February 9, 2021
This week I just took a little time exploring how two reds, one closely related to orange, Vermilion and the other Alizarin Crimson, closer to purple, mixed and related to two very different greens, Sap Green which is much more yellow that Phthalocyanine Green which leans toward blue.
You may have different greens and reds in your paint box. Take some time to discover how near to orange or purple s each red is and how near to yellow or blue each green is.
Viridian, Phthalocyanine Green, Cobalt green and Prussian Green are all examples of greens nearer to blue. Sap Green is a more yellow green and Hooker’s Green is much bluer than Sap Green but more yellow than Phthalo Green.
Vermilion, and Cadmium Red Pale are much nearer to orange than Crimson Alizarin, Quinacridone Rose and Magenta and you may have other reds which are somewhere between the two.
Before homing in on the green and red pigments you choose for your painting subjects this week find which combinations will be best suited by experimenting a little.
Have a look at this week’s Pinterest board at
In each example make a note of how the red and green pigments are being employed and how they interact. Observe how red looks when surrounded by dark, pale tones, by similar hues and by complementary colours both pale greens, dark greens, yellow greens and bluer greens.
Choose only two from the following list and make two paintings incorporating one in each. That doesn’t mean to say the other items won’t be present but I would like you to have one main theme for each painting, just as a story may involve one main character and a couple of supporting roles. Don’t feel you have to do two paintings. One well thought out composition is really worthwhile.
You may use white pure in areas and in mixes, and your paintings may be representational or abstract. The medium is up to you. Try to make dark tones by mixing the appropriate reds and greens and use black only if essential.
Think very carefully about how many greens you wish/need to work with and how many reds. The illustrations will give you some idea of the scope of using only four pigments but you may wish to explore lots of greens in a painting and only one red for instance. Try to have a reason for your choices.
After a while it becomes intuitive to just go for the “right” colour knowing how it will appear on its own and in mixes, and you will definitely begin to enjoy using some pigments more than others. I firmly believe that individual colour choices and combinations form as much of the identity of an artist as the shapes and lines he produces. (“he” being used in the universal mankind sense here.) Think this has already been born out in the last few weeks by those who prefer orange and blue to yellow and violet and vice versa!
February 3, 2021
Red demands our attention even in the smallest quantities. The tiniest area of pure red can form a focal point as in the painting of the blue rug above. It’s like an itch that cannot be ignored.
Where blue may be sad or holy, red is fiery, passionate, romantic, celebratory. Blue is recession or depression, red leads the cavalry to advance. We need both the calm of blue and the jollity of red for a balanced colour diet.
Look at the way red is used in the works on this week’s Pinterest board at:
Look at the red dot in Matisse’s cut out “Icarus”. See how different reds interact in the abstracts by Rothko and Patrick Heron. Explore how Bernard Cathelin manipulates red in still life, portrait and studies of groups of figures.
This week for all the studies you may use any red pigment alone or in combination with other reds. You may use Magenta, Quinacridone Rose, Alizarin as well as the warmer reds cadmium Red Pale, Scarlet and Vermilion. It would be useful for these studies to have one cool red(nearer to purple) and one warm red(nearer to orange).
One way to understand your reds is to test each one by discovering how it appears surrounded by black , white or a different red. Make a note of which appear to advance or whether the same red appears different against different surrounding hues. After that try at least one of the following red/reds to make a composition. You may use back and white, mixed with the reds or as areas of white and black. These paintings may be abstract or representational, hard or soft edged.
1. Make a painting using one or more red pigments, black and white. This may be hard or soft edged, abstract or representational.
2. Make a painting with red as in 1. but a small amount of a related hue may be used, but only one; either a reddish orange or a reddish mauve but not both.
3. Make a painting with any colour but include one small area of red as a focus.
January 26, 2021
This week we have high drama purple and yellow. It’s in some ways very like the blue orange challenge, although to my mind not as easy. Yellow and purple together always brings to mind mauve and yellow crocuses and Iris. I didn’t find quite so many references so perhaps I’m not the only one to find this challenging.
All the same principles apply as for the orange blue complementary pair, and it’s worth trying to mix a few yellows with one purple colour to find out what you can make with this limited palette. Again purple will very quickly denature any yellow much in the same way that blue does the same with orange, so always add a small amount of purple to the yellow to make your mixes, unless you just want to add a small amount of yellow to a very strong pigment like Dioxazine Purple, just to take the edge off its rather harsh colour.
A few notes on other pigments and the use of pastel are included in the Challenges for this week: section nearer the end.
