“No one knows how far back in time the human passion for color evolved, but… its transmigration from one culture to another can be traced from archaeological fragments as old as recorded history.”
— Enid Verity
Color Observed, 1980
Miss Helen Keller, who was both blind and deaf, writes of color:
“I understand how scarlet can differ from crimson because I know that the smell of an orange is not the smell of a grapefruit… Without color or its equivalent, life to me would be dark, barren, a vast blackness_Therefore, I habitually think of things as colored and resonant. Habit accounts for part. The soul sense accounts for another part. The brain with its five-sensed construction asserts its right and accounts for the rest. The unity of the world demands that color be kept in it whether I have cognizance of it or not. Rather than be shut out, I take part in it by discussing it, happy in the happiness of those near me who gaze at the lovely hues of the sunset or the rainbow.”
— Helen Keller
The World I Live In, 1908
In the Middle Ages, color was used in heraldry, the practice of designing the insignia for armor that “heralded” or announced the wearer’s status, family connections, and history as a warrior.
Color helped to carry the message of the design:
White = fate and purity
Gold = honor
Red = courage and zeal
Blue = purity and sincerity
Green = youth and fertility
Black = grief and penitence
Orange = strength and endurance
Purple = royalty and high birth
The limbic system is a group of structures, as yet incompletely defined, that generally includes areas deep in the brain. These areas are transitional in structure between the “new” cortex and older portions such as the olfactory brain. Scientists believe that the limbic system is involved in patterns of strong emotions.
— H. B. English and Ava C. English
A Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychological and Psychoanalytical Terms, 1974
“In my own case the sight of vivid blue has always been accompanied by an emotion of vague delight. And in one experience of travel, this feeling rose into ecstasy. It was when I beheld for the first time the grandest vision of blue in this world the glory of the Gulf Stream; a magical splendor that made me doubt my senses—a flaming azure that looked as if a million summer skies had been condensed into pure fluid color for the making of it.”
— Lafcadio Hearn
Exotics and Retrospectives, 1968
“Perhaps the most important point I can make is that you are not to think of painting as something separate from drawing.”
— Kimon Nicolaides
The Natural Way to Draw, 1941
Some basic information about color:
The three main attributes of color are:
Hue is simply the name of the color. This is the L-mode attribute.
Value is the lightness or darkness of a hue, relative to the value scale. Value is an R-mode attribute.
Intensity is the brightness or dullness of a hue, relative to the utmost brightness available in pigments— generally color straight out of the tube. Intensity is an R-mode attribute.
T o balance color, remember the following:
Every hue has its complement.
For every hue of a given intensity, there is the same hue at the opposite intensity.
For every hue of a given value, there is the same hue at the opposite value.
“Hues which approach red have almost universally been considered as warm colors and those which tend toward blue as cool. Fire and sunlight and the glow of brisk circulation of blood are all associated with warmth.
“The colors of the sky and distant mountains and cool waters are generally bluish. When the body is chilled its color tends toward a bluish hue. These reasons naturally make us associate red, orange, and yellow with warmth, and blue, blue-green, and blue-violet with coolness.”
— Walter Sargeant
The Enjoyment and Use of Color, 1923
Psychologist Guy T. Buswell, in his 1935 study, How People Look at Pictures, noted that although initial fixation tends to be roughly in the center of a painting, the eye generally moves first to the left and then to the right. Dr. Buswell speculated that this is a carry-over from reading.
Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky agreed with Buswell about center-to-left-to-right scanning, but disagreed about the reason. Kandinsky’s explanation:
“The picture is facing us, therefore its sides are reversed. Just as when we meet someone, we shake their right hand—which is on the left as we face each other.”
Kandinsky continued: “The left side of an image is dominant, therefore, just as our right hand is (usually) the leading or strongest hand.”
— W. Kandinsky
Point and Line to Plane,1945
Drawing on the Beauty of Color
Source: The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards
In an age like ours, color is not the luxury it was in past centuries. We are inundated by manufactured color—surrounded, immersed, swimming in a sea of color. Because of sheer quantity, color is perhaps in danger of losing some of its magic. I believe that using color in drawing and painting helps us to recapture the beauty of color and to experience once again the almost hypnotic fascination it once had for us.
Human beings have made colored objects from earliest times, but never in such great quantity as now. In past centuries, colored objects were most often owned by only a few wealthy or powerful persons. For ordinary people, color was not available, except as found in the natural world and as seen in churches and cathedrals. Cottages and their furnishings were made of natural materials—mud, wood, and stone. Homespun cloth usually retained the neutral colors of the original fibers or, if dyed with vegetable dyes, was often quick to soften and fade. For most people, a bit of bright ribbon, a beaded hatband, or a brightly embroidered belt was a treasure to guard and cherish.
