COLOR PART II Color Exercises
- Exercise 1: full palette grid
- Exercise 2: grayscale
- Exercise 3: mixed grays
- Exercise 4: two-color series
- Exercise 5: getting optical
- Exercise 6: not an exercise
It is useless to even think about sophisticated color mixing unless we know what each of our colors looks like and how each acts upon others in mixtures. A few simple exercises will help give you that knowledge. If you are an oil or acrylic painter, use of a palette knife to measure out and mix the paints is recommended for the exercises. Watercolor artists will necessarily use a brush.
FOR WATERCOLOR PAINTERS
Watercolor artists will need to modify some exercises
to accomodate the characteristics of watercolor paint.
ABOUT THE COLORS
Colors in the illustrations are approximations
and may differ from the colors of actual artists' paints.
Exercise 1: Full Palette Grid
Using a ruler, lay out a grid of 1" squares similar to the one of the two grids below. Oil and acrylic artists should divide each square diagonally as shown in the first picture. Make enough rows and columns to accommodate the colors you regularly use, but not more than 12 or so. Watercolor painters will use paper, of course, but oil and acrylic artists may use prepared paper, canvas, or panel.
The purpose of this exercise is to see what happens when you combine each of the colors on your palette with each of your other colors and, if you work with oils or acrylics, to observe the results of adding white to each mixture. The colors shown in the pictures are for illustration purposes only, and may be different from those you use. ..
Oil/acrylic painters are to fill the upper half of each square with a 50-50 blend of two colors: the color labeled at the top of the column, plus the color listed for the row. (In a few cases, the blend will consist of a color mixed with itself, such as yellow ochre plus yellow ochre as in the upper left square of the illustration). For instance, the top row is labeled Yellow Ochre, and the column at far right is Cerulean blue, so half the square at the top-right should be filled with a half-and-half mixture of Ochre and Blue. That mixture should then be combined with an equal amount of white paint to fill the other half of the square.
Watercolor artists simply fill each square with a 50-50 mixture. (In a few cases, the blend will consist of a color mixed with itself, such as yellow ochre plus yellow ochre as in the upper left square of the illustration).
Exercise 2: Grayscale
To become proficient at mixing colors, one must first learn to control the mixtures one makes. This exercise should help and also may prove illuminating in other ways.
(NOTE: Watercolor artists will need to regulate the colors by controlling the amount of water used and how heavily they lay down color.)
The task here is to make a series of 9 grays from white to black in equal steps. Begin by making a strip of boxes like the one below. To mix colors, use a palette or painting knife and be generous with the amount of paint you use. It is better to end up with too much rather than too little. You may fill each box with paint using a brush, but I think a knife is better since it will force you to apply an ample coating instead of skimping.
Exercise 3: Mixed Grays
The most beautiful grays are those we make by combining colors other than just black and white paints. Not only are such combinations beautiful, but they are extremely useful. The fact is, most of the colors we use in painting are essentially grays: greenish-grays, orange-gray, grayish-purple, and so on. Rarely do we use a color "straight" from the tube. This set of exercises, therefore is very helpful in learning how to create subtle color mixtures.
You will make several series of grays. Using a mixture of two complementary colors for each set, you will attempt to produce a color as close to an actual gray as you possibly can, plus a slightly warmer and a slightly cooler version of the gray. Part of the challenge is to select the best pair of complementary colors to make an acceptable gray.
Paler colors are easier to evaluate than dark ones, therefore start with white and add other colors to it. For the first part of this exercise, you will combine white paint with a blue and an orange. Recommended is Ultramarine Blue plus Cadmium Orange or Mars Orange. Add roughly equal amounts of both blue and orange to the white paint and then mix thoroughly. If the resulting mixture seems too blue, add a tiny amount of orange to adjust it. Keep adding miniscule amounts of orange until the mixture becomes truly gray. If you should accidentally add too much orange, then begin adding blue instead.
