Teaching Color 4: Color Mixing Disciplines

In my recent posts I have been sharing the disciplines I impose upon myself and my students to assure an effective use of color. Previously I described the color clock and last week I discussed the use of a complimentary set of colors to create a controlled tertiary palette. Today I want to emphasize the importance of two things:

(a)  Forcing tubes of paint with all their variety of names onto the color clock, and
(b)  Creating a full palette BEFORE you start painting.

Blue by Any Other Name is Still BLUE:

The Prang Color theory as I’ve described in the last few weeks is a wonderful guide for mixing pigment, but to make it work you must recognize that every tube of paint you open belongs to some spot on the color clock. Ultramarine, cobalt, Prussian, and cerulean are ALL blues. They all belong at 4:00. They are all opposite orange. Speaking of which: Burnt Sienna is orange. (Well, it doesn’t fit anywhere else, does it?). As a matter of fact, it is the perfect compliment to ultramarine because they will make the most distinct black. Yellow ochre, zinc, cadmium y, and Naples are all yellows. They are all compliments of violet. Alizarin, cadmium r, and Indian Red are all reds and compliments of green.

I’ve read some colorists who complain that the Prang Theory doesn’t allow for enough variety of hues, but every time you change from one of these tubes of color to another you will create a whole new range of secondary colors.

Of course, there is not a reason in the world that you can’t use your favorite tube of manufactured green or violet if it is a stable color. The color clock will still be invaluable to you if you think about where the manufactured green is on the wheel. Then you can see how to warm in up, cool it down, and mute it as needed.

I know of one artist that uses a double primary wheel by using both a warm and a cool version of the three primaries (Warm=cerulean, cadmium yellow and c. red, and Cool=ultramarine, alizarin, and zinc yellow). He still has access to the complimentary sets, but can make a huge range of secondary hues.

Once, with a little more advanced group of students, I had every other student prepare their color clock with turquoise, magenta, and yellow. Alternating students used blue, red, and yellow (we were using Blick tempera paint). The variations were very exciting and opened up for them how they could create lots of different looking colors that they still had control over.
First Things First:
You can tell that the way I approach color is very analytical and left-brain. Once I start painting, however, I quickly move “into the zone” and become very right-brain, intuitive. I have found that once I am painting, if I don’t have everything prepared and at my finger trip, I’ll just make do with whatever I can reach, and I’ve ruined many a project with that impetuosity.

The solution was to completely explore my color choices and develop my palette as completely as I could anticipate before picking up the brush. If I run out of paint I’ve got to make myself STOP. Take a break. Go back to the left side of my brain and remake the missing colors. And then get back into the groove to finish the painting.

Next week, I’ll be showing you some of my student’s projects and describe how they use the information I’ve been sharing over the last several weeks to build their palettes.

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