Contrast this with the fluorescent world we live in today. Everywhere we turn, we encounter human-made color: television and movies in color, buildings painted brilliant colors inside and out, flashing colored lights, highway billboards, magazines and books in full color, even newspapers with full-page color displays. Intensely colored fabrics that would have been valued like jewels and reserved for royalty in times past are now available to nearly everyone, wealthy or not. Thus, we have largely lost our former sense of the wondrous specialness of color. Nevertheless, as humans, we can’t seem to get enough color. No amount seems too much—at least not yet. True, quite a few individuals objected to the “colorization” of vintage black-and-white films. These arguments, however, were lost to commerce; most people preferred the colorized versions.
But what is all this color for? In the natural world of animals, birds, and plants, color always has a purpose—to attract, repel, conceal, communicate, warn, or assure survival. For present-day humans, has color even begun to lose its purpose and meaning? Now that we have this huge bulk of manufactured color, is its use mostly indiscriminate? Or is purpose and meaning still subliminally inherent in color as a remnant of our biological heritage? Is the pencil I write with painted yellow for a purpose? Did I choose to wear blue today for a reason?
And what is color? Is it merely, as scientists tell us, a subjective experience, a mental sensation that can only occur if three requirements are fulfilled: that there is an observer, an object, and sufficient light in the narrow band of wavelengths called the “visible spectrum”? It certainly is true that at twilight the world turns to shades of gray. Is the world really colorless, only seeming to become full of color again when we turn the lights on?
If color is a mental sensation, how does it happen? Scientists tell us that when light falls on an object—for example, an orange—the surface of the orange has the particular property of absorbing all the wavelengths of the spectrum except that which, when reflected back to our eyes and processed through the visual system, causes the mental sensation we have named the color “orange.” My writing pencil is coated with a chemical substance (paint) that absorbs all wavelengths except that which, when reflected back to my eyes, is “yellow.” Is the orange really orange? Is the pencil really yellow? We cannot know, because we cannot get outside of our own eye/brain/mind system to find out. What we do know is that when the sun goes down, color disappears.
Placing color in the brain
Given sufficient light to perceive colors, scientists also tell us that the brain’s reaction to colors seems to depend on the differences in thinking modes of the various sections of the brain.
Very bright, intense colors (and colors that shine and glitter) draw a response from the so-called “primitive” brain, the limbic system. This response is an emotional one, perhaps connected to our biological heritage of color as communication. For example, many people say, “When I get mad, I see red!” The inverse of this exclamation perhaps describes the situation whereby an intense red elicits an emotional, aggressive response.
The main role of L-mode, generally located in the left hemisphere, is to tag colors with names and attributes, such as “bright blue,” “lemon yellow,” or “burnt umber,” and to translate into words our emotional reactions to colors. (As an example, read in the marginal note how the Irish-Greek writer Lafcadio Hearn translated into words his emotional reactions to the color blue.)
Additionally, L-mode is specialized for designating sequenced steps in mixing colors—for example, “to mix orange, add yellow to red,” or “to darken blue, add black.”
The right hemisphere (or R-mode) is specialized for the perception of relationships of hues, particularly for subtle linkages of one hue to another. R-mode is biased toward discovering patterns of coherence, specifically toward combinations of hues that balance opposites—for example, red/green, blue/orange, dark/ light, dull/bright.
In his 1976 essay “The Dialectics of Color,” Dr. Peter Smith states: “Since the right hemisphere has a strong interest in the way things fit together to form a closed system, it may be said to be a decisive factor in the esthetic response.” This closed system may be what artists speak of as unified, harmonious color—that is, color in relationships that are locked into balance. Perhaps R-mode recognizes the satisfying wholeness of properly unified color and reacts with a pleasurable sense of “Yes. That’s it. That’s right.”
The converse is also true: R-mode recognizes unbalanced or disunified color arrangements and perhaps longs for unity and the missing parts of the closed system. An individual may experience this longing as vague dislike—a sense that something is missing or out of place.
R-mode has another important role in color: seeing which combination of colors has produced a particular color. Given a range of grays, for example, R-mode sees which one is warmed with red, which is cooled with blue.
Learning the basics of color
Nearly everyone is interested in color, yet most people have surprisingly little comprehensive knowledge about it. We often take it for granted that we know enough about color to know what we like, and we feel that’s sufficient. Yet knowing something of the enormous body of knowledge about color increases pleasure in color, as in almost every subject. In the following pages, you will add a few color skills to your newly acquired basic perceptual skills of drawing.
Something odd happens when a student of drawing begins to add color to the gray, black, and white of drawing. No matter how satiated by our modern color-loaded surroundings, students focus on color as though seeing it for the first time, almost with the naive pleasure of children. And color in drawing does indeed add a tremendous emotional charge to drawing. For an example of this, compare Edgar Degas’s drawing of the ballet dancer on pink paper (Figure 11-6) with the almost identical Degas drawing on page 157 of Chapter Eight. But I must caution you: I am not saying that color makes a drawing better. It doesn’t. Color changes drawing, adding an element of drama and verve that moves it closer to painting.