Unlike red and blue and especially when working with oil or acrylic, yellow can be used to make a deep colour paler while at the same time lessening its saturation (purity). That is why a little yellow with Dioxazine will lessen its vivid colour. This does not work where reds and blues are opaque paints that already contain a lot of white; especially gouache and acrylic paints (some pink and pale bluecolours).
A useful watercolour technique is charging. Make a small square of yellow wash, about 3inches square and drop a strong purple into it while it is wet. This technique is called charging. Very often the colours mingle rather than mix, but the results can be stunning. Then try dropping yellow into a purple wash.
I repeated this with a stronger purple wash; the results are subtle but would be wonderful for a ceramic vase.
Challenges for this week:
Spend most of the time on 3. and/or 4.
1. Yellow and Purple mixes;
I suggest you stick to one purple, Dioxazine (also called Winsor Violet) would be a good choice being a strong pigment that will give you plenty of tonal contrast and see how it mixes with the yellows in your box. Just remember it is very strong, transparent and staining.
A gentler option would be any other mauve or violet.
If you have a pale opaque violet like the rather expensive Cobalt Violet your yellow mixes will be much more subtle but you will not be able to make dark tones with yellow. It is certainly worth experimenting with as it is a beautiful pigment for delicate colour washes but will not give you any strong tones.
Purple is one of the more difficult colours to mix but a magenta added to an ultramarine should give a good purple. Mix a large amount if you wish to have a consistent colour mix for a painting.
You may also wish to use either pastel or oil pastel which would be great as a wax resist with watercolour.
If you are using acrylic Dioxazine Purple is the strongest. There are other purple pigments which are often mixed with white so you would automatically reduce the transparency of your colour by mixing with transparent yellows. All are useful but please be aware that the results will be different.
If working with watercolour try the charging technique as outlined above. Note any difference in the behaviour of your pigments. Try charging purple into yellow and yellow into purple.
3. Make a composition using only yellows, one purple and white if required.
4. Make a second painting using yellows, one purple, white, black and a small amount of colour analogous to purple e.g. a purplish blue like ultramarine.
The painting should appear mainly yellow purple and mixes of these two. Use black with caution but do try using a pure black and very strong purple beside each other or for a very rich dark area try laying strokes of purple over a dry black wash. A strong transparent purple like Dioxazine is necessary for this.
If you use Payne’s Grey instead of black also be aware that this paint is a mixed pigment that contains black so will tend to desaturate/muddy colours in the same way that black does. Very often the added hues are blue and/or purple pigments. My personal choice is to use a Payne’s Grey Blue Shade as the alternatives are generally very dull.
If time is limited, choose to do either 3. or 4.
Do first look at the Matisse painting of a woman in a purple and yellow jacket and the Dufy work of a view through a window in Nice. It would also be well worth looking at the contemporary artist David Tress who works mainly with land and city scapes. If you can, choose to work from your imagination or your own reference, otherwise make your version of one of the paintings referenced.
January 19, 2021
Yellow, the sunshine colour; just what we could do with today! Opposite purple on the simple colour wheel this is the colour intrinsically pale in tone, even the yellows that are nearer to orange are pale in their most saturated form.
Yellow paints in your box may range from the very pale lemony yellows nearest to green;
Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Lemon, Cadmium Yellow Light
To the middle yellows;
Cadmium Yellow Medium, Chromium Yellow Light
And yellows that are almost orange;
Turner’s Yellow, Chromium Yellow Deep, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Indian Yellow
You can do any of the suggested projects below with one pale or lemony yellow and one that is nearer to orange or at least in the middle range of yellows.
Have a look at the Pinterest board to see how other artists have worked with yellow as the principal colour in a composition.
Then try any two of the following (more if it’s pouring with rain outside).
1. Try making an abstract or representational painting, using any pure yellows. If you need to because you are using an opaque medium like pastel or gouache you may use white.
Do not use earth yellows such as the ochres. These are already de-saturated colours. By mixing yellow with black, or as we shall see next week with purple, you should be able to mix your own approximations to these.
2. Find how the yellows in your box mix with black and make a hard edged composition with at least some pure black areas, some pure white/white of the paper areas, and blocks of pure yellow and yellow mixed with black or white. This may be representational or abstract.
3.Make a painting with hard and soft edges with any mixes of yellow, black and white, abstract or representational. For textures as in the Sargent portrait you may consider using pastel instead of a wet medium.
4. Make a painting using the same colours as in 3 but you may add touches of closely related colours like a reddish orange or a yellowy green.