Once you have made a satisfactory gray, divide it into 3 batches. To one batch add a small amount of orange to make the gray warmer, and to another add blue. When done you should have a cool bluish gray, a middle gray, plus a warm orange-gray like the series here.
Many students find this combination particularly challenging because they often end up with a brownish mud. To avoid that problem, experiment with different reds and greens until you find the best match.
To make a good gray, avoid reddish violets like manganese. Look instead for purples that lean toward blue, such as Ultramarine Violet. The yellow you pick should not be lemony, nor should it be too orange. Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Pale, and perhaps Yellow Ochre are good choices.
Exercise 4: Two-color Series
In Exercise-1 you learned what happens when you mix together in equal proportions 2 colors like Cadmium Yellow and Cerulean Blue. This exercise demonstrates what happens when colors are combined in varied proportions.
Exercise 5: Getting Optical
Thus far you have engaged in what is called “physical color mixing,” which means you have “physically” combined two batches of paint of different colors to produce a brand new color. This exercise is about “optical color mixing,” where light and our eyes create the new color.
Many Impressionist painters of the 1800s used optical color mixing techniques. An example is the experiments of Georges Seurat with pointillism. Seurat built up tiny dabs of paint of various colors. When his pictures are viewed from a distance, our eyes mix the colors together to create new colors. Close up however, the small dots of paint are clearly visible, as the reproduction below of Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande” reveals.
Another similar instance of optical color mixing are Sunday newspaper comics, where all the colors are composed of tiny dots of just black, cyan, magenta, and yellow inks.
The approach for Exercise-5, however, has its roots in egg tempera painting of the Middle Ages and the traditional oil painting technique of glazing. With this method, you will layer one color over another. As light passes through the layers of paint to the white canvas, and then is reflected back through the paint and into our eyes, the light mixes the two colors together to create a third. Before you begin, it is important to have a clean, white surface to paint on. If painting on paper, oil and acrylic painters should first prepare the paper with a coating of gesso; raw paper is too absorbent. The procedure is the same for all kinds of paints, except that watercolor and acrylic artists need wait only a half-hour or less for the first layer of paint to dry completely, while oil painters may require a week or more for certain colors.
Watercolor paints are always translucent or transparent, so require no special handling or additives. The transparency of some oil and acrylic colors may have to be induced or increased, however. The more opaque the color, the more painting medium is required, but never use so much medium as to render the paint liquid like water. It should be no thinner than heavy syrup or molasses. For acrylic paints, use a liquid acrylic medium (gloss works better than matte). An appropriate glazing medium should be added to oil paints.
To find out what colors are opaque and which are transparent,
visit the web site of the paint’s manufacturer.
Oil Paints may need the addition of an appropriate painting or glazing medium. Oil piants are fully transparent, semitransparent, semi-opaque, or opaque. Transparent colors require very little or no painting medium. Semitransparent colors may need a small amount, semi-opaque paints a bit more, and opaque colors a generous helping of glazing medium in order to render the color translucent. Never use so much medium that the paint becomes liquid or watery, however. It should be no thinner than heavy syrup or molasses. Be minimal in your approach, mixng only a small amount of medium into the paint well at first, testing the paint, and then adding a small additional amount of medium if needed. Use as little medium as possible and as much as necessary.
Acrylic Paints may need the addition of an appropriate painting medium. All acrylic paints are at least slightly translucent, and some colors are fully transparent. Transparent colors need very little or no painting medium. Colors that are not completely transparent may require the addition of a painting medium to increase their translucency. Use an acrylic medium made in liquid form (as opposed to gel). Use as little as possible but as much as necessary to render the paint transparent, but not so much that you are painting mostly with medium.
Exercise 6: Not An Exercise
Admittedly, doing color exercises like these is not the most exciting of occupations. They need not be completed all at once, though. Take your time with it, attacking the projects when you have a little free time. The rewards can prove tremendous, increasing your skill, improving your knowledge, and building your confidence as a painter.