For the basic exercises described in this chapter, you will need to buy a few new drawing supplies. I will add to the list of supplies as each technique is introduced.
First, buy a set of colored pencils. “Prismacolor” is a good brand, but there are many others. Prismacolor offers a complete set of sixty pencils, or you can buy individual colors. I suggest the following:
|ultramarine blue||sepia||slate gray|
|Copenhagen blue||burnt umber||sand|
|dark green||yellow ochre||warm gray light|
|canary yellow||lemon yellow||warm gray medium|
Also, buy six sheets of colored paper at least 9″ x 12″ or larger. Construction paper is fine, or you may prefer another type of paper. Any colored paper that is not too smooth or shiny will do. Avoid bright, intense colors. Choose instead soft green, gray, sand, blue, brown, or, as in Degas’s dancer, soft pink. You will need a plastic eraser and a kneaded eraser. Buy a hand-held pencil sharpener, or a small knife if you prefer to hand-sharpen your pencils.
A wheel of color
Starting with rock-bottom basics, make a color wheel. The thought of this probably takes you right back to sixth grade, but let me assure you that some of the best minds in human history have delved into color wheels—for example, the great English physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton and the German poet and scholar Johann Goethe.
What is the purpose of constructing a color wheel? Simply put, to set in your mind the structure of color. The three primary hues—yellow, red, and blue—are the basic building blocks of color. Theoretically, all other colors are derived from these three. Next come the three secondary hues—orange, violet, and green—born of primary parents. And then follows the third generation, the six tertiary (third-level) hues—yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green, and yellow-green. The color wheel has a total of twelve hues, arranged like the numbers on the face of a clock.
Use your colored pencils to match the color wheel (Figure 11-3) in the color section. You can trace the pattern in Figure 11-1 onto a piece of bond paper, or you can color directly on the pattern in the book. Bear down hard with your colored pencils to produce the most intense hues possible.
Those of you familiar with color wheels will notice that I have used the usual order for colors on the wheel: yellow at the top, violet at the bottom; the cool colors of green, blue-green, blue, and blue-violet on the right side; the warm hues of yellow, yellow-orange, orange, red-orange, and red on the left (see Figure 11-2).
I believe that this is the correct placement in terms of the complicated crossover system of the brain, the visual system, and the language of art. The left side of an image is addressed by the (usually) dominant right eye, which is controlled by the left hemisphere (stay with me; it is complicated!). In the language of art, the left side of an image carries the connotations of dominance, aggression, and forward movement. The right side, scanned after the left side, is addressed by the left eye, controlled by the right brain. The right side of an image, in the language of art, carries the connotations of passivity, defensiveness, and blocked movement.
In this zigzag fashion, the left hemisphere, right eye, and the left side of the color wheel are linked to the sun, daylight, and warmth—and also to dominance, aggression, and forward movement. Conversely, the right hemisphere, left eye, and right side of the wheel are linked to the moon, nighttime, and coolness—and thus also to passivity, defensiveness, and distance. Most color wheels are oriented in this fashion, apparently purely on intuition. Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, one of the great colorists of art history, put his intuitions into words in the margin quotation.
The purpose, then, of constructing the color wheel is to set in your mind which colors are opposite each other on the wheel. Blue is opposite orange, red is opposite green, yellow-green is opposite red-violet. These opposites are called complements. The root of the word “complement” is “complete.” This means that complements form the closed system previously proposed by Dr. Peter Smith as a requirement for an esthetic response. Perceived together in proper relationship, complements seem to satisfy the needs of R-mode and the visual system for completion.
You can use your color wheel to practice determining which hues are complements. This knowledge should be learned so thoroughly that it becomes as automatic as 2 + 2 = 4.
The brain’s “need” for the complement is most clearly demonstrated by the phenomenon called “afterimage,” which is still not entirely understood.
To cause an after-image, color a circle of intense red about an inch or so in diameter. Make a tiny black dot in the center of the red. Make a similar dot in the center of a second, blank sheet of paper.
Holding the two sheets side-by-side, gaze at the red-hued circle for about a minute. Then quickly shift your gaze to the dot on the second, blank sheet. You will “see” the complement to red (green) emerge on the blank paper the same shape, the same size as the original red circle.
You can experiment with any hue, and your mind/brain/visual system will produce the exact complement of any hue. This is termed the negative after-image. If you experiment with two hues, both complements will appear. In some instances, the original hue (called a positive after-image) will appear as an after-image, but in the negative spaces of the original shapes, which appear empty of color.
