Ask the Art Prof Live #6: Teaching High School Art, Teaching Color

 

00:34
What are the most important things a high school art teacher can do to help their students?

03:16
The importance of instilling enthusiasm for visual arts at the high school level.

07:43
Teachers need to establish trust with their students

Clay Portrait Sculpture

08:48
A high school student’s story:  Teacher “A” and Teacher “B”

11:18
Keep the classroom mood light, celebrity gossip and the Kardashians

Clay Portrait Sculpture


14:36
How do you approach color? How do you teach color?

16:45
Color is about relationships

17:53
Colors are like people

Edgar_Germain_Hilaire_Degas_032

20:23
Light and dark contrast in color:  Edgar Degas

21:26
The importance of muted colors

Degas.etoile

23:57
How I learned to really mix colors:  three colors for an entire college semester


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


Related Live Videos
#8: Should I do the Starving Artist Phase in New York City?
#7: How do I Improve My Art?  How do I Find My Artistic Style?
#5:  Starting Art School, Avoiding Cliches
#4:  Oversaturation, Brainstorming, Beginning a Series
#3:  Personal Themes, Never Too Late to Start Drawing
#2:  Aches While Drawing, Professional Artwork vs. Student Artwork
#1:  Graduate MFA Programs

Ask the Art Prof Live #5: Starting Art School, Avoiding Cliches


00:00
“I got accepted into my top choice of art schools this year.  I’m super excited, but I’m also really nervous and don’t really know what to expect. The art program at my high school wasn’t very good, and I’m worried that I’m going to be really inexperienced compared to the other students. What are your tips for starting art school?”

03:04
Work with other students on your art school projects, be a cheerleader for each other!

Charcoal Drawings of Bones

05:30
Talk to your professors, and ask for help.

09:08
Learn to separate yourself from your art in a group critique.

11:46
Start early, avoid the marathon the night before, spread out your work over several days.


15:15
“What are common cliches and design mistakes you see in students? How do you think those can be worked on or avoided?”
Mentioned: Leon Golub, Kathe Kollwitz, Delacroix

Image_Leon Golub    images    Eugène_Delacroix_-_La_liberté_guidant_le_peuple


17:22
Research your art media
Mentioned: Rodin, Bourdelle, Degas, Giacometti

hb_11.173.3    45686-12    hb_29.100.395    download


18:20
Get the cliches out of your system, and then eliminate them.


19:38
The “Layers” assignment in my RISD Freshman Drawing class.

neal_uno


21:20
Ask for feedback early on, several times, before the group critique.

Final Crit
22:53
A self-portrait becomes a penis.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


Related Live Videos
#8: Should I do the Starving Artist Phase in New York City?
#7: How do I Improve My Art?  How do I Find My Artistic Style?
#6: Teaching High School Art, Teaching Color
#4:  Oversaturation, Brainstorming, Beginning a Series
#3:  Personal Themes, Never Too Late to Start Drawing
#2:  Aches While Drawing, Professional Artwork vs. Student Artwork
#1:  Graduate MFA Programs

Ask the Art Prof: How Does a Visual Artist Create a Series of Artworks?

Tone project

“I recently went to an visual arts retreat and was told I need to make a series of artworks. I have never done this before and I keep struggling with a topic. My question is how can I take a topic , like “transformation” and make it into an art series? I have always been a “paint what I see” painter and I use images for reference. I have such a hard time with concept painting. How can you take an idea and translate it into a two-dimensional surface?”

For a series to work, you need to find a subject you are passionate about that is both open to variation and yet specific at the same time. A successful series should allow each individual work to be able to stand on its own, yet simultaneously relate to the rest of the other works in some manner.

In my opinion, a strong series of artworks is like a really good television show.  You want to have details that make the show distinctive, but the fundamental premise has to be open enough that many contrasting episodes can be generated. If you think about the television show “Cheers,” the premise was remarkably simple:  people working and hanging out in a bar.  Even though the vast majority of the show was filmed in one location, the writers were able to play out many seasons of distinctive episodes.  There was a balance between the simplicity of the situation, yet there was tons of flexibility for diverse story lines.

I find that it’s helpful to establish a list of “rules” for your series that you can consistently follow.  This could be done in terms of the format, the size of the artworks, the materials, the subject matter, etc. Write down what the list of rules are and make sure that you stick to them from the beginning to the end of the series. Not only do the rules help keep you on track, but they can create both conceptual and visual cohesion for the series overall.

