Let’s talk color.

The Itten color wheel was introduced to me many, many years ago by another artist and it is one of the biggest tools that have impacted my work. Like most artists, I had heard of “color harmonies” but besides vaguely understanding that “complements” worked together well, I didn’t really understand how colors could be put together harmoniously. Once I completely understood the wheel, I found it to be an easy way to create more powerful images. (well, nothing with regards to painting is easy, let’s just say I got more control over my paintings.)

Color harmonies are like playing a musical “chord” on a piano. The right notes put together make a pleasing sound. Why is that? If my son bangs out 4 or 5 notes on a keyboard (he has had no lessons) chances are that those notes he hits at one time aren’t going to sound very nice together. They will be “discordant” or even hard to hear without wincing. Why? Because musical harmonies are made up of thirds, fourths, and fifths. The “good math.”

Guess what? Color relationships are the same.

Below is my painting, Threads. It is made up of a family “chord” or relationship of 5 colors.

This “chord” of colors works well together because it is a double-split 5 chord.

Somehow, we artists mistakenly think of “backgrounds” as a secondary thing in a painting. As though it is a “tagalong” to the main subject which we worry about near the end… not so. Here the color dominance of the painting is blue-green. Without thinking about and setting up the painting to show a blue-green dominance, I could never think about how that color is part of a chord “family” and how to control my dominaces. Think of a dominance as the biggest “chunk” or percentage of that hue in the painting. So, running blue-green through the background and her shirt was an easy way to set up the biggest percentage. Her face and the threads are the other four colors across from blue-green on the wheel.

So when artists ask me about “backgrounds” guess what? I ask them to think about them in the very beginning. Before even starting to paint.

Planning = peace.

Below is a demo I did in a workshop a few years ago. In the workshop, I have the class pick out a color chord for my demo painting. They picked a split-complementary of three colors- red-orange, red-violet, and green.)

Then I work with those colors only on my demo painting while working from a model alongside them. I also have them pick which color is dominant. The class picked red-orange. This is the photo on the left.

Then, at the end of the demo, I take the wheel and “rotate” it so that the same chord is used, but now the dominant color has changed. Without changing anything else except HOW MUCH of each color was used in the scarf, jacket and background, I shifted the dominance from red-orange (and the accent being green) to the red-orange becoming the accent color and the red-violet becoming dominant. This took all of 5 minutes to adjust (so much fun to mess with my students minds.)

See chords below…

Cool huh?

We think we are at the mercy of our paintings – we are not. We can have control over our images and over color especially.

So if I have piqued your interest, I am teaching an intensive class on Color on June 25th. This is not a pastel class or a portrait class, since understanding color applies to every medium and to every subject. One of my favorite things to do in a color class is to take a finished painting and “take the wheel to it.” In other words, find out what chord- if any- it currently has and change it. Or, if it does not have a chord at all, find one that is close and “snap” the painting to it. It is really fun. And visually a great learning lesson on color. I think visually seeing how the colors can change and resonate better in an image by controlling the chords is very enlightening. This is why included in my color class is the chance for every attendee to send me a painting beforehand so the image can be adjusted through color by “taking the wheel” to the images. I will talk about them all in the afternoon with “before and after shots” so you can see how adding or subtracting a color or two can make a painting sing.

I hope you can join me on June 25th for my Color Class. 10am – 4pm through zoom. $150 through paypal. Just email me to let me know you want a spot. More info will follow in the coming weeks.

And, I am also teaching a Composition Class on June 23rd. Oh man- If you are looking to shake up your work, this class on the Pythagorean Theory of Harmonic Divisions of the Rectangle is for you! Don’t worry- it is not as scary as it sounds, and “good math” applies to composition as well! Just like chords on a piano too. More on that next week.


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