Playing musical scales, with color

As many of you know, I occasionally teach. Not nearly enough. I have a queue of students (thankfully!), but lately have been too busy to schedule a workshop. I hope sometime this summer. If you’re interested, let me know. In the meantime, showing up for the monthly Verde Artist Guild paint-outs is a great way to watch and ask questions.
But, back to the topic at hand, “Playing Scales with color”. What does that mean? Bottom line, this is a GREAT exercise to play with color. You’re an artist/collector, so you love color, right? Maybe not. Regardless, you may find this interesting.

First of all, my first paying job (well, outside of paper-boy at 13 and a very short–two week stint–at Knotts Berry Farm) was as a musician. I played professionally starting in high school. Like art, I couldn’t BELIEVE people where paying me for doing something I absolutely loved. Enough said. I know not everyone is in that situation, but that’s a good future topic. I played Jazz, so am fluent with the concept of improvisation.

Improv applies to art. In order to make things up in a fluid way, yet stay within a defined structure (musical key, color palette), your options (notes, colors) must become second nature. Once they are second nature, you can sit before a subject and apply that key/color-scheme to reach the artistic ends you desire, be it an exiting emotional painting, calm, mysteries, whatever.

So, here’s how I apply this to developing my painting skills. First, I define a “color key” that matches the mood I want to convey. In color theory, there are several: analolgous colors, complementary colors, split-complementary colors, triadic colors, etc. To get experience with these “color keys” I take a very simple 3-value design, and re-paint it using several different keys. These color studies sometimes result in great paintings (I’ve sold many), but like a musician, I don’t count on scales/exercises to sell. They’re through-way, for learning.

Look at the example below. The top-left is an analogus color scheme. Colors are adjacent on the color wheel. Top-right is a triadic color scheme (blue/violet, orange, and green are equi-distant). Bottom left is a complementary color scheme (Orange and Blue), and bottom-right is a split complementary scheme (Orange + Green/Blue and Red/Blue). What do you think? Doesn’t each version have a different emotional tone?

When it comes to painting nature, drawing skills are abolute, but let yourself go with color!
Color Study Example

BTW, this techique is also discussed in Ted Georschner’s book, The Workshop Experience. Try it! It’s only paint!

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