Even if you have moments where you want to stray from the rules, get yourself to adhere to the rules. If you bow to the temptation to pursue every single tangential interest as you work on the series, you’ll likely quickly find yourself with a body of artwork that looks as fragmented as a patchwork quilt.  That ability to focus and stay on track is critical to making a series of artworks that work together. Your mindset is just as important in developing a series as your physical actions to create the artwork.

Accordion Bookbinding Project

If you are starting with the word like “transformation” which is quite abstract, do some extensive brainstorming first.  This article I wrote provides concrete strategies and actions you can take to initiate the brainstorming process. The primary objective of brainstorming is the creation of as many ideas and images as possible, with an emphasis on quantity over quality. One of the key elements of this process is that brainstorming is inclusive of everything that emerges, regardless of how odd or unappetizing an idea or image may seem at first. Write everything down on paper, and play “word association“.  Give every idea and image a voice and a place on the page, just thinking things through in your head is not enough, you have to see the ideas on paper.

Below is a video tutorial on how to brainstorm, sketch, and create a drawing from beginning to end based on our October Art Dare.

Once you are done brainstorming, you should have have enormous amounts of pure, unedited content to select from. This content is the raw material from which you can create thumbnail sketches. This article I wrote talks more in depth about how to bridge the gap from idea to sketch to final work.

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An example of a mind map from a brainstorming session.


Since you are used to observational painting, it is probably a good idea to select one image from your brainstorming session that you can then create variations from. Look at other artists who worked serially and see what kind of subjects they chose.  Monet painted water lilies, haystacks, and Rouen cathedral.

Claude Monet, Rouen Cathedral


Degas drew ballet dancers and jockeys. Rembrandt painted self-portraits consistently throughout his entire career. Andrew Wyeth had his Helga pictures.  Analyze their works and ask yourself what their rules were for their series. This can provide inspiration as well as a departure point for your own work.

Andrew Wyeth , The Helga pictures


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


Related Videos
Youtube Playlist: Video Critiques on Art School Admissions Portfolios
Youtube Playlist:  How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal and Cross-Hatching
Youtube Playlist:  Crit Quickies, 1 min. critiques on artworks


Related articles
“How can I tell if I’m skilled enough?”
“How do you find your own individual style?”
“How do artists manage to get their soul out into images?”
“How do you develop an idea from a sketch to a finished work?”
“How do you make an art piece more rich with details that will catch the eye?”
“How do you learn the basics?”
“Is it bad to start another piece of art before finishing another one?”
“When and how should you use photo references to draw?”
“How do you know when to stop working?”

Ask the Art Prof: What is the Best Way to Practice My Drawing Skills?

Charcoal Drawings of Bones

“What is the best way to practice my drawing skills in traditional media? I draw with colored pencils and I also paint with acrylics and I am sort of okay at it , but I really want to become better.”

Drawing is a highly complex beast which involves so many different elements at the various skill levels. Rather than get into all of those details, I’m going to boil it down to four fundamental directives that will help improve your drawing skills across all skill levels and media.


1) Draw from direct observation.

This sounds so simple, and yet I’m appalled at that vast majority of art students and artists don’t work from direct observation when they are looking to improve their drawing skills. This problem is so prevalent today, that you’re actually defying the norm (drawing from photographs)  if you draw from life. The issue is compounded by the fact that photography is so crazy easy and fast to have access with smart phones and the Internet. Not only are people drawing from photographs 99% of the time, but they’re drawing from crappy, low resolution photographs that they find online.

Photographs may be appear to be convenient and easier to work from, but they’re a cheap shortcut that will lead to the development of all sorts of bad drawing habits.The amount of information that a photograph has pales in comparison to seeing a subject in real life.  This is not to say that one should never ever in their lifetime work from a photograph; I work from photographs all the time now. However, I know how to use a photograph as a visual reference well because I’ve developed skills based on many, many years of working from direct observation.

Below is a video tutorial on how to brainstorm, sketch, and create a drawing from direct observation based on our October Art Dare.


When you work from life, you experience your subject matter in way that a photograph could never allow you to:  you can touch your subject, smell it, walk around it, and see the subject within the context of its environment. This overall sensory experience is vital towards your understanding of your subject matter and will always translate into your drawing. Drawing is as much about learning how to see as it is about the marks that you put on the page.With a photograph, your understanding of your subject is inherently shallow and uninformed.

