Australian Fine Artist

Colour Theory for Artists

Workshop Number One of Five 2016

Tutor: David Chen

The Basics: Reinforcing the Basis of Colour

If you are to succeed as a painter there are a couple of things you need to understand to begin with.

  1. Your preconceived ideas about colour can be a problem that you need to address by realising that colour is more than what you may think you see.
  2. The colour of any object is affected by the light and shadow around it. that doesn’t only mean the intensity of the light, but also the temperature and whether it is direct or reflected light.

Colour in art needs to be expressed with emotion and as you paint the colour wheel needs to be your constant companion in your head. Understanding where colours fall on the colour wheel will make selecting colour and mixing it so much easier.

There are also basic recipes for mixing. For example:

  • Mix two primary colours and you get a secondary colour.
  • Mix a primary with a secondary colour and you get a tertiary colour.
  • As you add colours to each other you will get your tonal scales. IE: Add a minimum of 5 colours colours together and add white for a lighter tone, then drop your initial colour back in to bring back intensity. (try it with yellows for example, mix several yellows, add white, and bring back in a dab of your first yellow for a light tone yellow)

Light changes throughout the day, which is why many plein air paintings are completed alla prima (all in one sitting,wet in wet), to catch the light before it changes. As the sun moves through the sky the temperature of the light will alter as it goes through different thicknesses of the atmosphere and as the air warms or cools through the day.

Apart from shadows changing direction, the light will also change, so you can not complete a painting in the afternoon that you begin in the morning and have the colours and shadows working.

The alternative to completing a larger painting, therefore, is to do it in the studio. This is another issue, as you need to understand that different types of lights cast a colour. If you want to have as close to natural daylight to paint by you need to check that the lights fall into the range. I use lighting of approximately 4500-5500 Kelvin which works for graphic design as well as fine art. Fluro lights can cast a yellow or green light and tungsten or light bulbs can cast a blue light. What may look like the right colour under the wrong light can become clearly unsettling when put under neutral daylight.

Local Colour

Many artists know about local colour. It is the actual colour of any object in your view that you want to paint. It is also known as the true colour. For example, we all know that an orange is usually orange in colour. What also needs to be considered when thinking about local colour, is the lighting and the other objects around anything we may be painting.

  • Is there a secondary light source?
  • what type of light is the main source (cool, warm etc)?
  • Is the atmosphere altering the colour (the further away something is the more the atmosphere mutes the colour)?
  • Are surrounding objects affecting the colour of an object (is it reflecting colour off something else)?

There are a variety of guides that you can find in most good art supply shops that can help you isolate colours and determine their value and tone before you begin to mix your paints. They usually have a small hole to look through to see just the colour of what you are looking at so that you are not distracted by surrounding objects. It may also have a grey scale on it to help you see the tonal value of the colour. Some artist make their own, which is very easy, and there may be some examples to follow online. Either way they are a great tool to have in your painting kit.

So, next time you decide to paint something, have a good look at it and everything around it first and check your lighting conditions. Taking time to make sure you understand the light and the way that is affecting your subject will give you a better chance of mixing the colour you really want so that you can get all your colours in a painting to work together harmoniously.

Below is the painting that I did today. David had a lovely display of Gladioli in the room and since I don’t paint florals often, if at all, I decided to give myself a challenge! A couple of the marks are David’s where he showed me where I could improve.


Advanced Life Painting-4

Final 2015 Advanced Life Painting Workshop with Artist David Chen

Painting a Live Model in Warm Spotlight Alla Prima

The goal of this art workshop was to paint the model in a strong spotlit light. The light source was to the right of the model as I saw it and cast a shadow under the body. Our aim was to paint the body under strong lighting conditions.

Under these conditions, colours may be washed out so mixing on the palette to avoid a chalky look to the paint is very important.
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Why Study Art?

Why TAFEs are so Great at encouraging the Creative in You.

No matter what stage of life you are in, going back to school is never a bad idea. Having been in full time work for over thirty years, I can speak from experience in this regard.

In 2009 I was made redundant from my job as a graphic artist and application specialist. I was burnt out and wondered what in the world I could be good for. My husband, who had been encouraging me to return to painting part time as a time out from the pressures of work, strongly suggested that I try going back to my first passion – art.

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Advanced Tonal Studies – 4

Fifth and final in the Series of Monthly Workshops with David Chen

Landscapes or Still Life Using Tonal Methods

For these workshops with David I will be talking about how I am learning to apply tonal methods when painting landscapes.

For this workshop we were challenged to complete two separate paintings. The first was to be a warm tonal painting, and the second, of possibly the same subject was to be a cool tone painting. I had a lot of reference photos from various trips and workshops we held at TAFE art camps over the past few years with me, so it was just a matter of selecting one that had a good composition and would suit both versions. I selected a scene from the Stony Point Art camp that I took last year. It has a nice trail running into the distance that I could include or delete as I wished, and a good clump of gum trees and bushland to manipulate.