“Color can overwhelm_One must understand that when it comes to color less is often more— a lesson taught us by the masters but ignored by many artists.”
How to Paint in Pastels, 1976
In his 1926 work, the color theorist Albert Munsell stressed the concept of balance to create color harmonies and established a numerical code which is still the most widely used system for identifying color.
Munsell recommended balancing hues with their complements, values with their opposite values, intensities with opposite intensities, areas of strong color balanced by weak (low-intensity) color, large areas balanced by small, warm colors balanced by cool colors.
— Albert Munsell
A Color Notation
“To me, painting—all painting— is not so much the intelligent use of color as the intelligent use of value. If the values are right the color cannot help but be right.”
How to Paint in Pastels, 1976
Based on his teaching at Yale University, the great colorist Josef Albers wrote that there are no rules of color harmony, only rules
of relationships of quantity of colors: “Independent of harmony rules, any color ’goes’ or ’works’ with any other color, presupposing that their quantities are appropriate.”
The Interaction of Color, 1962
Another view on harmony in color:
“After learning to see color as value, the next step is learning to see color as color.”
— Professor Don Dame California State University, Long Beach
A Heightened Self-Portrait
A wonderful example for this exercise is found in Figure 11-7, the selfportrait by the German artist Kathe Kollwitz.
1. Set up lights and a mirror. Arrange your drawing materials so that you can both draw and observe yourself.
2. Take the pose and spend a few moments studying the logic of the lights and shadows created by your lighting setup. Where is the lightest light? The darkest dark? Where are the cast shadows and the crest shadows? Where are the highlights and the reflected lights?
3. Lightly sketch your self-portrait on colored paper, checking the proportions carefully.
4. Quickly paint in the negative space, using black ink thinned slightly with water and a fairly large brush (a one-inch-wide housepainter’s brush will do, with ink poured in a small bowl).
5. Use a dark colored pencil to define features and shadows.
6. Use a white or cream pencil to heighten the drawing, using hatches that follow the curves of your face and features.
About cityscapes, American abstract artist Stuart Davis said:
“I am an American, born in Philadelphia of American stock.
I paint what I see in America.
“Some things that have made me want to paint… skyscraper architecture, the brilliant color of gasoline stations; chain store fronts and taxi-cabs; electric signs … Earl Hines’ hot piano and jazz music in general.”
— Stuart Davis, 1943
A half-serious caution: If you draw in a public place, you will soon be besieged by spectators wondering what in the world you are draw-ing—and why. I can’t help you with this problem.
One thing is certain: A lonely person need only to start drawing in public places to be lonely no more.
Taking the first steps in color drawing
Before you begin, please read all of the instructions.
I will use the Degas drawing on pink paper (Figure 11-6) as the basis for instructions, but please choose any subject that appeals to you: a group of objects for a still-life drawing, a person who will pose for a figure drawing or a portrait, another reproduction of a master drawing, a photograph that appeals to you, or a self-portrait (the artist always has one available model!).
1. Choose a sheet of colored paper, not necessarily pink.
2. The original Degas drawing measures 161/8”x 11 1/4″. Measure and lightly draw with pencil a format of that size.
3. Choose two colored pencils, one dark and one light, in colors you feel harmonize with the color of your paper.
Some suggestions on this point: If your paper is soft blue, for example, choose pencils of the opposite (that is, the complementary) hue—in this case, orange. Your choice, then, could be flesh (pale orange) and dark brown (which is actually a dark orange). If your paper is soft violet, your choices could be cream (pale yellow) and dark purple (or burnt umber, which has a slightly violet cast). Degas used “soft black graphite” (which has a slightly greenish cast) for his dark tones, which he accented with black crayon, and a cool white to complement his (warm) pink paper.
An important point: have confidence in your color choices! Guided by some basic L-mode knowledge of the structure of color (for example, the use of complements), your R-mode will know when color is right. Within the guidelines, follow your intuition. Try out the hues on the back of the paper. Then say to yourself, “Does that feel right?” and listen to what you feel. Don’t argue with yourself—I should say, with your L-mode. We have limited your choices to three: the paper and two pencils. Given these limits, you are sure to produce harmonious color.
Bear in mind that color most often “goes wrong” when students without knowledge of color use too many hues. They often throw together a variety of hues, chosen at random from the color wheel. Such combinations are difficult—often impossible—to balance and unify, and even beginning students sense that something isn’t working. This is the reason for limiting the palette in these first exercises to a few hues and their related lights and darks. And I encourage you to continue to limit your palette until you have wider experience with color.