Charcoal Drawings of Bones

Nowadays, many people are learning a lot about each other online before even meeting in person.  Frequently, you’ll read a bit about that person, and see their photograph.  Think about how vastly different the experience of seeing their photograph online is to meeting them in person-it could not be more different. Nothing prepares you for what that person is actually like in real life. That’s the difference between drawing from a photograph and drawing from life. Experiencing your subject in real life will bring a profound level of understanding and connection with your subject that simply cannot exist with a photograph.

This charcoal drawing tutorial shows the entire process of creating a portrait drawing in charcoal from direct observation. (see below) Our Art Supply Encyclopedia provides videos with detailed explanations of the art supplies needed to make charcoal drawings.

As a professor, I’ve noted that people who can draw from life can practically draw from a photograph in their sleep, while people who only draw from photographs find themselves paralyzed when asked to draw from life.

One of my peers in art school flat out refused to draw from life.  She spent all of her time drawing from photo references from fashion magazines, which is an odd choice to begin with considering the over-the-top Photoshop treatment every model and celebrity gets when posing for a fashion magazine.   Her drawings always looked mismatched and strange because all of the people in her illustrations looked like they had just jumped off the cover of Vogue magazine.

Once, when she was traveling in Italy, she met a group of Italian guys she was flirting with, and she wanted to impress them.  Upon learning that she was an artist, the Italians’ first reaction was “Draw my portrait!”  She said she totally froze, and just couldn’t do it. She was mortified and completely embarrassed by her inability to draw from life.  By training herself to draw exclusively from photographs, she had limited herself to a very meager set of drawing skills.

The skills that you will gain from working from direct observation will tremendously inform and support your ability to work from all sorts of other references.   This article goes into greater depth about the importance of drawing from life.  I myself work from references all the time, and yet that skill set I have was honed from many years of drawing exclusively from direct observation.

2) Practice daily.

Drawing is very similar to athletics, and it really is just a matter of investing the time.  If you were an athlete, you would have a rigid schedule of training set up that you would adhere to. Drawing is the same way: it requires serious focus, rigorous training, and intense physical stamina. Every time you sit down to draw, it’s an opportunity to sharpen your eye, and become more proficient in coordinating your mind and eye with the physical movements of your arm and hand.

There is no artist I know working today, who can coast on their inherent drawing talent. One of my peers from art school was one of those people you just hate because he drew so incredibly well, with what appeared to be so little effort.  No matter what I did, I couldn’t match his efficiency and level of drawing.  On the other hand, this peer was also super lazy and scatter brained, and today, he hasn’t done much with his drawing talents. Talent goes nowhere if you’re not willing to train and work hard on a consistent basis.

Many people get impatient with drawing and expect results right away.    You have to be committed, and be able to recognize that improvement is a slow and gradual process. One would never expect to be an Olympic level skier after one week of training, the same way you can’t expect to be a master of drawing after working for a few days. For most artist, it takes years and years of rigorous time and commitment to achieve a certain level of mastery.

Drawing on a daily basis doesn’t have to be a huge commitment.  Get a small, portable sketchbook to carry around with you, and do very quick, casual pencil sketches any time you can.  You could do 5 minute sketches during your lunch break, when your friends are watching a movie, when you’re standing in line at the grocery store-drawing doesn’t have to be fancy or time consuming.

If you’re looking for ideas for drawing projects, check out our Monthly Art Dares, where we assign a prompt to create an artwork each month.  We give out prizes as well!

3) Practice gesture drawing.

If you can do strong gesture drawings, you’ve already won half the battle. Gesture drawings are the core of any drawing, they capture the essence of what a drawing is trying to say in just a few strokes, in just a few minutes. The first 2 minutes of a drawing are critical in that they lay the foundation for the rest of the drawing. It doesn’t matter how polished your drawing is if the initial gesture isn’t there to begin with.

IMG_3778

Ideally, one should practice gesture drawing from a nude model, but if you don’t have access to a model, there are plenty of other options.  You can go to a local cafe and sketch people sitting in the cafe, or draw a bunch of friends who are sitting around.   One of my friends always liked going to the beach to draw  because people sit still and they’re practically naked anyway.  I had a peer in art school who used to go to college parties and draw all of the drunk people sitting around. Get creative and find as many contexts as possible where you can practice your gesture drawing.

