Category Archives: Color Studies

Color Studies (4) – Triadic Colors

I changed the title of the previous post for better record keeping. I am still staying home, still doing art.

This week I tried triads – 3 colors evenly spaced around the color wheel. A word on color wheel: I use a commercial one from The Color Wheel Company. Many artist make their own, especially if you work in watercolor, because different brands of colors do differ slightly. It makes sense to lay out your frequently used colors in a circle, add shade and tint, or even make a value chart for each of it. You can also make a list of the complementary, analogous and triadic color schemes. I think this kind of work may help you to understand your color better, and I always feel like I should do it, but … What can I say? I am lazy and unorganized.

Back to triads. They are somewhere between analogous and complementaries. Much more vibrant than the former, and less contrasting than the latter. More importantly, the color spectrum yielded is much richer – if you mix them properly, they can give you almost everything.

That caused a problem for me. As you can see from my first try, I used red, blue and yellow, and I mixed them, got everything, and confused myself. What’s the difference between using a triad and using everything then?

Portrait of a Young Woman, watercolor on paper, 7.5 x 10 in, April 2020

So I tried to separate the colors in later attempts:

Portrait of a Young Woman, watercolor on paper, 7.5 x 10 in, April, 2020
Portrait of a Young Man, watercolor on paper, 7.5 x 10 in, April, 2020

Of course later after a few minutes of googling, I found out that when using a triad in a design, you usually choose a dominant color and that’s how to differentiate it from using everything.

So far I’ve tried some of the most commonly used color schemes. These are things I learned from doing these studies:

  • Limiting palette helps me to explore the potential of each color more extensively.
  • It also forces me to pay more attention to value.
  • Colors are very distracting, so it’s good to have a strategic approach. Do I want a harmonious piece or a contrasting one? Do I want the solemnness or the richness? Etc.
  • Restrictions spur creativity.

There are more color combos one could explore: tetrad – four colors consisted of two sets of complementary; split complementary – choose one color, and add the two on each side of the complementary (a narrower triad) etc. Maybe I’ll come back to these in future. Maybe.

Color Studies (3) – Analogous Colors

In order to push myself to work more, I participated a “100 Day Art Challenge” by New Masters Academy, of which I became a member last year upon a Black Friday sale. I committed myself to figure or portrait drawings or paintings for 100 days. We’ll see how it turns out.

Since it’s not a small commitment (for me at least), I think it would be a good idea to shoot a couple of more birds in the meantime, such as incorporating some color studies into the challenge.

This week I did a couple of small paintings using analogous colors. Analogous colors are a group of 3 to 5 colors next to each other on a color wheel. From a design point of view, complimentary colors are for contrast, and analogous ones are for harmony.

I tried to limit my choices to 3. With tint and shade of each color and various intensity, there should be enough to work with. In theory.

For the first painting, I planned to use red-orange, orange, and yellow-orange. In practice, the darkest I could get is a deep shade of red-orange. As it seemed not dark enough, I kept adding black to it, and in some places, I just used black directly. The black also contributed to the greenish color in the background. Meanwhile, since I mixed my yellow-orange with yellow and orange, some of that yellow also got in. Looking back, I blamed my disastrous control of color on a lack of design. The reference I chose has strong contrast, and darker colored clothing. If I want to use colors in a limited way, I need to go beyond a literal reading of the reference, and have a better strategy for value:

Portrait of a Young Woman, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12in, April 2020

For the second painting, I chose yellow-green, green, and blue-green. I think I still got the value wrong in some places, but at least I stayed within my color choices:

Female Figure, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12 in, April 2020

The last one I used blue, blue-violet, and violet. I started this painting with Tombow water-soluble markers. Tombow has a hard and a brush tip, allowing more diverse lines. However, they are not as water-soluble as Crayola. There are lines I couldn’t disappear with water, and a big part of the painting process was to resolve the problems caused by those lines.

Portrait of a Woman, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12 in, April 2020

In the end, I am very glad I did this experiment. Even with the painting I cheated, I can still see how analogous colors help bringing things together. It’s not that each painting has to follow a color formula, but these are tools to help us to achieve harmony. Because of that unifying power, using analogous colors is also a great way to create a mood in paintings.

More on Monochromatic and Morandi

As I mentioned before, the paintings of Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) often have a monochromatic look, even though he used a lot of colors. The result is a very restful and understated effect – something I always find difficult to achieve. Usually the more time I spent on a piece, the more colorful it becomes, as if keeping quiet on canvas or paper is against my nature. The same goes with details and edges. The more time spent, the more definition, and the looseness and gestures are lost.