Having said that, I will reverse the thought and suggest that at some point, you may want to go wild with color, throwing everything together to see what happens. Buy a sheet of brightly colored paper and use every color you have on it. Create discordant color. Then try to pull it together, perhaps with dark or dull colors. You may be able to make it work—or you may like it in its discordant state! Much of contemporary art uses discordant color in very inventive ways. Let me emphasize, however, that you should attempt discordant color by design and not by mistake. Your R-mode will always perceive the difference, perhaps not immediately, but over a period of time. Ugly color is not the same as discordant color. Discordant color is not the same as harmonious color. For these first exercises, we shall concentrate on creating harmonious color, because it more readily provides basic knowledge about color.
Now, to continue:
4. Notice that Degas gridded his drawing with evenly spaced horizontal and vertical guide lines, just as he gridded his dancer without color on page 157. A grid with squares about 2 1/2″ will be about right for the size of your format.
Try to follow Degas’s thinking in his use of the grid: What points was he looking for? Note the obvious points of crossed grid lines at the elbow and at the dancer’s right toe. Start with the grid, using your dark-colored pencil to lightly draw the lines. Call up your new skills of drawing: edges, spaces, relationships of angles and proportions, and light logic. Use the grid as a boundary for the negative spaces around the head, arms, hands, and feet. Use negative space to draw the ballet shoes. Carefully work out the proportions of the head: Check the eye level and the central axis. Notice what a small proportion of the whole head is occupied by the features; do not enlarge these features! Check the position of the ear (review proportions in Chapter Eight, if necessary). Complete the “dark” drawing before starting on the “light.”
5. Now, for the fun part—the heightening of the drawing. Heightening is the technical term that refers to the technique of using pale-colored chalk or pencil to depict light falling on a subject.
First, determine the logic of the light falling on the dancer. Where is the source of the light? As you can see, this light source is located just above the dancer and slightly off to her left. Light falls on her forehead and right cheek. Her head throws a shadow on her right shoulder, and the light streams across her left shoulder and falls on her chest and left breast. Bits of light fall on her left toe and right heel as well.
Now use your light-colored pencil to heighten the drawing. You may need to alternately use your dark pencil to deepen the shadow-shapes. Grasp with your mind that the middle tones are supplied by the value of the colored paper. Try to see the color of the paper as value. This is difficult. Imagine for a moment that the world has turned to shades of gray, as though twilight has fallen, draining color from your paper but leaving the value in the form of a gray. Where on a value scale would that gray be, relative to white and black? Then, relative to that value, where is the darkest dark in Degas’s drawing? Where is the lightest light? Your task is to match these values in your drawing.
When you have finished: Pin your drawing to a wall, stand back, and enjoy your first small step into color. Some student drawings using colored pencil are shown in the color section. As you see, very few colors were used in each of the drawings. Student Thu Ha Huyung used the largest number of colors (four plus black and white) in her Girl in a Flowered Hat (Figure 11-22).
The colors she used were canary yellow and ultramarine blue (near complements), magenta and dark green (near complements), and black and white (opposites).
Thu Ha’s color is harmonious because it is balanced and colors are repeated from area to area. (See Josef Albers’s statement in the margin of page 239.) The pale magenta of the lips is repeated in the pink flower. The green of the leaves reappears in the hair. The blue of the blouse reappears in the eyes and hat. The black is used for the shadow-shapes, and the white heightens the lights. And, finally, the yellow of the hair is a lighter value of the ochre paper that forms the ground and middle value.
If you haven’t yet tried a colored-pencil portrait on a colored ground, I urge you to find a model or to draw a self-portrait, following the suggestions in the margin. Because the colored ground so beautifully supplies the middle-value tones, you are sure to enjoy this project. With the middle-value ground in place, it almost seems that the drawing is half-complete before you start. Recall that in Chapter Ten your rubbed-graphite ground supplied the middle-value tones, the eraser provided the lights, and the darkest dark of your pencil supplied the dark shadows. The transition from that drawing to drawing in color on a colored ground is a very short step.
Another project: An ugly corner as city scape
You might also enjoy trying a cityscape similar to the student drawing The Arrow Hotel in Figure 11-24. This drawing was the result of an assignment to my students to “Go out and find a truly ugly corner.” (Regrettably, ugly corners are all too easy to find in most of our cities.) Using the perceptual skills of seeing edges, spaces, and relationships of angles and proportions, students were directed to draw exactly what they saw—including signs, lettering, everything—placing great emphasis on negative space. The project was completed by following the directions for the cityscape provided below.
I believe you’ll agree that ugliness was transformed into something approaching beauty in the student’s drawing. This is another instance of the transformative power of the artist’s way of
seeing. One of the great paradoxes of art is that subject matter is not of prime importance in creating beauty.
Directions for the cityscape:
1. Find your corner, the uglier the better.
2. Sit in your car to do the drawing, or use a folding stool to sit on the sidewalk.
3. You will need an 18″ x 24″ board to draw on, and an 18″ x 24″ piece of ordinary white paper. Draw a format edge about an inch in from the edges of the paper. Use a pencil to draw the cityscape. A viewfinder and a transparent grid will help in sighting angles and proportions.
