View Full Version : Two Questions

10-07-2002, 07:48 PM
First, my girlfriend, inspired by me, I guess, has enrolled in an art class I recommended. She's already got the artist "eye" and she will do well. She asked me to recommend a beginner book on color. I taught myself with snippets from here and there through the years. I swear I have no idea which book to tell her to get. Anyone have any good ideas?

Secondly, for the advanced artists, I have discovered that paintings can work on color alone-almost no detail. My favorite artists, like Burdick, Sovek, Auster, Milt, all do this.

Are there any great books on this subject? Real "mix this and place it there" kind of books that show how to get an effective painting from color with almost no detail? The warms and cools and combinations? Or do I just have to continue the struggle?


10-07-2002, 09:25 PM
I still don't think of colors in warm and cool or complementary. In fact when I'm mixing my colors, I have no theory behind it except for whatever my brain tells me to mix.

I think when I see a very unrealistic painting the colors are usually to blame. Often they are too structured or planned out and end up very, colorful. When I'm trying to make a shadow on a red object, I don't use green, I use whatever I see as the color in the shadow.

I guess all I have to suggest is to use whatever you see.

10-08-2002, 10:28 AM
How about introducing your friend to "Larry's Color Lessons" on WC?
Also I found a good quote from another thread;
"A good book for a beginner, intermediate or advanced painter is Chris Saper's, "Painting Beautiful Skintones". Many portraits from now, skintones will begin to sink in."

I have this book too and find myself referring to it from time to time. The title is a little misleading in that some of the information can be applied to other subjects and the author has done a good job of describing things in general.

10-08-2002, 10:59 AM
My recommendation:

"Creative Color for the Oil Painter" by Wendon Blake
ISBN# 0-8230-1036-8

Chapters include...
Color basics
Colors for oil painting
How colors behave in mixtures
Color mixing and control
Applying color with brush and knife
Palettes and color schemes
Observing and painting the colors of nature

It's a book I go back to again and again.

10-08-2002, 12:29 PM
Originally posted by impressionist2
I have discovered that paintings can work on color alone-almost no detail. My favorite artists, like Burdick, Sovek, Auster, Milt, all do this.

Are there any great books on this subject? Real "mix this and place it there" kind of books that show how to get an effective painting from color with almost no detail? The warms and cools and combinations? Or do I just have to continue the struggle?


Dear Renee,

I highly recommend the new book Paint Red Hot Landscapes that Sell, by Mike Svob. I really like his painting style and decided to try to use this book as a means of getting more color into my work in a more contemporary style.

I'm on chapter 3 now and the assignment was to paint on a warmly-colored ground. I started a plein air scene in my yard and must have been in a gutsy mood to have tried a red ground. If you want to see the beginning of this painting, I posted it a few days ago to the Landscape forum. You can try this link. The subject is Painting on a Red Ground.


He goes on with chapters on tonal values, warming up paintings with the direct local color method, "must have" landscapes, controlling edges, etc. Each chapter has exercises to do. I think you'll love it. It was the Alternate Selection last month for the North Light Book Club.


10-09-2002, 08:34 AM
The Helen Van Wyk series, especially "Color Recipes 2" is a good starting point for oil. She discusses the colors on her palette, what to use to lighten or darken and then has a series of demos for different treatments and those are called the recipes. All of her books, though not new, are good basic books, IMHO.

10-09-2002, 08:55 AM
"Exploring Color" - Nita Leland

"Color" - Paul Zelanski

"Color In Contemporary Painting. Integrating Practice and Theory" - Charles Leclair

10-09-2002, 09:01 AM
Hi Renee,

I really like a book by William F. Powell called 'Color and How to Use It'. It is a Walter Foster publication, and Powell simplifies the complex subject of color theory. Some color theory books really are difficult to follow, but this one really guides the artist with many excellent examples.

Just my 2 cents.


10-10-2002, 09:03 AM
Sorry, I only responded to the first question. The second one is more difficult but as an avid reader in search of good color combinations too, maybe the Lois Griffel book "Painting the Impressionist Landscape" would be good. I just ordered it from Amazon and also ordered the Hawthorne book as well. I can't wait to read these, since they are the Cape Cod School. I thought that while lurking one day I saw that you were interested in Hensche, Cape Cod School, color theory.

If you go to www.capecodschoolofart.com you'll see that Lois Griffel is the current director. I'm hoping to go there next summer for a workshop.