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Gesture drawing by Rembrandt


To create a strong gesture gesture, it’s important to keep your arm moving and circulating throughout the page, moving from top to bottom, side to side, very quickly. Start very, very light with marks that barely show on the page.  This allows you to make lots of mistakes that will not show later because they’ll be so light. Develop all of the parts of the drawing together so that you don’t neglect any area.   Try to aim for continuous movements and fluid lines rather than fragmenting your lines into choppy marks. Look at your subject more than you look at your drawing; your subject is where the information is. Keep your gesture drawings about 2-5 minutes in length, any longer than that it’s too easy to get lazy and fall back into bad habits. Read this article I wrote for a detailed explanation for what a gesture drawing entails.

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Gesture drawings by Raphael


4) Look at historical drawings.

Go to the library and check out books that feature drawings by historical artists. Avoid the Internet: 1) the Internet is often times overwhelming if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for and 2) you won’t get nearly the range or selection of drawings that you’ll get if you just sit down in the art history section of the library for a few hours. Get acquainted with art history and really make the time and effort to see the extraordinary range of drawings created throughout centuries of history.

In this case, start by referencing art history and expand your knowledge from there. To get you started, some historical artists whose drawings I would recommend looking at are: Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Kathe Kollwitz, John Singer Sargent, Raphael, Leonardo, Pontormo, Degas, Frank Auerbach, Lucien Freud, DurerGiacometti.

041

Gesture drawing by Michelangelo


The historical drawings that you’ll learn the most from are gesture drawings and quick sketches done in sketchbooks.  In these quick sketches you’ll get to see all of the visual evidence: you get to see all of the mistakes, all of the troubleshooting that happens in an artist’s drawing process. This is what is so unique about drawing that you won’t see in other media like painting and sculpture; the opportunity to see traces of an artist’s process in a drawing.   Investigate and analyze what kinds of strategies these artists take in their drawing process and try to use them in your own.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


Related Videos
Youtube Playlist:  How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal and Cross-Hatching
Ask the Art Prof Live: Personal Themes, Never Too Late to Start Drawing
Ask the Art Prof Live: Aches While Drawing, Professional Artwork vs. Student Artwork


Related articles
“What is a gesture drawing?”
“Is drawing considered an innate talent or a craft, which can be learned by anyone?”
“How can I learn to shade objects in my drawings?”
“How can I draw what I see in my head?”
“How do you get yourself to practice drawing?”
“What is the most important mindset a student needs to have in order to create a successful drawing?”

Ask the Art Prof: How Do You Find Your Own Individual Art Style?

Accordion Bookbinding Project

“How do you find your own individual style?”

Style is important as a visual artist, it’s essentially what distinguishes you from other artists, and what keeps your work looking professional, cohesive, and focused.  The greatest artists throughout history had styles that were incredibly distinctive and unique. Think about someone like Hieronymus Bosch, who was so far ahead of his time in the 15th century with his surrealistic scenes densely packed with human figures doing all sorts of strange and bizarre acts. Once you’ve seen one Bosch painting, you can spot another a mile away.

the-garden-of-earthly-delights

The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch


Or, consider an artist like Giotto, whose frescoes at the Scrovegni Chapel revolutionized the way that emotions were articulated through the form, lighting, and color of the gesture of the human figures. Many times, the cultural context and time period has a lot to do with whether art artist’s style is distinctive. Giotto’s frescos may not seem so unusual to the contemporary viewer. However, within the context of his time period, by comparison, no other artists were painting faces that expressed such an intense, outward pouring out of emotion. In this way, his paintings distinguished themselves from all of the other artwork being created in that time.

giotto-lamentation

Frescos at the Scrovegni Chapel, by Giotto


In an artist’s style, there are usually defined characteristics, a specific means of handling a media, or repeated strategies in an artist’s style that are consistently visible in every artwork.  When I think about the great caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, whimsical, expressive, black and white portraits drawn with fluid, organic lines are signature visual features of his work. Once you’ve seen a few Al Hirschfeld drawings, his style is so distinctive that you can spot them from a mile away.

ella_full

Ella Fitzgerald, by Al Hirschfeld


Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio was known for his startlingly realistic oil paintings which used chiaroscuro lighting and bold gestures in his figures to create an atmosphere of intense drama. Compared to the idealized and sanitized versions of figurative oil paintings that preceded Caravaggio’s work, Caravaggio’s oil paintings emphasized a grittier, more flawed view of figures.