4. Use negative space almost exclusively to construct the drawing. All details, such as telephone lines, lettering, street signs, and girders, are to be drawn in negative space. This is the key to success in this drawing. (But that is true for almost every bit of drawing that you do!) Remember that negative space, clearly observed and drawn, reminds the viewer of that for which we all long—unity, the most basic requirement of a work of art.
5. When you have finished the drawing, return home and choose a piece of 18″ x 24″ colored paper or colored cardboard. Transfer your on-site drawing to the colored paper, using carbon paper or graphite transfer paper, available in art supply stores. Be sure to transfer your format edge to the colored ground.
6. If you want to try a simple complementary arrangement as used in The Arrow Hotel, choose two colored pencils that harmonize with your paper, one dark and one light. The Arrow Hotel provides a satisfying color scheme because the color is balanced: the yellow-green of the paper is balanced by the dark, dull red-violet pencil, and the light tones are supplied by the cream-colored pencil, which relates to the yellow-green ground and acts as a near-complement to the red-violet.
Because most people believe they prefer bright colors, the following is a difficult concept to grasp:
Just as negative spaces are equally important as objects, dull colors (low-intensity colors) are equally important as bright (high-intensity) colors.
The simplest way to reduce the intensity of a given hue is to add a neutral gray or black. This method, however, often seems to drain color from a hue in the same way that twilight dims and weakens colors.
A second way is to mix a color with some of its complementary hue. This method seems to leave the color unabated, and richly, strongly dull—not weakly dull. Low-intensity hues mixed this way greatly assist in harmonizing color schemes.
Believing that the second way is preferable, my friend and colleague Professor Don Dame, an expert colorist, frequently refuses to allow his students to even buy black.
Surrealist artists were fascinated by psychological meanings of colors. Oddly, each hue has both a positive and negative connotation in most cultures. For example, consider the following:
White: innocence and ghostliness
Black: restful strength and depression
Yellow: nobility and treason
Red: ardent love and sin
Blue: truth and despondency
Purple: dignity and grief
Green: growth and jealousy
On the question of the purpose of painting, the French nineteenth-century artist Eugene Delacroix wrote:
“I have told myself a hundred times that painting—that is, the material thing called a painting—is no more than a pretext, the bridge between the mind of the painter and that of the spectator.”
— Eugene Delacroix
in Artists on Art, 1967
To correct a mistake in pastel, begin by brushing off the wrong marks with a paintbrush. Then use a kneaded eraser (a soft malleable eraser available in craft or art supply stores) to “lift” or blot the color without rubbing. You can even scrape the paper carefully with a small knife, then blot again and draw in your corrections.
Expanding harmonious color
We have explored complementary color schemes in the exercises above. Two additional ways of arranging harmonious color are monochromatic schemes and analogous schemes.
Monochromatic color, meaning variations of a single hue, is an interesting experiment with color. Choose a colored paper and use all the pencils you have in hues related to that color. In her Umbrella Still Life (Figure 11-17), student Laura Wright used variations on a theme of orange—the color orange in all its transformations, from dark brown to the pale orange of the paper.
Analogous color is an arrangement of hues close to one another on the color wheel—red, orange, and yellow; blue, blue-green, and green, for example. Student Ken Ludwig’s drawing, Large Stuffed Eagle (Figure 11-18), is an analogous arrangement of red, red-orange, yellow-orange, and pink chalk rubbed into white paper. (Using pastel chalk is explained in the next section.) Ken used pen and black India ink in short, hatched strokes to draw the eagle. You might try this combination of a rubbed chalk ground (which again supplies the middle value) and ink lines for a variety of subjects—animals, birds, flowers—to practice analogous color.
Pressing on to a pastel world
Your next purchase should be a set of pastels, which are pure pigments pressed into round or square chalks (sometimes called “pastel crayons”) using a minimum of binder. You can buy a basic set of twelve chalks (ten hues plus black and white) or a larger set of up to one hundred hues. But be assured that the small basic set is sufficient for these first exercises.
I must warn you that pastels have some serious drawbacks. They are quite soft and break easily. They rub off on your hands and clothes, spread colored dust wafting through the air, and produce a drawing that is extremely fragile.
But there is a positive side. Pastels are almost pure pigment, and the colors are lovely—as clear and brilliant as oil paints. Pastels, in fact, are the drawing medium closest to painting. Pastel drawings are often referred to as “pastel paintings.”
Because pastels come in a wide range of pure and mixed hues, a student beginning in color can experience something very close to painting without the difficulties encountered in mixing paints on a palette, contending with turpentine, stretching canvas, and dealing with other technical problems of painting.
