What you think you know about color - without discovering what you don't know - will only keep you working in the same place, repeating the same color mistakes, without understanding why.
My art professors, all coming from a contemporary background - saw and used color in a unique way, and color charts were used to understand value and "push/pull" contrast, not the full range of color. But as my painting evolved I began to appreciate color differently, and began looking for ways to increase my sensitivity.
It started when I was listening to an artist share the story from his early years, and how that "boring exercise" grew into a true love of color. His sophisticated color sense is one of the hallmarks of his work today. That reminded me of Richard Schmid's book Alla Prima, which was on my book shelf, which also talked about color charts, which I had promised myself I would get to "some day." Followed by a magazine article about another artist whose work I admire for his color sense, also showing...color charts.
Maybe I need to be hit on the head a few times to get the message.
So I set the goal of doing color charts. And after struggling with what I had on hand to make my charts, I quickly realized I was defeating the purpose. My results were messy. I forgot to leave space to indicate the colors used. I was totally disorganized.
Then I found custom made chart board blanks from Randal Gordon McClure, on his website ColorFrontier.com.
These are a few of the color charts I've completed in preparation for a painting I have planned.
Repetition in color mixing allowed me to discover that I did not utilize the full value range available. I often perceived colors to be in the "light range" when in fact they were closer to mid-value. I began to understand which mixtures desaturated quickly, and which pigments could overwhelm every other color. I discovered some beautiful grays, more options for creating chromatic darks, and learned a cleaner way to mix the color I needed. If I started with the right two base colors, I could avoid the tendency to keep adding "something else" to get to the right color note.
As artists, we first learn color theory. Then we use what is learned from books and workshops, even from professors who teach differing viewpoints about the best use of color. And it's just as necessary to find your own understanding, to make color your own, not just a replication of what has been done before.
This is the challenge to the growing artist - to first understand the way you use color, compare that to the way you want to use color, and then find a way to bridge the gap.
Below: First stage of the painting on my easel. After working on a thumbnail, I used dry brush and wash of viridian, alizarin, and ultramarine blue to set up the value pattern. I wiped out to get some light areas and spent more time on this stage than I habitually do, wanting to be sure I had a strong foundation. I usally plunge in recklessly at this point (because I love the act of painting) - so I decided to do some color charts first to settle on my final color choices. I hope I can achieve my goals of creating beautiful color and brushwork - and my intent at this point is to settle first on the colors I will use, so that I do not repeat old habits of overworking and resorting to the palette knife to get cleaner colors.
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