For example,  Caravaggio’s depictions of Christ portrayed him as an ordinary man, looking as if he lived in our world.  This was a direct opposition to previous depictions of the time period Caravaggio lived in, where Christ was always painted to appear as an otherworldly figure who did not look like an real person. Caravaggio depicted the “ugly” side of real life:  he took the time to paint the dirt on someone’s foot, and heightened unflattering wrinkles in someone’s forehead with tremendous detail.  Given the environment and time period Caravaggio lived in, these visual decisions were incredibly different, and greatly distinguished his paintings from other works created during the same time period.  Think about any notable artist from art history, and it’s usually fairly easy to sum up their style with some key adjectives.

st-thomas

The Incredulity of St. Thomas, by Caravaggio


This may sound like a contradiction, but I strongly believe that the best way to find your own individual style is to try out as many different ways of working as possible.  I teach freshman drawing at RISD, where I encourage my students to explore and try out different identities for themselves.  Many students arrive at art school with very little experience working in diverse media and approaches, so this foundation is critical towards laying a premise for their artistic careers.

I push the students to dramatically shift their approaches within one semester. One week they’re learning how to make highly detailed and rendered images, the next week they’re working in a loose, painterly style. If you were to hang up all of the drawings by a single student onto one wall at the end of the semester, you would swear that you were looking at drawings by ten different people. For a first year art school student, that’s a wonderful accomplishment because what they’ve done is they’ve essentially learned multiple visual languages that they will have access to for the rest of their lives. This set of drawings below were all created by one student within a single semester, you can see that there is an incredible range of different styles, even though the pieces are all by the same student.

I want my students to achieve a versatility that will empower them to become anything that they want to be.  By directly experiencing all of these different languages, you can build an overall understanding of everything that is out there. Only by exploring the range of options can you then narrow your focus onto what it is you want to be.

If you’re looking for ideas for art projects, check out our Monthly Art Dares, where we assign a prompt to create an artwork each month. Often times many students who are interested in studying art have a strong desire, but are at a loss for where to even begin.  That’s why our monthly Art Dares are a great place to start:  we provide the launching pad and you decide where your final destination will be.


The most common mistake that I see all the time is people trying to force a style on themselves prematurely. I went to art school with a peer who was remarkably talented and seemed capable of doing just about anything. Throughout his time in art school, he experimented with many different media, and worked fluidly in contrasting styles. Everything he did was original, inventive, and beautifully crafted.  However, when he graduated and started working professionally after school, all of that changed immediately. He quickly forced this very commercial style on himself and did some of the worst work that I had seen him do in years.  The work lacked the same original spirit and enthusiasm and looked generic and derivative.

Style doesn’t develop overnight, it’s a gradual process that can take years to emerge.  The process of finding your style is very slow, and you need to develop serious skills in patience.  Allow your style to naturally evolve.  Attempts to force a style on yourself will end up looking contrived and dishonest.

Below are several videos that discuss how I developed my stylistic approach to a series of drawings of elderly figures.


Keep in mind that style is not just about the way your artwork looks, the subject matter that you communicate and represent in your artwork is just as important.  Artists are known throughout history for the interaction of their technique and the ideas they wanted to communicate.  The visual look of an artwork is meaningless if there is no concept, motivation, or purpose behind the creation of the artwork. That’s why it’s important that while you experiment and hone a diverse range of skills, that you also work on your ability to brainstorm, develop, and ultimately execute a finished artwork that has a solid and intriguing subject.

Below is a video tutorial where I demonstrate how to get started brainstorming an idea, transitioning an idea into thumbnail sketches, and then realizing that idea into a finished drawing.

Once you do find a style that works, it doesn’t mean that the creative process ends there.  If you only stick to that one style forever, you may as well be a trained monkey who can only do one trick. It certainly does work for some people, and there are definitely people out there who are very successful doing that one trick. Historically, the most compelling artists have been the ones who are constantly reinventing and transforming themselves.

matisse

Collage by Matisse


Look at Picasso:  even after the smashing success Picasso had with Cubism, he kept innovating, experimenting, and pushing new ideas.   He created new pieces that were vastly different from Cubism, like his bull’s head made from a reconfigured bike seat. Matisse went from oil paintings to paper cut outs at the end of his life. Degas switched from pastel drawings and oil paintings to figure sculpture when he started to lose his eye sight at the end of his life. These artists weren’t satisfied to be limited to one way of working for the rest of their lives, and were willing to take major risks with their work to transform into something new.

