Color theory

I’m finally taking a color theory class (at a local community college). I’ve never studied color formally, but I finally decided that it was time. So last Monday night I spent the evening sorting by value 314 Color-aid swatches.

This was no picnic. By the end of the evening my eyes felt like a bad sunburn in sandy bluejeans. They became hypersensitive to colors; I took a break from my sorting and went to the restroom; in the institutional gray of the college bathroom, any thing with any color in it seemed to burn and glow.


One of the things that my watercolor guru, Steve Curl, is always on to me about is my value range. “Your painting is all in the mid-value range,” he admonishes. “Go darker.”

Go Darker. It’s a mantra in my studio. But until I struggled through the Color-aid deck, I don’t think I had an idea of what “go darker” meant, or where to place along a grey scale any particular alizaron crimson, quinacridone orange, or pthalo green.

After I wrote this post, this poem popped up in the recommendations from WordPress. It’s lovely. Read it.

Value Studies

As I’ve said, I need to do some color studies to understand the power in my box of Rembrandt soft pastels. So the first thing I’ve done is just sorted them out in a way that makes sense to me. One the left are the orange (warm) colors. Next over I’ve drawn pink (cool) colors. Some of these pinky hues are not chalk straight from the box; they are mixed and cooled down for the sake of the chart, because some of the chalk colors are inherently warmer and more orange in hue. However, I needed those particular values to make the complete value range. The remaining colors-green, blue, and violet—don’t really fit in a graded value chart on their own, but provide the good, rich base notes, or the high, singing discordancies that Chris Saper recommends in her book.

James Gurney (of Dinotopia fame) has had a series of excellent posts on color and color wheels. Thanks to him, I’m working my way through David Briggs in-depth site, The Dimensions of Colour.