With your paintings try to find ways of sorting out major tonal areas. The dark and unsaturated colours will be the perfect foil to pure or almost pure colours. Be very aware of when you are using pure colour and when you are using de-saturated colour. Look at how pure colours seem to stand out from duller unsaturated colours demanding attention.
January 12, 2021
Orange and Blue is a very versatile colour combination producing vivid contrasts and yet in mixes some lovely muted colours and greys can be made. In theory you should be able to mix a neutral grey if the orange and blue are mixed in the right proportions. Try this with an ultramarine and a cadmium orange. The exercise below used gouache pigments but could be done with watercolour or acrylic.
Try adding a titanium white to one of the darkest mixes. That will soon reveal whether the mix has a blue or an orange bias. See below.
Last week we saw how different hues looked when the same hue was surrounded by hues that were different in tone and saturation. This week we are throwing a much greater colour difference into the mix and the effects of pale and dark borders. The following were constructed digitally but the same principles apply when you are painting.
Outlines matter: the arrangement of colour is identical in the three illustrations below, they differ only in that the first group have no outline, the second group a black outline and the third group a white otline to the cross shapes.
References for this week can be found on the Power of Colour Pinterest board at:
The first challenge is to create two or three small studies that show how blue and orange can relate to each other, much as we did for the different blue hues. This time I would like to see both studies use similar shapes; these can be organic or more geometric. The colours should be distinct and either have no border, a black border or a white border. Use only one blue and a premixed orange e.g. cadmium orange or a similar bright orange.
Some people really enjoy making these studies/little abstract paintings. If you do, you may like to spend all your time on this. If not just spend a short time mixing colours; especially noticing any differences between mixing the complementary colours together, and mixing each complementary with white or black before spending most of your time on a painting; see notes below the study notes..
First Study; work with your chosen blue and orange as the brightest blocks of colour you can make. Include white as pure white and black as pure black and include shapes with and without outlines.
Second Study: In the second study try including some desaturated colour by mixing your blue with the orange. You may use white but not black.
(if time)Third Study: This time you may still use only one orange and one blue but do not mix them with each other, just use white or black to de-saturate the colours. You may choose whether to include any areas of pure blue and pure orange or you may choose to work with either very pale or very dark colour mixes.
Medium: You may use any medium for this; collage would work brilliantly perhaps inspired by works by Patrick Heron or Josef Albers. An opaque medium like gouache would also work well. This can also be done with watercolour, pastel or acrylic. These studies can be quite small and contain only about eight shapes, certainly not more than about twelve. If you decide to work in collage; paint some pieces of cartridge paper and cut or tare them to make your shapes. White paper can be your pure white and if you have any black paper that can be your black.
Painting; after the studies spend some time looking at the Pinterest Board again and make your own composition using any of your blue pigments, black and white but use only one premixed orange. Mix these however you like. An opaque orange like Cadmium Orange would be ideal but any bright orange will do.
Note how black lines can separate areas of colour, containing them as in a stained glass window. We often prepare to paint by drawing with lines that separate areas we may later choose to fill with colour. These lines usually represent edges of what we can see. Very often we obliterate these lines during the course of painting so that one colour lies directly against its neighbouring colour with no dividing line. See how in some works the artist uses line, sometimes to separate blocks of colour and/or to define the edges of objects within an area of colour as in the blue and gold interior painted by Matisse referenced on the Pinterest board for this week.
When looking at paintings look for works that use line and those that represent forms with no line which is much more as we see them.
Look at how Modigliani sometimes used a pale blue for eyes in a rather orange face. You might consider working from a black and white portrait photo. In landscape paintings blues tend to recede and the orange and red colours seem to advance. Whether you produce an abstract or a representational piece think about edges and enjoy the colour!
January 5, 2021
For the next few weeks we’ll be looking at primary colours used on their own and their use with each of their complementary colours. Primary colours will also be used with closely related hues to make harmonious compositions.
We’ll also explore some of the effects of colours on each other, after all colour can seriously affect your eyes or at the least deceive them a little!
Look at the appearance of the four blue squares on the right and middle columns above. Do they look different? What happens at their edges?
Then: stare at each of the squares in turn for about a minute then look at the blank space below before going on to the next one. What do you see?
For even more spectacular after images stare at the colour wheel below and then at a white space. these after images and illusions are with us all the time we are seeing.
To start with, here are a few basic definitions that are relevant to the course.: please skip if you are already up to speed with this!
Hue: a pure colour of a certain wavelength in the visible light spectrum.