So I tried a couple with limited time and clear goals. 1)No more than 2 hours per piece; 2) limited palette to create near monochromatic effect; 3) less definition; 4) lost edges; 5) be quiet.

Still life, acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 in, 2019
Still life, acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20 in, 2019

I think goal setting with time restriction is an effective way of practicing. Right? :))

More on Color Studies (1) – Verdaccio

Verdaccio is a greenish gray color achieved by mixing of black (often mars , yellow, and white. It’s used by old masters for underpainting, especially in fresco painting. In portrait or figure painting, the greenish gray served as a complementary to the pinkish flesh color, and it also creates a contrast in temperature. The result is a more vibrant skin tone.

Contemporary artist Cuong Nguyen applies the verdaccio technique to not only oil painting, but also pastel and watercolor, with stunning result.

Here is a poster from his oil painting workshop:

MICHAEL.jpg
Cuong Nguyen, oil painting, workshop poster.

Here is a screenshot from his pastel drawing youtube video:

You can see in pastel drawing, Cuong really pushes the green. Another sample from him:

Cuong_Nguyen_workshops

Don’t be fooled by the layout of the above poster though. This is not a 4 or 5 step drawing. You need to sharpen your pastel pencils, apply lightly, and work many, many, many layers.

I tried this method in a simplified way during a life drawing session, and here’s the result:

Wenda, pastel on paper, 18 x 24 in, 2019

Since camera was not allowed during life drawing, I didn’t record the early stage of this piece. I did start with leaf green, and my fellow artists thought I was going for a Halloween theme. Here are some other things I noticed:

  • CarbOthello pastel pencils are great. Versatility and control at the same time.
  • While it takes many layers to cover the green, a little bit showing through is not that bad. After all, our veins are sort of that color.
  • If you want to achieve Cuong’s level realism, you need a better quality paper to take more layers; keep your pencils sharp (which I totally ignored), and a lot of patience.
  • Be careful about the fixatives. I used Krylon Workable Fixatif. It makes my drawing darker and grainier.

Some day, I’ll try this verdaccio technique in oil.

Color Studies (2) – Monochromatic

Of the three components of color, hue, value and saturation, I personally find value the most difficult. Colors are attractive and distracting, and it could be difficult to discern values accurately from all the colors in front of us. Monochromatic painting is a great way to train your eyes this way.

In traditional Chinese brush paintings, many of which are monochromatic, it’s the value changes through the control of water that create the art. I took a few lessons of Chinese brush painting one summer, and lessons were mainly copying old masters. This is one of the paintings I copied:

After Qi Baishi, ink on Xuan paper, summer 2018

Monochromatic is a good strategy when time is limited. In life painting, it saves the trouble of finding the right skin color and allows me to focus on value and shape.

Woman, ink on watercolor paper, 9 x 12 in, 2018

In landscape scene with overwhelming branches and leaves, monochromatic approach simplifies the view. This plein air was done in burnt sienna. I included some of the visitors I had during the painting – out of proportion, I know, but a lot of fun.

Fox and Caterpillar at West Valley, acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20 in, 2018

More than often, monochromatic painting is used as underpainting. It serves as a value map, but also allow some color strategies. (I found this post by Mitchel Albala very helpful.)

Another approach is to do a monochromatic underpainting, and glaze over it with transparent colors, often times many layers. For acrylic, that means adding quite some medium to the color. My selfie is done this way – dozens of layers. I have to admit, I doubt I will ever use this method again. Too tedious.

Selfie, acrylic on canvas board, 16×20 in , 2018

I think in theory it could be done with watercolor too, for watercolor is transparent in nature. Even the opaque ones, with enough water, become transparent to some extent. From what I heard, to glaze in watercolor, the key is to wait for the underpainting or the previous layer really really dry, bone dry. Maybe someday I will try it.

Color Studies (1) – Complementary and Temperature

A most common way to practice complementary colors is simple choose a pair and limited your palette to those two (plus tints, shades, mixtures maybe). Like this:

Pastel drawing of a horse(?) skull
Skull (horse?), soft pastel on paper, 18×24 in, 2018

Whichever pair of colors we choose, it is most likely one warm and one cool. In a painting lesson I took years back, we used the complementaries a bit differently. We create a painting in cool colors, and paint the warm complementaries on top. Here’s the result:

Still life, acrylic on canvas board, 16×20 in, 2018

Unfortunately I failed to take a picture of the cool painting underneath, though I did let the cool colors showed through here and there. The colors were not strictly restricted to one pair of complementary colors, but it is within certain range.

I’d say the result is quite different than if I started with these topical colors. There’s a solidity and unity unique to this method.