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The Romantic period occurred between circa 1750-1850 and was described by the German philosopher, poet, and literary critic Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829) as imaginative and emotional depictions in art and poetry that fuse inspiration and criticism. An alternate theory describing the Romantic was posited by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who thought that the duality of the opposing good and darker side of human nature and the notion of the nature of beauty initiated by the Enlightenment could also be attributed to concepts of Romantic art (Vaughan 1978, 29). Also in 1757, Edmund Burke (1927-1979) wrote in his description of the nature of the sublime that it implied terror, pain, or obscurity and vastness, which may be closer to describing the paintings of Romantic artists. These emotional contrivances were used by Romantic artists to communicate their thoughts and feelings rather than the prioritising of duty, sacrifice and classical myth typical of Neoclassical art. Romantic artists like Joseph Mallord William Turner RA (1775-1851) and Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) were also seeking creative freedom and autarchy from traditional patronage from the aristocracy and churches as their primary sources of income. In England, Turner became a dominant force in Romantic art combining aspects of the Industrial Revolution and contemporary issues with dominant dramatic atmospheric effects. In contrast, his French contemporary Eugene Delacroix used colour and action to create allegorical scenes moved by poetry and a humanist interpretation of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Empire. This article will examine and compare Turner and Delacroix’s interpretations of the Burke’s notions of the sublime and the terrifying in Romantic painting, and the impact of contemporary issues on their paintings during the years circa 1824-1850. By comparing what each artist chose as their main focus of interest, and how it was composed, it will elucidate how each artist responded to social and historic events.

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Fourth in the Series of Monthly Workshops with David Chen

Landscapes or Still Life Using Tonal Methods

For these workshops with David I will be talking about how I am learning to apply tonal methods when painting landscapes.

For this workshop we concentrated on cool tones to deepen distance and create atmospheric depth in a painting. Look at a favourite landscape painting and see what attracts you to it. Is it the colours, is it the way the artist has created atmosphere and depth, inviting you to look deeper into the painting? The correct use of colour can help te create multiple levels in a painting, from the foreground, to the mid levels (of which there can be several), to the background.

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Paul Poiret Fashion Master

Paul Poiret (1879-1944) was a leading fashion designer during the late 19th and early 20th century. He was significantly influenced by Orientalism, which became evident in his designs in the period prior to World War 1. To understand Orientalism and how it applied it to his designs the definition of Orientalism needs to be addressed. What was Orientalism? It could be argued that it was merely an art movement of the 18th and 19th centuries, confined to mostly France and Britain. Its influence, on the contrary, was far broader, reaching across Europe to as far as the United States and Australia. It also incorporated more than painting, sculpting, or architecture. In light of this how did Orientalism affect the designs of Poiret? Are there similarities in the work of any Orientalist artists evident in Poiret’s designs? In addition to these questions, Haute Couture also needs to be defined. What was it and how does it delineate Poiret’s fashions? This essay will illustrate various artworks, and compare aspects that Orientalist artists have utilised to the designs for the Haute Couture fashions of Paul Poiret. A brief description of Orientalism will be included, as well as an elucidation of Haute Couture and Belle Epoche. These accounts will reinforce the various influences on the innovative designs of Paul Poiret in contrast to contemporary Western styles in the years leading up to World War 1.

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The revival in enthusiasm for classical art, literature and architecture that was later to be known as the Neo-classical movement began in Rome during the mid 18th century and it could be argued that it was prompted by the love of antiquity by two friends. Johann Winkelmann (1717-1768), a German archeologist and art critic, was the first to research the differences between ancient Greek and Roman art and implement archeological categories regarding art history. Close friend Anton Mengs (1728-1779) was influenced by Winkelmann’s writing, which is evidenced in his fresco at the Villa Albani in Rome. The sensation that Mengs’ fresco Parnassus (1761), along with the influence of Winkelmann’s book History of Ancient Art circa 1764 would initiate created a movement that would eventually influence architecture, theatre, music, literature and fashion. Supporting this movement was the Age of Enlightenment fed by scientific discoveries, and the Grand Tours of Rome, Greece and the Middle East. Concurrently, Europe was experiencing political and social upheaval, leading to multiple revolutions, and class and wealth redistribution. With so much social change artists had more opportunities for study, travel and wider production including etchings, graphics and print, however, this was not necessarily the case for many women artists. This discussion will consider historic events and social changes, to supply evidence of the difficulties encountered by women artists. It will briefly cover the background of Neo-classical artist, Angelica Kaufmann (1741-1807) and analyse a selection of works to argue her standing as a recognised Neo-classical artist, influences on her work, and her determination to succeed despite substantial obstacles such as gender bias and social upheaval.

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Advanced Tonal Studies – 3

Third in the Series of Monthly Workshops with David Chen

Landscapes Using Tonal Methods

For these workshops with David I will be talking about how I am learning to apply tonal methods when painting landscapes.

To recap on the previous session, remember your composition when painting and where you will paint. Your kit to paint plein air should have only what you really need you can always mix colours so you don’t need a ton of tubes with you. Also remember the different formulas for composition, such as the Golden Rule of thirds just because it looks one way in real life, doesn’t mean that you can’t move things around to create a better composition.

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Advanced Life Painting-3

Advanced Life Painting Workshop with Artist David Chen

Painting from Live Model Alla Prima

We had a little bit of a challenge with this workshop. One was the interesting haircut the model had, which if we were in a position to paint it, could present problems of modelling a very different hairline around the face. The other was that in her reclining pose, the face was pointed away from us, giving most of use the challenge of a foreshortened view from under the chin.

We also had a warm spotlight from a 45° angle across the body giving us shadows on her curves to think about, and the reaction on the skin from a warmer light source.
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