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Art school

Art classes: week 5

My messy, colourful table at Browne

It’s taking me longer and longer to post these because the exercises I’m working on between classes are taking longer.

Last Wednesday, we finally got to work with paint. This is what I’d been waiting for.

We learnt a bit about colour theory and colour mixing, and then we did some colour-contrast exercises.

Colour theory

There’s a lot to colour theory (as I found when I dove into it more after my class). Matthew gave us enough to be helpful, but without overwhelming us.

We learnt about Isaac Newton’s discoveries, Johannes Itten and his seven types of colour contrast, the development of the colour wheel, additive and subtractive mixing, the Munsell colour dimensions (hue, value, and chroma), complementary colours, and the fascinating phenomenon of simultaneous contrast.

We learnt that orange-red is the warmest colour on the colour wheel, and blue-green is the coolest.

Colour mixing

A bunch of stuff Matthew covered:

  • Colour bias, and “warm” and “cool” colours. The latter can be confusing because there are two ways in which colours can be warm or cool: in the context of the colour wheel, and relative to each other in a painting (based on their bias).
  • You can swipe a thin layer of a paint colour to more easily see its bias.
  • Warmer colours (relatively speaking) feel like they’re coming forward; cooler colours feel like they’re receding.
  • Cool blues have a green bias, which means they have yellow in them! Related to this, things that are low down in a composition feel like they’re coming forward, and things that high up feel like they’re receding.
  • Using a complementary to temper a colour or create a neutral.
  • Darker colour needs more space; lighter colour needs less (for balance in a composition).
  • You have to mix a warm blue (e.g. Ultramarine) and a cool red (e.g. Alizarin Crimson) to get a nice, bright violet. Matthew noticed that my Schminke Akademie Alizarin Crimson had a yellow bias! (It shouldn’t; the bias should just be blue.) No wonder I was struggling to mix a nice violet! I went and bought a Golden Alizarin Crimson and was able to mix a much nicer violet.

Colour-contrast exercises

Matthew gave us four exercises to do:

  • Temperature/depth
  • Complementary
  • Saturation
  • Light/dark

He gave us an A4 photo copy of a design with different-sized squares and rectangles that overlapped each other—some in front of and some behind others. We had to trace this four times onto an A2 sheet.

  • For the temperature/depth exercise, we had to use colour temperature (and value) to indicate depth.
  • For the complementary exercise, we had to create a scheme with one or two complentary pairs (I chose two: violet and yellow, and blue and orange).
  • For the saturation exercise, we had to choose one complementary pair and use the full-strength colours plus mixes of the two (with white) to make varying neutrals.
  • For the light/dark exercise, we had to mix a bunch of earth tones, including black, dark green and some lighter, creamy neutrals to create tonal drama.
My first attempt at the colour-contrast exercises

As you can see, I only finished the first two of these, the temperature/depth exercise and the complementary one, during the class. They were OK, but not great. And, during the temperature one, I discovered that my Schminke Alizarin Crimson had a yellow bias, so my initial violet wasn’t great. Matthew kindly lent me someone else’s Alizarin (😆) so I could mix a better violet, which you can see in the picture.

I redid the exercises at home, and I finished all four of them and was much happier:

My second attempt, from home

From left to right and top to bottom: temperature, complementary, saturation, and dark/light.

Other things Matthew said

  • The easel kickboard should be facing you. 🙂
  • Acrylics dry darker.
  • Tip for landscape painters. NZ greens tend to be quite dark and ochrey. Use a mix of ultramarine and raw umber or ochre.
  • “Think like a sculptor; paint like a painter.”—a quote from someone else?

Tonight, we’re going to paint a still life!