have been working in graphite and charcoal and with so much information available and so many varied opinions on color, where should I begin to ensure I learn the principles of color in the right way and not become overwhelmed in the process.

Thanks mate.
Synesthesia Daubinatus

Dear Synesthesia:

Artists work to improve their color all of their lives, but I suppose their are a number of good ways to begin . I guess I would recommend, (bullets please)

  • Start out simply, use a three color palette to begin with red, yellow, blue, (plus white) rather than trying to learn your way around a wide palette.
  • Learn to mix the colors that you you see in a still life. Set up simple arrangements and try to match the colors as exactly as you can. Learning to accurately mix the color notes you see in front of you is a basic color skill, and you need to have it mastered.
  • Do some small (8 by 10) color copies of paintings from books that have color that you like. Again be careful to match the colors as closely as you can.
  • When you have learned to work from a three color palette enlarge your selection so it contains a warm and a cool version of each color I suggest Cad. red light, Ultramarine, and Cadmium yellow medium and Permanent Alizarin , Cobalt blue, Cadmium lemon . This is not the normal palette I recommend, but one chosen to give you a warm and cool of each hue for study purposes.
  • I have written a little on color on this blog, if you search my archives under the tag "color" you will get to most of those.
  • Here are some books on color to study;
"The enjoyment and Use of Color" by Walter Sargent. An old but classic text, it takes some study and you may want to skim over the exercises, but it does present the ideas that govern color usage.

"Keys to Successful color" in Landscape painting by Foster Caddell. A simple primer on impressionist color for the landscape painter. An easy read and contains excellent illustrations explaining the artists decision making.

"Principles of Color" by Faber Birren. A standard art school text, relatively easy to read and not too technical . Some texts are scientific beyond the needs of one learning color as a beginner.

James Gurney has a new book coming out very soon, called "Color and Light" I expect it will be excellent, I have seen some of the material on his blog.

  • Robert Gamblin has an excellent explanation of color and the Munsell system for charting it, here on his companies web site. It is a very high production video and exciting visually. You should learn a little about the system and its terminology.
  • Sling paint, lots of it. In the long run, that's what it takes, after gaining an understanding of how color works you can work towards a personal way of handling color.


Unknown said...

There are the color charts the Richard Schmid way (described in his book Alla Prima).
Here's some food for thought, printers have found cyan, magenta and yellow to be the best "primaries" for subtractive color.

Plein Air Gal said...

Another excellent book is "Blue & Yellow Don't Make Green" by Michael Wilcox which is now in its second edition and popular with many art teachers.

billspaintingmn said...

Sling paint! Sounds like a western!

Kyle V Thomas said...

Sling Paint, perhaps a sequel to Sling Blade?

Potato said...

I have a hard time reading white print on a black background

Barbara Carr said...

Another good book is "Color; a Natural History of the Palette," by Victoria Finlay. A really fun read about such things as turkey red, which involved various chemicals, animal dung and rancid castor oil. I haven't used this myself, but I have used these three (plus mixed titanium/zinc white) for a limited palette: Old Holland blue, Cadmium lemon and quinacridone red. That blue is fantastic!

Unknown said...

Stape, I am just catching up on my blog reading, and must say that I really enjoy your posts on history and culture. The Greek pottery was very interesting, and I look forward to your insights on furniture. Thank you for all of your continued insights.

mariandioguardi.com said...

Some people call it a Kaiser blade.
Sorry, this is film comment.I couldn't help myself.

I've used the magenta, cyan, lemon yellow, white and black. It's based on four color printing . As a primary pallet, it works out very nicely as way to learn about mixing your colors but later you are still going to have to deal with the relativeness of warm and cool colors and move on.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That is a good book, but I limited my selection to books specifically about color.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Plein air Gal;
Is that a good book? I haven't read it.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It is an Eastern in this case.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Never seen that movie. Never seen most movies.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Read it in Google reader. Or look at my sidebar for a work around.I though about changing it, I like it but there have been complaints. I did a poll of the readers. 2/3 of them said keep it. I did.

Stapleton Kearns said...

or click View-page style-no style in many browser that will put it into the black on white.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I just finished that book. I thought it was interesting but I didn't think it was terribly well written.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks. I am going to have to let folks recover for a while before I barrage them with furniture.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Kaiser Blade? You lost me.
I like the named pigments, what is cyan made out of? Not cyanomese cats is it?

Roberto said...

@ Ms. Syn Esth Esia
The best book for beginning students I have found is:
‘The Magical Effects of Color’ by Joen Wolfrom
It’s actually written for quilters and has many beautiful photos of some amazing quilts. While Ms. Wolfrom’s book does not cover the mixing of paints, it is a well written introduction to basic color theory, with many excellent examples for the use of color in creating color effects such as: depth, iridescence, luminosity, luster, opalescence, and transparency.
A good beginning book on color for painters (there are many) is:
‘Color Theory Made Easy’ by Jim Ames.
A little more advanced, but very readable is:
‘Color’ by Paul Zelanski and Mary Pat Fisher. This one explores several color theories, color perception, the psychology of color, color as a design element, and more.
For a much deeper exploration, I would strongly suggest:
‘Vision and Art, the biology of seeing’ by Margaret Livingston.

Stape- I really enjoy your blog. I read it regularly and always learn something practical from your approach. Thanx, and keep up the good work! -RQ