The Studio Room in Colour: Exercises
The Studio Room in Colour tutors Mark Cazalet and Andy Pankhurst introduce two exercises that ask us to attune our eye to all aspects of colour.
'Conceive of a picture really as a series of harmonies', Edouard Vuillard
Claude Lorrain would take a sheet of green glass and look at a landscape in order to harmonise the hues he saw and better understand the spatial tones. We perhaps all need to look to the future with a similar Claudian glass, not as a tool for artificially distorting reality but in order to better understand and organise it!
- Take a view that involves some sense of distance between an immediate foreground and a horizon; this could be a window shelf and clouds above the roof line just as much as a vast landscape.
- Make a simple line drawing of the shapes within the composition.
- Look at the view and consider the colours before you, as a chef would the ingredients of a menu. Neither too many competing flavours nor too bland a mixture is needed.
- Make a list of these principal colours by area and proportion, on a separate sheet mix the colours for each area in about 3m squares, at least 20 distinct hues!
- As you place these squares adjacent to each other in a vertical stack weigh up not only if you have mixed the right colour but how intense it should be relative to the others.
- Take a new piece of paper and draw the scene again, adjusting what you put in the composition in regard to which colours you want to prioritise or exclude.
- Now the act of translation: decide on a single colour family that you will translate this view into i.e. browns, greens, blues… the definition of the colour family you choose must stretch as widely as you can imagine, for instance yellows range from virtually a lime/lemon green to Khaki to gamboge.
- In every family there are warmer and cooler members i.e. in the browns Burnt Sienna is a rich warm orangey personality whereas Raw Umber should be an almost green brown, fugitive and cool. You will need to use the relative tones and temperatures of the fullest range of the family that you can mix.
- Go back to that stack of premixed colour squares and make a second square next to each, but this time choose the equivalent mixture from the single family of colours you have chosen. When you have this second translation column made up of your single chosen harmonious family draw/paint the view...
- The real problem in creating an harmonious translation of the world is the voice that says but sky cannot be brown or skin green, suspend disbelief and continue, when you finish, if you hold your nerve and everything in your, say, blue chromatic world is blue, you truly will not notice it. Like Claude’s glass you have turned the world into your harmonious vision of it.
- If you enjoy this move round the colour wheel and select another family, perhaps a family of colour you would normally avoid! You will be surprised that colour families you previously avoided turn out to be subtle and helpful, new friends. Each colour family also induces definite moods.
Drawing with Chalk Pastels & the Colour Wheel
From the Renaissance to Impressionism to the present day, and exemplified by one of Britain’s most internationally well known artist’s Dame Paula Rego RA, artists have always loved the direct colourful drawing medium of coloured chalks and pastels. You could spend quite literally thousands on lavish sets of pastels – my simple advice is not to. An initial set of colours normally comprises of approximately twenty-four colours.
You could even begin with much less in order to learn some basic principles of colour mixing starting with the three primary colours of: Red, Yellow and Blue. However include two values of each that have a bias towards either a warm or cool i.e. clockwise: a yellow red, orange yellow, green yellow, green blue, red blue, blue red.
Optically mix your Secondary colours: Orange, Green, Violet by overlaying the two appropriate primaries as below. Optical mixing allows for clean vibrant colour rather than a ‘dirty muddy smudging’.
The black arrows illustrate the primaries opposite their secondaries making for pairs of complimentary colours: Red & Green, Blue & Orange and Yellow & Violet.
The illustration below displays how to make Browns by mixing together your primaries.
The examples below illustrate how to make coloured greys optically (circled in black). Firstly, coloured greys made optically with a lighter touch to enable the coloured paper’s ground to show through (this concept is for any coloured or white papers). Secondly with the inclusion of other primary colours and finally with the inclusion of white.
Edgar Degas', Quatre Danseuses (c.1905-12), a detail of which is shown below, was made with pastel on paper.
Degas would very often work on tracing paper due to tracing off compositions from previous drawings and experiment both with varying slightly the design and the orchestration of the colour relationships ie. same motif but one with dominance of orange and blue, another in red and green, etc. He as can be seen, did include black charcoal.
As with Degas and Renoir (below), experiment with various mark-making by using the end of the pastel stick with vertical, diagonal and horizontal strokes or by using the side of the pastel – there is no one or correct way.
The Studio Room in Colour starts on 12th May
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Artworks from top:
Milton Avery, Shapes of Spring, 1952, oil on canvas, 72 x 80cm
Edouard Vuillard, A walk in the vineyard 1900, oil on canvas 260 x 248cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Degas, Quatre Danseuses (detail),
pastel on paper, c. 1905-12
Pierre Auguste Renoir, Étude de femme (detail), pastel on paper, c.1880.