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“Bull’s Head” by Picasso, 1942


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


Related Videos
Ask the Art Prof Live: How do I Improve My Art?  How do I Find My Artistic Style?
Ask the Art Prof Live: Oversaturation, Brainstorming, Beginning a Series
Ask the Art Prof Live: Personal Themes, Never Too Late to Start Drawing
Youtube Playlist: Video Critiques on Art School Admissions Portfolios
Youtube Playlist:  How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal and Cross-Hatching
Youtube Playlist:  Crit Quickies, 1 min. critiques on artworks


Related articles
“How can I tell if I’m skilled enough?”
“How do artists manage to get their soul out into images?”
“How do you develop an idea from a sketch to a finished work?”
“How do you make an art piece more rich with details that will catch the eye?”
“How do you learn the basics?”
“Is it bad to start another piece of art before finishing another one?”
“How do you work in a series?”
“When and how should you use photo references to draw?”
“How do you know when to stop working?”

Ask the Art Professor: How do You Compose a Striking Painting with Color?

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Pastel drawing by Edgar Degas

 

“How do you compose a striking painting with color? How do you create harmony with colors, contrast, etc., while at the same time creating interest?”

Color is such a monumental subject, so I’m going to boil it all down to this: Painting with color is about achieving balance.  That balance is defined by establishing relationships among colors.  I think about colors as people: when you have one person in a room, there is no one else to have a relationship with.  Once another person enters the room, you have the dynamic that occurs between the two people.  If a third person enters the room, the dynamics change, and so forth. Every time a new color is added to a painting, the dynamics shift.

I used to think when I was a student that if only I could mix the “right” blue, or the “right” pink that my paintings would be better.  It took me years of painting with color to realize that there was no “right” blue.  Instead what one should look for is a grouping of colors in which the colors play off of each other in a harmonious manner. The exact same color can appear to take on different characteristics depending on the color that is next to it.  If you take a red and place it next to a grey, the red appears to be very intense and brilliant.  Take that same red and place it next to a yellow, and the red will appear to be dark in contrast to the brightness of the yellow.

2 degas dancers

Pastel drawing byEdgar Degas

The two classic problems I see when people handle color in a painting is either painting with too many muted colors, or painting with too many intense colors.  Too many intense colors is overwhelming to the viewer, and too many muted colors makes for a muddy composition.  Degas’ pastel drawings are an excellent example of beautifully balanced, harmonious colors.  Actually, if you really analyze his pastel drawings, the majority of his images are dominated by muted colors.  His strategy in some of his pieces was to use his intense colors in moderation, so that when they made their appearance, their intensity burst outwards from the image. In the case of this pastel drawing above, the intense red flowers on the dancer’s dress seem to dramatically pop from the page because they are surrounded by soft, muted greys and pinks in the dancer’s dress. 

Another common problem is people overusing black to darken their colors, especially in shadow areas.  This approach generally produces colors that are flat and muddy.  I am extremely conservative when I use black because it’s like a nuclear bomb when it encounters other colors; black simply wipes everything else out.  When I paint with black, I don’t even use black straight from the tube, rather my favorite mixture to create black is to mix alizarin crimson with viridian green.  This combination creates a luscious, deep, dark purple that has the appearance of being black, without all of the drawbacks.

degas.singer-glove

Oil painting by Edgar Degas

Light and dark contrast is another key to creating a balanced painting.  Many artists come to rely on color contrast to carry their pieces, so much so that they forget about light and dark contrast. One “test” that I always give myself when I’m working on a painting is to shoot a digital image of the painting and then to desaturate (make it black and white) in Photoshop.  If I look at the black and white image and it lacks a wide range of whites, greys, and blacks, it means that the composition needs to be improved in terms of light and dark contrast.

This Degas painting of an opera singer (see above) does an excellent job of establishing light and dark contrast, creating a dramatic, theatrical feeling to the painting.The sharp silhouette of the glove against the stripe of light, bright yellow in the background makes for excellent light and dark contrast.


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