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What's Your Color Vocabulary?

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Evelyn McCorristin Peters: What's Your Color Vocabulary?

Evelyn McCorristin Peters

Fine art for everyone


What's Your Color Vocabulary?

I am constantly studying other artists paint palettes. Color is my passion and I like to see what hues were used to create the works that I love. Explaining color can be challenging. The little I once knew regarding technical terms has slowly faded away. Each year I have taken a class with a great friend and artist Jean Blackburn. This past fall she discussed color.

Jean has taught me to use a very limited palette and it has made a world of difference in my work. My basic palette is as follows, with an occasional addition determined by subject matter.

Daniel Smith Titanium White
Daniel Smith Naples Yellow
Sennelier Cadmium Yellow Light Hue
Daniel Smith Indian Yellow
Van Gogh Rose Quinacridone
Daniel Smith Alizarin Crimson
Winsor & Newton or Daniel Smith French Ultramarine
Gamblin or Daniel Smith Pthalo Blue
I have recently added Gamblin Burnt Umber

If I add cadmium, it is always a “hue.” Cadmiums are generally unstable and toxic for the artist, although Gamblin claims that their cadmiums are very stable. Regarding toxicity I no longer use and kind of mineral spirits to clean my brushes. I clean all my brushed with Canola oil. I have brushed that have lasted over 25 years. Occasionally I will take brush soap and give them a good thorough cleaning. Most of the time if I know I may not be painting for a few days I just give them a coat of Vaseline.

Here are some great definitions we can all use to communicate our color choices! All pretty basic, but good to review!

Hue – the name of the color, i.e.; red, yellow, blue
Value – the lightness or darkness
Intensity – the level of saturation or brightness
Temperature – the warmth or coolness (orange is warm, blue is cool) this refers
to relationships.
Primaries – referring to pigment colors, the three that cannot be created from any
other colors – red (magenta), yellow and blue
Secondaries – the three colors created by mixing any two of the primaries

Harmonies: the use of these color relationships may help in creating a more successful painting.
Complimentary – opposites on the color wheel
Split-Complimentary – the two colors on either side of the compliment of the key color
Analogous – two to five colors adjacent to one another on the wheel
Triadic – three equally spaced colors on the wheel (all of the primaries or all of the secondaries)

Albers – a master in the science of color relationships
Figure-ground – What is the subject? What is the negative space? How should the two relate and connect?
Balance – What is the relative weight of a color when a balanced composition is desired?

Limited palette justified:
Understanding color mixing, (earn your tube secondary!) – It is critical that a Painter understands and is able to create any color he or she can see or dream (including any grey or black) from three primaries. When that skill is achieved, then some brilliant tube secondaries may be helpful.
Variation of colors throughout a painting because of necessary mixing is a major advantage of the limited palette.
Expense and simplicity for travel, etc. – Significant savings result from not buying all the tubes on the rack and travel of any kind requires less effort when carrying only seven tubes of paint.

The limited palette has been a great help to my work! I encourage every artist to use it on a regular basis, it deepens our understanding of color and makes for vibrant work.

More on color palettes:



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