Some other good landscape painting books are the Plein Aire book by Frank LaLumia and a book by Margaret Kessler published by Watson-Guptill, Painting Better Landscapes.

10-16-2002, 07:43 AM
Originally posted by ArtistEnigma
I still don't think of colors in warm and cool or complementary. In fact when I'm mixing my colors, I have no theory behind it except for whatever my brain tells me to mix.

I think when I see a very unrealistic painting the colors are usually to blame. Often they are too structured or planned out and end up very, colorful. When I'm trying to make a shadow on a red object, I don't use green, I use whatever I see as the color in the shadow.

I guess all I have to suggest is to use whatever you see.

the thing here is...recognizing that colors are usually to blame infers there is a "shoulda" or an "ought" which implies a "better way"

Consistency, growth, getting a handle on it, and achieving a mastery, and even developing a style all incurs a "structure" and a way of thinking about color. Random assemblage is really not a color system at all (which is what one gets if they just use what the brain says) and is likely to lead to more understandable and justifiable blame on color.

Mastery has to note when things work, and when things don't work....and why and when that seems to happen. The advantage of amassing scads of art magazines (my favorite "American Art Review") is you see images you like, and those you don't. Taking command over the brain to ask 'what are the similarities of those I like, over those I do not?' leads necessarily for the artist to a color theory or system. The logic and reason behind that is one does not set out intentionally to fail at anything their heart engages.

If you see something NOT working for one artist, it is near the same as attending a workshop for if it failed to work in this particular set of circumstances it is not likely to work for you or me simply by having our name signed on the painting. You can learn from failures, you can recognize successes. With such recognition comes a gathering together of elements for which the mind best understands and stores for future use by catergorizing and storing this information. Alas...you'll have a system.

I'll agree that color theory books are many and it can be a confusing issue for artists, but it is one that mastery must get a handle on. The warm/cool complementary way of thinking about color is IMHO one of the easiest most practical ways of understanding color and it falls in line anyway with what happens in nature's light. The devices of this system are very practical also in organizing and orchestrating one's composition.

Not only contrast or calling attention to areas of the canvas, but in helping produce depth illusion. Warm colors tend to come or be pulled forward while cool colors tend to push back.

The issue here as Renee calls for is one that the majority of life long artists will have to deal with. What is it about a painting that speaks to most people, while others are near immediately ignored?

That we are bombarded daily with tens of thousands of images, and knowing the necessity for filtering information that the mind routinely shifts into "ignore" mode means that if your time as an artist is worth anything (other than when you paint for yourself and yourself alone- meaning all your work will simply be stacked up in your rooms, halls, and basement) then you will sooner or later be interested in how the eye of the viewer works.

Assumptions are important, and the study of studying, the knowledge of knowledge, or truth about truth are not things to be dismissed...

...such paves the way for how you will work, and did for me for near 20 years. As a regional and nationally competitive wildlife artist for those many years with prints, publishers, agents and what not...I was detail upon photorealistic detail wrapped and bound. I was thinking only about how a painting looked six inches away....and that looking like a photograph from any distance back was success.

I wowed people with my skill....but my images failed to wow them enough to haunt them with the life I wanted them to contain after they moved along.

There is a potential life's spirit that can be projected in a work of art that can ring a chord in a viewer. Being impressed with an artist's skill is not very often reason enough for a viewer to part with a couple thousand dollars.** On the other hand...the viewer might not be able to even remember the artist's name but can't forget the image that stirs their soul again and again, and THAT painting they must sacrifice to buy and own.

A psychology of how the eye works is important consideration.

Its almost like sharing a bond with the viewer of how we see and view life and beauty in the world around us alike. When their affinity and love for that which offers healing, wonder, awe...is captured in a work, possessing that work brings anew when most needed capsules of refreshing. The spirit of a place ministering to them.

WE all know that there is something about a waterfalls and stream that compells the viewer to sit and just listen. To escape and feel alive. A spirit there that if captured on canvas produces the same feelings again and again.

I have learned that mimicking detail alone does not guarantee such results. Copying photographs alone does not. However, color in the human psyche touches an almost otherworldly thing.

That, and how that color is laid down.

Let me drag this rant on even longer by offering a metaphor and perhaps it will help others understand. (I hope some will let me know it has...) Maybe this rant will be part of the book you seek Renee....hahaha...

Orators and good keynote speakers learn from the tellers of stories such as Christ and His parables how listeners ears and mind absorb information.

