Thursday, September 19, 2013

Designing Your Paintings with Color

Art School Color Exercise

Do you know how some memories stay in your mind forever, like accomplishing a goal or a special time with family or friends or a wonderful event in your life? Well, for me Art School was a very special and magical time. Not only was it the realization of a lifelong dream but also the commeraderie of like minded people where I FINALLY fit in. And then there were all the art projects that we created during my three years in a two year program. Some projects are more memorable than others, and this is one of them. 

Recently, I dug out this exercise from my art school days in the distant past. It is circa 1979-1980, so it’s over 30 years old and a little the worse for wear. Part of it is made of cut paper, and I had to tape some of the pieces back in place because the glue is failing. If you look closely, you’ll see that I taped the “L” upside down on one of the alphabet blocks and couldn’t remove it without tearing the paper. 

When I did this project, my kids were still quite young so I had the choice of many toys to use as my still life props. The horse is a Breyer horse model that was my daughter’s. I bought it as much for myself as I did for her! The other toys offered a varied assortment of shapes and sizes that were easy to manipulate into different colors from their “local” or true colors. After all, toys are supposed to be colorful. 

I really liked doing this exercise, not only because I was able to wiggle a horse into it, but because it was a great learning tool for learning to use color in different ways. I’ve often thought of doing another series like this but broadening the approach even further. One could use complementary colors or analogous colors or triads or any number of combinations. When you see one image created in so many different color combinations, it emphasizes the artist’s ability to manipulate color toward a specific intent in a work of art. The ability and the necessity of thinking through color choices is a skill that every artist should learn. 

I am forever grateful for the art training I received in school. This was a homework assignment in Design II (color), one of the foundation requirement courses for both the fine art students and the commercial art students. Commercial art is now known as Visual Communications which better describes this career. After all, graphic design and illustration are all about visually communicating ideas, feelings, thoughts and facts in an effective way. 

And, isn’t that exactly what a fine artist does as well?

The assignment was to create six images of the same objects in six specific different color arrangements. As you can see, the results are startling and very revealing. Notice how each is very different from all the others and creates a dfferent feeling or mood. We were free to select the colors for each object based on the purpose of each study which freed us from sticking with its local, or true, color. 

From top to bottom, the assignment for each study is as follows: 

Row 1; Black, White and Gray and Contrasting Colors
Row 2: Dominant Cool and Dominant Warm
Row 3; Dark Tones and Light Tones

Each study is about 9x12 inches and adhered to a full sheet of matboard. Now that I’ve gotten around to archiving the whole project, maybe I can bring myself to throw it out. Maybe... but not quite yet. 

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