Art Art theory Faces Gouache People Portrait Sktchy

Complimentary: All the Colors in Just Two

América GS from Sktchy in just two colors, 10x8 inches on watercolor paper
América GS from Sktchy in just two colors, 10×8 inches on watercolor paper

In the past when I experimented with limited palettes and color schemes I missed the point. I thought the idea was to compose with just the chosen colors, rather than to discover how many different colors could be made by mixing them together. I hadn’t yet discovered the beauty of neutrals made by mixing two very different colors together. For this portrait, the challenge was to use complimentary colors (colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel).

I chose just two pigments: Winsor Newton Cobalt Turquoise Light and M. Graham Cadmium Red Light; basically a blue-green and a red-orange. I focused on making the lights cool and the shadows warm and was thrilled to discover the wonderful range of colors and neutrals I could make with just these two pigments and white.

First pass with color

Of course the colors are nothing like the actual colors in the reference photo (below), another photo I wouldn’t have chosen to paint myself, which removed the investment to capture it perfectly.

Reference photo of America S from Sktchy
Art Art theory Drawing Gouache Painting People Portrait Sktchy Sktchy

Alexander’s Analogous Bathroom Selfie in Lavender

Alexander H from his bathroom selfie on Sktchy, 8x8" on watercolor paper
Alexander H from his bathroom selfie on Sktchy, 9×8″ on watercolor paper

Analogous colors sit beside each other on the color wheel. For this gouache experiment with analogous colors, I chose Dioxazine Purple, Quinacridone Magenta, and Pyrole Red; basically a violet, a red-violet and a red. Plus white of course. My favorite gouache paints are M. Graham, especially their white, which is so wonderfully creamy.

Normally when I paint I try to match the colors I see, so painting with arbitrary colors is a very different approach for me, one that requires focusing more on value and warm/cool relationships. There was no way I’d get “normal” skin colors with this combo of colors. Below is my original sketch on Xerox paper which I then transferred to watercolor paper.

Initial sketch
Initial sketch

One funny thing about this Sktchy gouache class is that the teacher seems to pick reference photos of people I never would have chosen. The photo reference for this lesson: a guy seemingly looking in his bathroom mirror when he woke up in the morning. It didn’t inspire me, but maybe the combination of a non-interesting photo and the experiment with color took the pressure off so I could just play. I had so much fun with this one!

Photo reference from Sktchy
Photo reference from Sktchy
Art theory Oil Painting Painting Still Life

Two Apples and a Pear (Moving on from Munsell)

I’ve spent the past few months studying Munsell color notation and color mixing with Paul Foxton. My goal was to learn to discern value and color more accurately and to be able to efficiently mix those colors in paint. I’ve posted some of my course studies below. The above painting was done outside of the course, and doesn’t represent what is taught in the course. It is just a fun little alla prima still life, done before taking down my shadow box and lighting set up used in the course. I learned so many important things in the class. I think the number one thing I learned is how much lower chroma (aka less saturation/vibrant) most things are. Most things, including people, are much less colorful than I thought. Also, regardless of race, we humans are all low chroma orange (or as Munsell would have it, Yellow-Red).

Art theory Oil Painting Painting Still Life

Did It! One-Hour Pear Painted!

One Hour Pear, oil on Arches Oil Paper, 5x7 inches
One Hour Pear, oil on Arches Oil Paper, 5×7 inches

After struggling for a few days trying and failing to do a one-hour painting exercise as I posted yesterday, I returned to the studio determined to tackle the challenge again and this time, obey the timer. I “cheated” just a little, redefining the project to better suit my current abilities by doing a quick outline and monochrome block-in with diluted burnt sienna and pre-mixing my paint (below) before starting the timer. At exactly one hour I stopped and then gave myself 5 more minutes to soften the edges on the shadow and back of pear and to add a highlight. It’s not a masterpiece but I met the challenge and, most importantly, enjoyed it!

One done, two more to go before moving on and returning to some skull drawing and painting practice to enhance my ongoing portrait drawing and painting study.

Art theory Faces Oil Painting Painting People Portrait

Color Boot Camp Part III: Complementary Colors, Red/Green #2

Red Green Complementary Color Portrait #6, Oil on Arches Oil Paper, 14X11 inches
Red Green Complementary Color Portrait #6, Oil on Arches Oil Paper, 14X11 inches

I thought this color and portrait exercise was going to be hard, if not impossible, because of the crazy neon green and red lighting on the model. But because she was lit from the sides her face was modeled with visible planes and shapes it was surprisingly easier than the previous red/green portrait experiments. It was fun to paint and I’m really happy with everything about it. Below is the reference photo and the teacher’s study. I enjoy seeing how he makes each painting look like a different person, using the model as a jumping off place rather than going for a specific likeness.

Art theory Faces Oil Painting Painting People Portrait

Color Boot Camp Part III: Complementary Colors, Red/Green #1


Usually I pick the one image that I like the best to put at the top of my posts but after doing this exercise six times, I don’t know which, if any, I like at all. My struggles and mood on the day I was working on these studies really came through in the images. Each portrait seems to be saying what I was feeling, from “WTF!” to “I’m confused” to “Erk!” to “Help! Get me out of here!” To “Maybe it’s time to move on.”  More about complementary colors and what I learned from this exercise after all the awful paintings below:

The goal of the Complementary Color part of the New Masters Academy Color Boot Camp is to work with different pairs of complementary colors under different lighting conditions and observe the way the colors interact, both visually in the image, and when mixing together on the palette. Complementary colors are clearly explained this Wikipedia page.

The easiest way to remember which colors are complements are to think of the triad of the three primary colors: red, blue and yellow. Pick a color; the missing part of the triad is its complement. If you pick green (composed of blue and yellow) then red is missing. Red and green are each other’s complements. Pick yellow and what’s missing? Red and blue. When combined they make purple. Therefore purple and yellow are complementary colors. Ditto for orange (red+yellow) and blue.

Things I noticed: Red and green, like all complements, when beside each other make each other look brighter, more vibrant. When mixed together they dull each other down and make a grayed color. I really struggled to get a likeness, and even though that isn’t the point of the color exercises I got determined (obsessive?) until I finally gave up. Flat, frontal lighting makes it hard to find landmarks and planes in the face.

The last images are of the original photo reference, the teacher’s painting and two Photoshopped pictures where I selected color spots on the reference photo using the eyedropper tool and painted a spot of that color on a layer above the photo layer (displayed here with and without the photo). I do that when I have trouble recognizing what colors I’m actually seeing. I never really nailed any of these, in likeness or color. But the next exercise came out really great and I’ll post that soon.

Art theory Still Life

How to Draw Bottles that are Symmetrical

Daily Sketch, bottle-drawing practice, graphite, 8x10 inch
Daily Sketch, bottle-drawing practice, graphite, 8×10 inch

After struggling with a crooked bottle in a still life painting with lopsided shoulders, this morning I figured out how to draw bottles and keep the curves and angles on both sides symmetrical. 

The solution: 

  1. Make a mark for top and bottom and widest point of width on each side and draw a rectangle enclosing the shape. Draw a vertical line down the center of the rectangle.
  2. Next I  lightly drew a rectangle (or enclosing envelope) around each “section” of the bottle, with the bottom of each rectangle at the spot where the exterior of the bottle changes direction from a curve in or out. I left some of those marks in the sketch above.
  3. Then draw straight diagonal lines from section to section and soften them into matching curves. It’s much easier to draw straight lines accurately than curved ones.
  4. Draw the ellipses for each section using the guidance here from Sadie Valerie.