For many reasons, therefore, pastels are an ideal medium to provide a transitional midpoint between drawing and painting. For an example of the proximity of pastels to painting, look at the exquisite pastel paintings by the eighteenth-century French artist Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin in Figures 11-9 and 11-10. Chardin, often called the “artists’ artist,” has portrayed himself in his green eyeshade and his wife in her demure headdress. Examine Chardin’s marvelous use of color, bold yet restrained. These two drawings are masterpieces of portraiture and of pastel painting.
One of the main differences between exercises with colored pencil and pastel drawing is in the quantity of applied color relative to the ground. Student Gary Berberet’s Self-Portrait (Figure 11-16) illustrates expanded use of color to construct the entire image.
For the exercise that follows, I will use as my model the pastel drawing Head of a Young Girl, by the French painter Odilon Redon (Figure 11-15). Redon’s free use of pastel color in the negative space of the drawing will inspire you to experiment with this medium.
Redon’s mystical and lyrical work spanned the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. His pastel drawings have been linked to the writing of Poe, Baudelaire, and Mallarme, and all are connected conceptually to Surrealism, a period in early twentieth-century art that focused on dream symbolism. The yellow lizard in Redon’s drawing, juxtaposed to the dreamlike serenity of the girl’s head, is reminiscent of Surrealist symbolism.
Before you begin, please read all of the instructions.
1. Find a model or a suitable subject. Arrange a light so that the background is illuminated, providing a pale negative space behind your model’s head.
2. Choose a piece of pastel paper in any soft color. Pastel paper has a sharp “tooth” to grasp and hold the dry pigment. Redon used a soft gray-blue paper.
3. Choose a medium-dark pastel crayon for the line drawing of the head. Choose three harmonizing light pastels for the light negative space behind the head.
4. Pose your model and draw the head in semi-profile—that is, with the model turned very slightly off true profile view.
5. Calling on your five basic drawing skills, draw the head using the dark pastel you have chosen. (Redon used a sepia pastel, a dulled violet.) Using your imagination, or using objects in the room, complete your composition by adding objects or parts of objects. (Redon added part of a clock—a recurrent Surrealist symbol—and a falling lizard.)
6. Using your three pale pastels, work up the negative space surrounding the head. Use crosshatching rather than filling the area solidly, so that light and air are retained in your drawing.
A special point: Look at your three pale pastels and decide which is the darkest (lowest) in value, which is in the middle, and which is the lightest. Then use the lowest-value chalk for the first layer of hatches, the middle for the next, and the lightest for the last and final layer of hatches. This sequencing of colors from dark first to light last is the sequencing required for most painting mediums (with the exception of watercolor, which is usually worked from light first to dark last). In working with pastels, the dark-to-light sequencing helps to keep your colors clear and fresh. Reversing this sequence can result in muddy color. This point will help you to see why practice with pastels eases the transition to painting.
7. Complete your drawing with bold colors of your choice. You may prefer to harmonize your color by staying with complements or analogous hues, or you may prefer discordant hues that are anchored in the composition by repeating or echoing areas of each color. (In Redon’s drawing, you will notice that each of the intense hues is echoed in one or more additional small areas.)
Start your drawing now You will need about an hour and perhaps a bit more to complete the drawing. Be sure to give your model a rest at midpoint in the hour! Try to work without interruption, and ask your model not to converse with you while you are drawing. Your R-mode needs to be completely free of distraction.
When you have finished: Pin up your drawing, stand back, and regard your work. Check the balance of the color. Then turn your drawing upside down and check the color again. If any hue seems to pop out of the composition, somehow not locked into the color arrangement, some slight adjustment needs to be made. The color may need to be repeated somewhere, or it may need darkening, lightening, or dulling (by lightly hatching a bit of the complement over the hue). Have faith in your judgment and in your R-mode ability to perceive coherence—and incoherence. When the color is right, you will know it!
In this book, we have covered the basic skills of drawing: from edges to negative spaces to relationships to lights and shadows to color in drawing. These skills will lead you directly to the world of painting and new ways of expressing yourself through art.
Drawings stand on their own as works of art, and paintings stand on their own as works of art. But drawing also becomes part of painting—the underpinning, so to speak—just as language skills become the underpinning of poetry and literature. So, drawing merges with painting and a new direction beckons. Your journey has only just begun.
Complements are directly opposite each other on the wheel. The complement of each primary color (yellow, red, and blue) is a secondary color (violet, green, and orange). The complement of each tertiary color is another tertiary color. Because any complementary pair always contains, between the two hues, all three primary colors, complements completely cancel color when mixed together in equal quantities. This characteristic is the key to controlling intensity of hues.
Exercise: The pattern for making your own color wheel is in Fig. 11—1.