Colour wheel; this should be a circle with a continuum of all the different hues in the visible spectrum. In practical terms this has been reduced to a beach ball of just six colours which represent six major groups of colour as used for painting; firstly, the three primary colours; red, yellow, and blue called primaries because they cannot be mixed from other colours; secondly, the three secondary colours orange, green and purple which can be mixed from the primary colours and which lie in between the colours they are mixed from on the colour wheel. Scientists and artists have invented a huge number of colour wheels, some of which include many more colours and also tints and shades at different levels within the circle.
Analogous colours; colours close in hue and next to each other on the colour wheel. the colour wheel. e.g. red and a reddish purple
Saturation : the purity of the colour, which is occasionally and I think confusingly, called intensity. To de-saturate a colour mix the pure hue (fully saturated colour), with its complementary colour, or black or white. The saturation of some colours is altered radically by even the smallest amounts of these; for example yellow is very rapidly changed by the addition of the smallest amounts of purple or black.
Tone: how light or dark a colour appears. Every pure hue has an intrinsic tone. A pure yellow for instance is always paler than a pure red. The additionof black, both de-saturates a hue and lowers or darkens its tone. Colours darkened in this way are usually called shades. The addition of a complementary colour also lowers its tone.
The addition of white to a hue lightens it and is said to raise its tone to make tints.
The definition of tints and shades is not always consistent as pastels are often labelled as e.g. tints 1 to 6 where usually a stick labelled tint 1 or 0 is the palest and is the pure colour plus white, and a stick labelled tint 6 is the darkest of that colour made up of the pure hue plus black.
This week’s colour is blue. Often the colour of melancholy and depression as in Picasso’s blue period portraits, I didn’t choose blue first because of Covid creating so much depression this New Year. No, I chose it first because it’s also the colour of sunny skies and Mediterranean waters, and because as you will see next week blue is great to combine with its complementary orange.
The blue pigments I have used for the exercises are
French Ultramarine (warm),
Cobalt Blue (warm)
Phthalo Blue, green shade or Prussian blue (cold)
It’s useful to have at least one warm and one cool blue to work with. If I had only two I would probably favour Ultramarine and Cerulean, but the richness of cobalt and the dark tones that can be produced with Phthalo or Prussian Blues are very useful additions.
For this week you will also need a black and white, and perhaps a couple of analogous colours a blueish purple and a blueish green or turquoise.
Used at full strength pure cobalt and pure cerulean are not as dark in tone as Ultramarine or Phthalo Blue and the darkest is Prussian blue. Phthalo Blue, Prussian blue and Ultramarine are generally more transparent than Cerulean and cobalt blue.
What does this mean in practice?
Transparency only applies to watercolour, oil and acrylic paints as if you are using gouache or pastel you are effectively working with an inherently opaque medium. Transparent colours deepen the more layers of colour that are added. Opaque colours laid down at full strength do not become darker when further layers are added. Very often it is difficult unless you know their position to identify the transparent colours of watercolour pans in a box because they all appear so dark whereas the more opaque colours give away their identity on sight; e.g, cadmium red, cadmium orange etc.
Exercises; I have chosen watercolour for this week but most could be done with pastel, acrylic or gouache. I hope to provide some pastel examples later in the week. The illustrations are only to give you ideas of ways to explore the blue pigments in your own boxes,
1. Tone and saturation
Take a blue pigment and try 1. diluting with water, 2. mixing with increasing amounts of white, 3. mixing with black and adding increasing amounts of white, and 4. compare with black to which increasing amounts of white are added.
Try this for a warm blue like Ultramarine and a cool blue like Cerulean or Phthalo Blue. Adding water or white will make tints and adding black will darken the colour and de-saturate the blue. Adding white to this mix will produce blueish greys.
2. Optical properties
Dark and light surrounds, disappearing boundaries; very closely related hues of the same tone.
Make a study where similar shapes of one hue are surrounded by white, a much darker hue or by a closely related hue of the same tone. An example is given below.
You may choose to do 3 or 4 below;
3. Make a painting/study using just blue pigments
4. Make a painting or study using blue pigments, and black. You may also use white and a couple of analogous colours like a blueish green and/or a blueish purple. The general effect should be that you are making a predominantly blue and harmonious painting.
3 and 4 may be your own composition or your version of a famous painting where the predominant colour is blue.
What conditions make a blue advance, float, or recede?
With regard to tone and hue how does a background colour affect how a blue hue appears?
Pinterest board for reference.
The link for this week’s board is:
which includes abstract works by Patrick Heron, Marc Rothko, Josef Albers, Kandinsky and Matisse alongside works from Picasso’s blue period.
September 9, 2020
Working with just a triad of colours (plus white if not working in pure watercolour) may be a challenge, but also gives unity to a painting. The first triad we will try is known today as the Zorn palette.
