Paint Color Relationships

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The preliminary sketches are done.

The composition looks good and drawn on the support.

Now it is time to lay out paints on the palette.

Opening the tabouret drawer, a small flock of tubes lies patiently waiting to be selected.

The blank canvas looms ominously. Sometimes, fear or lack of knowledge in choosing his color palette immobilizes an artist more than fear of the blank canvas itself.

Learning the relationships of colors and their interaction will give a student the confidence he needs to boldly put those paints on his palette and commence painting.

Living In Harmony

In nature, all colors harmonize. There are no jarring incongruities when nature is left to her own devices. That is because in the natural world, color is a visual representation of the light spectrum. An artist has the challenge of interpreting this natural phenomenon with artificial pigments.

In order for the artist to translate what he sees into what he paints on his paper or canvas, he needs to understand the relationships between colors. A color is not an entity unto itself in nature, but is interpreted through the colors that surround it.

Place a vibrant yellow next to a warm red or orange. It is bright, but positioned next to the red or orange, it just looks warm. However, place that same yellow next to turquoise or purple and it seems to scream at the viewer. It is far more intense in appearance than when surrounded by similar colors. The eyes, and therefore the brain, interpret the same color in two entirely different ways.

Conversely, placing analogous colors together gives a visual sense of serenity to the passage. However, this could also be boring. By varying the intensity or the value of the colors, it maintains the dynamics and vibrancy in the painting.

Color Theory And The Artist’s Painting

Since each color is affected by every other color in the surrounding area, laying out a palette before beginning to paint will help the artist maintain a harmonious painting.

The student should study the references he is using to ascertain the colors in the composition. If the subject matter is a still life that is set up in the studio, compare different tones of paint with the actual objects. Make this comparison while considering how the light and shadows affect the subjects. The shadowed side of a red vase is not merely a glaze of black or grey applied to the shady side. Look at the lightest colors or whites and their shadows and highlights. Many colors may be reflected in them. It can be local or reflected color, or a combination of both.

Start selecting paints within those color groups. Once all the colors have been selected, begin weeding out tubes of paints. The more tubes that can be removed from the group, the easier it is to keep the painting harmonious. Colors that can be mixed from the tubes that remain will automatically be in harmony. Add a complementary color or two will add drama or vivacity to the painting, but use them with restraint.

Narrow Down The Colors Broaden the Possibilities

Restricting the number of color groups in a painting is effective in creating harmony. With fewer divergent colors, the artist is able to keep the color plan related and free himself from possible color clashes and problems. A limited color palette simplifies color mixing and ensures that all the colors will be closely related. Complementary colors will add a dash of interest and bring the eye to a focal point, but the coordination of the color groups keep the painting unified. These concepts apply whether the artist is working with acrylic, oil, watercolor or any other medium. The technique and the order in which colors are added may vary, but the concept is the same for all.

Once an artist has established a pleasing, well-balanced group of colors, he can add it to his arsenal of knowledge. He can return to it, knowing that whatever he paints, the color harmony will be there. As he progresses in his studies, he will develop other palettes and broaden the choices he can use successfully in his art.

Color harmony is much like a recipe. Once the chef develops one that works well, he can spice it up or tone it down and still have a well-flavored dish.

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