If you require nothing of the listener but to sit back, unscrew the top of his/her head and allow upfront direct information to be dumped in...about only 15% of that information might be retained and assimilated. ON the other hand, if you do not let the hearer know up front where you are taking him and instead invite the mind to hear a story, the right mode of the brain engages ( or the human spirit if you will)...and the mind imagines and follows.

Here, you are asking something of the hearer and mind to engage. They are audience participating. They hear a story, then suddenly the speaker instead of making the point plain invites them to think the end thru to the moral conclusion or lesson.

Some walk away thinking it was all a nice story. Some think the orator wasted their time, that it was childish and stupid. Still, some walk away and all of a sudden they experience this illumination. This moment of the "ah-HAH!" I get it!

I often refer to this "ah-Hah!" in my painting demo's because I believe when I stand before nature and paint...that there is a hidden message that resonates beauty to my soul. Like a parable nature is revealing a story and I am being asked as an artist to engage and play along.

Like the person walking away with the story going thru their head again and again...I am painting and stripping away the inessentials determinating what not to paint being as important as what to paint. With experience, maturity and mastery I learn a "style" that allows me to approach the subject and discover this moment where suddenly I get it....the "ah-Hah!"

Not one more stroke of color or detail is necessary. I have captured the message. The life is there. The work imparts and imputes life.

The error I made for 20 years of my earlier painting career was an error of assumption. Such assumption thereby blinded me from discovering the truth. By laying EVERYTHING out on the line fully thinking myself clever and talented to jot and tittle every detail, I was asking the viewer NOT TO ENGAGE, to not participate. I was asking NOTHING of the viewer except to drop their mouth, go "wow!" and be impressed.

There was very little to get the viewer to try and figure anything out.

People tend to need a bit of mystery or mystique. A chance to read between the lines. When they do, you invite their own creative imagination to wake up and participate. They then tend to see more details than you have actually applied, thereby somewhat completing the painting along with you. You make them an artist as well...and thus a partner with you. You take them on a journey, and every time they see the work thereafter they see something a little different they have not seen before.

Most of us buy videos or DVD's of movies we like that do that for us. Each time we see it, something else becomes more clear or personal...and we feel we get it a bit more.

No matter where we are in our life- sorrow for the loss of a loved one; joy for a promotion at work; weary from doing good... etc., when we visit nature, nature shows us something we haven't noticed before AND something about ourselves we have not understood before. We learn to approach ourselves, allow ourselves some introspection and even to like ourselves. To even like being alone.

Understand that people in the world are literally spiritually dying from not having this. Art works that take them to a better preferred place and invite them to participate brings them on a venture similar to escaping along a stream and waterfalls. Such works are enduring.

Color and brushwork applied in a way to suggest detail is now not always so important to me as an artist to create literal detail but clever enough to invite my partners to complete the work with their own detail. I invite them to stand on that beach with me, and see something that perhaps I don't see.

That "way" applied will become a system, and the shortest route to a system is to embrace not dismiss the consideration of such theories. Had I known or been introduced to some of the thinking I have now...I might have reconsidered those 300 hours I was putting into each painting near 20 years ago. Why beat your head against the wall if the work when finished will ask nothing of the viewer that will engage them? -Larry

** Note...as verification of this, my paintings with 200-300 hours in them, prints made from them...shirts, cards you name it would have to be priced at about $2000 or lower to sell here in the midwest... which was always everytime financially a loss for me. Prints had to be sold to make the time worthwhile or gain other commissions. I have many "wow!" paintings stacked along the walls that no doubt my wife or sons will have to figure out what to do with after I'm gone. On the other hand, I can paint a thick juicy painterly realistic plein air a fourth the size of my former wildlife images using the dynamics of color and suggestive strokes in 1-1/2 to 2 hours that are selling for $650 on up to $2400.... Many traditionalists would argue my other work "better" but...they do not strike a "must possess" in the soul of veiwers like the works I'm doing now. One must ask why?

10-24-2002, 09:50 PM

What a great analysis about the evolution of your art! This really makes one think. I certainly appreciated this thesis. You should "bottle" up this story and dole it out to other artists (which I guess is what you just did). Paint on, buddy!


10-25-2002, 07:38 AM
Thanks Martin...

there are a few things I've written which I think are good.... good enough to be literary, and enough to consider to be life changing. I've read this thru a couple times myself, and think there is a decent food for the artistic soul here.

take care...


10-25-2002, 07:50 AM
Thanks, Larry. A great post indeed! Much fuel for thought here.