Anders Leonard Zorn (1860 to 1920) a Swedish artist greatly acclaimed internationally for his portraits, including those of several American presidents, was also famous for frequently using a limited palette of just four pigments: Yellow Ochre, Vermillion, Ivory Black and Flake White. Now we may prefer to use Yellow Ochre, Cadmium red Pale, Ivory Black and Titanium White. Flake white is warmer than Titanium White but is made from lead oxide, so rather a health and safety hazard.
Many old masters including Rembrandt, frequently used a similar limited palette partly due to the expense of blue pigments and also due to the fact that many of the pigments we use today were not known or manufactured then. Zorn used this limited palette when working in oil but it is perfectly feasible to use the same palette when working in acrylic, gouache, watercolour or even pastel.
It is a very suitable palette for mixing skin tones, hence the many Zorn portraits using this limited palette, but can also be successfully used for other subjects; still life studies, some natural forms and city-scapes. It is more of a challenge for landscapes but could work for Autumn trees against a leaden sky. The black becomes a substitute for blue and both black and white (or water if using watercolour) contribute to the tonal and saturation range in the composition.
My “Pomegranate and Pear” study uses watercolour and titanium white gouache, but I could have used just watercolour without the white pigment or all gouache or acrylic. I decided to find what mixing the pigments would look like before starting to paint the still life. This was a chart of mixing the pairs of colours to make secondary colours. This could have been extended by mixing any of the squares with the missing pigment e.g. mixing a little black into the orange mix. I could have also extended the tonal range by diluting with water or adding titanium white.
First row: Yellow Ochre with increasing amounts of Cadmium Red Pale
Second row: Ivory Black with increasing amounts of Yellow Ochre
Third row: Cadmium Red Pale with increasing amounts of Ivory Black
You will see that some rather olive green colours were created when Yellow Ochre was mixed with Ivory Black. This is because Ivory Black is very slightly blue and will make very cool (tending toward blue) greys when mixed with Titanium White or water. It is often difficult to see exactly what hues are in very dark colours but by diluting the colour with white or water the inherent colour can be more easily seen.
Added a few more rows, first three as previous colour chart. Row 4 added black to water, should have added less initially to make a smoother transition through loads of grey shades! Rows 5,6,7, various pale mixes; some with red, yellow and black; no system to them! Row 8 Permanent White (Titanium Oxide White) with increasing additions of Ivory Black.
On a general note when colours are mixed it is always best to add a little of the darker pigment to the paler one, as much more pigment is needed to change the appearance of a dark colour by adding a paler one, so you risk wasting paint.
Have at the ready;
Cadmium Red Pale (or any other bright warm red like Vermilion)
Titanium White gouache if not using pure watercolour. This is usually labelled Permanent White. Zinc white is more transparent.
You will also need watercolour paper, a deep welled palette for making washes and your usual brushes and equipment. I would experiment a bit with mixing but if time is limited don’t be too precise just make sure you understand the possibilities.
1. Make a colour chart of mixes of each colour
2. Try extending the black with water and with white. You will notice a difference.
3. Try mixing the secondary colours with the missing (complementary) colour e.g. add a little black into a mixed orange.
4. Allow your colours to mingle wet in wet on the paper. Allow to dry then add other colours over them.
5. Make an abstract or a representational painting; a simple still life, natural form or a portrait study either from your own reference or referencing one of Zorn’s paintings.
Ensure you understand the tonal composition of your reference. If working in watercolour start with the palest tones and colour and build up to the darker washes. In acrylic and gouache the darks may be established earlier on and over painted with paler tones mixed with white where appropriate.
Reference Pinterest Board “Limited Palettes”
Some of Anders Zorn’s works are referenced on my Limited Palette Pinterest board together with a gouache demonstration of the Zorn palette used with gouache by James Gurney. It has an unusual setting but is very useful. He does talk about using additional browns but you should be able to mix all of these from your red, yellow and black. He also used a paper primed with an Ochre or Raw Sienna casein paint; you could always apply a dilute acrylic wash of a similar hue. At one stage he removes paint to let the background casein colour show through. That should also work with an acrylic wash. However as you can see from the still life at the beginning of the post you can see that it is perfectly possible just to paint on white watercolour paper.
Castagnet works in watercolour and I have included one of his cityscape works which could be reinterpreted using the pigments of the Zorn palette.
Your Zorn Palette Paintings:
Both of Sandra’s works were painted with Cadmium Red Deep instead of a brighter red like Cadmium Red Pale, Vermilion or Scarlet Lake.