A scale in even steps between the opposites, the white of the paper and the darkest dark the pencil will make. The inset strip is the same value throughout. The apparent change in value is a perceptual illusion, caused by the differences in contrast between the light-to-dark tones of the scale and the constant value of the central strip.
Exercise: Make a value scale of twelve steps, using pencil.
Children tend to use symbolic color as well as symbolic forms. These symbol systems are linked to language acquisition: “Trees have green leaves and brown trunks.” Learning perceptual skills helps older children to see beyond these symbolic systems.
Exercise: Review Drawing on Memories, Your History as an Artist on childhood drawing, then redraw your own childhood landscape, this time in color.
Exercise: To experience the impact of color on drawing, compare this drawing with another Degas dancer on page 157. See page 237 for a drawing exercise.
Over her lifetime, the German artist Kathe Kollwitz produced more than fifty probing images of herself. This serious, contemplative self-portrait was drawn when the artist was about twenty-five and reflects her early training in engraving.
Exercise: Try a heightened self-portrait, using the procedure described below.
The artist sits in front of a mirror, cheek resting on hand. The light, as you see, comes from above and to the left of the sitter (note the shadow cast by the nose and the crest shadow along the wrist).
Working on brown paper, quickly paint a dark negative space around the head, using a brush and black ink mixed with water. The brown of the paper supplies the middle value for the face.
Use a tiny brush to draw in the details of the face in black ink, and the same tiny brush to heighten the drawing with white gouache. The heightening lines follow the curve of the surface of the face, almost as though you are feeling your way across the forms.
Exercise: For practice with color, negative space, and sighting, copy this drawing using colored pencil and pastels, but change the colors to those of your own choice to see the effect of color on drawing.
Toward the end of a long career as a successful painter of still lifes and scenes of everyday life, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin turned to pastels, a new medium for him, and to portraiture, an unexplored subject. Only twelve Chardin pastels are known to exist today, foremost among them the two masterpieces shown above. These portraits illustrate a point made in the text: rich and profound color can be achieved by using very few hues. The basic hues in each of the portraits are the complements blue and orange, each transformed into a complex harmonious medley of balanced values and intensities.
Exercise: Try a portrait or self-portrait on colored paper using only two complementary hues plus white and black. The masterworks above can guide your efforts to gain control of color.
Elizabeth Layton first began drawing at age 68 with the hope of finding relief from severe depression following a stroke. Drawing proved therapeutic (she calls it “cure by contour”) and she continued to draw. Since then, her work has been exhibited nationwide and is greatly admired. She believes that everyone can learn to draw and that children in particular should be taught to draw at an early age.
Exercise: Try a colored-pencil self-portrait in a mirror, including your hands.
Exercise: Working within an unusual format (tall and narrow, short and wide, circular, oval), divide the space and manipulate the quantities of hues to achieve a pleasing, harmonious balance and tension (a sense of connection or “pull”) between color areas.
This New York artist explores color, light, and scale through themes from mythology and literature.
Exercise: Experiment with scale by using contrasting sizes-very large to very small. Experiment with light by changing the values of a hue to achieve luminosity in color. Observe how the artist achieved a wonderful sense of luminous color in Adam and Eve.
Exercise: See section Pressing on to a pastel world above for an exercise based on this exceptional drawing.
Exercise: Try an intense, close-up self-portrait in pastel on colored paper. Remember that you always have an available model-yourself. The addition of props such as hats can stimulate interest in each new self-portrait.
Exercise: Construct a still life with some randomly chosen objects. Do a negative-space drawing on colored paper (or do a preliminary drawing and transfer it to colored paper, using carbon paper). Choose colored pencils that are variations of one hue, the hue of the colored paper.
A few analogous colors can produce a surprising range of harmonious hues. Strong contrast is supplied by the black ink and white paper.
Exercise: Draw an animal or bird from life, if possible, or from photographs. (Habitat groups at natural history museums are wonderful as models-they hold very still.) Rub analogous hues of colored chalk into white paper and draw with pen and ink.
Exercise: Prismacolor watercolor pencils convert to watercolor when dampened with a wet brush. Using these pencils, try a “portrait” of a flower or plant, paying attention to negative space and using contrasting colors, guided by the superb drawing above.
Exercise: Try a half-length or full-length portrait or self-portrait in colored pencil on white paper. Place an object or objects in front of the figure and use negative space to delineate the space between. Three distances are described: from the artist’s eyes to the objects to the figure.
Exercise: Combine warm and cool hues in a pastel drawing.
Exercise: For a colorful drawing, try a portrait using two sets of complements and black and white on colored paper.
Exercise: This drawing combines three-quarter view and full-face in one drawing, with strangely intriguing results. You might deliberately try this distortion as a step into more abstract portraiture.
Exercise: See page Directions for the cityscape for suggestions on drawing an urban landscape.