Best regards,
Jamie, who following a long struggle in realism is beginning to appreciate a plein air aesthetic!

10-25-2002, 10:40 AM
Your paintings may well have the wow factor ... your mind certainly does, Iseiler.

I hope, Impressionist2 and ArtistEnigma, that you managed to "get" from that thesis, that understanding colour theory, and using it, can only serve to underpin your work. I'd like to say, in very simple terms, that my work came to life when someone pointed out to me that I was failing to use colour theory at all, and was a "tonal painter". I did not want to be a tonal painter. So I read up a bit about the colour wheel, colour complementaries and colour harmonies, and looked at professional and master paintings after that with new eyes. It doesn't have to be heavy - a basic understanding will take you a very, very long way. It was a revelation to me ... just great stuff.

To build a good, strong wall, you have to know the fundamentals of bricklaying.

To create a first-class painting, it will help to know the fundamentals of your craft. Trusting only your eyes, ArtistEnigma, is to ignore a whole area of expertise, pre-researched for you by others, which you can dip into and explore so easily - you are lucky to be alive today, with all this information out there, so easy to access.

You will have enormous FUN with your paintings, if you spend a little time looking at the colour wheel, and learning something about colour theory. It is like using a special, secret code, known only to artists. Don't miss out on this ... it really is worth the effort

10-31-2002, 10:28 PM
I took color theory last semester; I can’t recall the book we used. It was only a color chapter in a design basics book. But my professor suggest ‘blue and yellow don’t make green’, she stated it is a dry technical read.

I can quickly explain the theory. In painting there are 6 primaries not 3, a warm and cool of blue, yellow and red. Here are the colors we used:

Cool Warm
Ultramarine blue Cerulean blue
Hansa yellow Cadmium yellow
Alizarin red Cadmium red medium

Mixing the cool red and blue makes purple. They both have a purple cast to them almost. But if you mixed ultramarine blue with cadmium red it makes a muddish gray. Cadmium is a yellowish-based red and with the purplish ultramarine doesn’t work, as mixing any complementary they gray each other. That is the purple and yellow undertones make mixing the pigments possible. It is easier to attempt or show than explain but it is quite easy to understand once you just mix a bit of the colors around. If it still doesn’t make sense I can find the title of the text we used. I hope this helps a little.

11-01-2002, 07:54 AM
Originally posted by saralindsey
I can quickly explain the theory. In painting there are 6 primaries not 3, a warm and cool of blue, yellow and red. Here are the colors we used:

This is how I paint as well...an expanded version of RYB...

My 1st graders already understand warm and cold color. That's how important I believe it is.

Knowing that color carries a temperature will help expand the RYB wheel and make sense of it. I still personally, for simplicity sake refer to there being only three primaries. Simply a warm and cool variant of each.

Sorta like a father...a kind and gentle side, and one when he gets a bit hot under the collar. Or the fact that as a man, I'm a husband, a father, a teacher...okay, which one am I?

Its just less confusing I find as a teacher to tell people there is simply a warm and cold variant of each primary station. Then I introduce them to the various blues, yellows, and reds...because quite frankly there are an awful lot of them out there. They actually begin to see what "looks" warm, and cold.

Interesting of late is discussion we've had with people that believe Ultramarine is a "warm" color and that phthalo is cool. They think of the red side of ultramarine and the blue side of phthalo. I use the later for my warm blue because when the sun is higher in the sky penetrating the atmosphere layer more directly....that is the blue I use to help make that effect. Can't get it with Ultramarine blue. However, when the sun is low and less a force to the atmosphere, I get just the right deeper blues of the sky with Ultramarine. Sun in my thinking equals warmth...and what it does to color, and what color mimics that.

I personally have not cared too much for cerulean. Least not yet.

I do think what is interesting is that people that paint outdoors adjust their palettes to imitate color in their region, and as such their palette is different than someone elses. I think that has a lot to do with where the sun sits in the sky. For example, in Hawaii...I know artists whose palette to imitate the blue of the sky or greens of vegetation varies from mine, and I think its because they are closer to the equator with the sun very high. Humidity and heat affect atmospheric density and water molecules differently. Here in the northern hemisphere, near upper Michigan...our view of the sun is more horizontal, and color appears differently. Artists therefore have to adjust to accomodate what they see.

On the other hand...having painted indoors as long as I have...I wonder if the palette of instudio painters might not be more similar due to the commonality held of similar film chemistry reducing a live scene to more generalized color and values. Hhhmm...that's a curiosity to me.