Avoid This Beginner Painting Mistake
Since the mid-1800s, numerous artists (and beginner painting students) have stressed color over other elements in painting, mistaking color choice as the root of all success or failure in painting. They cite the Impressionists as examples, but Monet, for instance, explored how to paint light and its effects on the colorful scenes he saw in his mind’s eye. Although many think of Monet as a painter of colors, he is perhaps more accurately described as the original “painter of light.”
Paintings fail or succeed most often because of how accurate the color values are in the work rather than because of poor color choices or color mixing. The viewer “reads” a painting through its values, and a composition relies on how light and dark values are arranged. The problem is that beginner painting artists often see a color’s hue and chroma instead of its value.
Painting a grisaille (a composition in shades of gray) before applying colors can help us in matching the correct values in a scene to a desired hue in the proper value. A few exercises juxtaposing values on a grayscale with various local colors also help in training our eyes.
“The best way to understand color is working with it,” says Laura Antonow, who teaches a class on color theory in the art department at The University of Mississippi. “Learning how to mix paint, matching paints or fabrics, looking at colors in daylight and then under artificial light–all of these can help develop your color sensitivity.”
Antonow also stresses that painting artists should be vigilant about one painting art misconception: that color exists in a vacuum. “When considering a certain color, people forget to take into consideration the surrounding colors, the lighting conditions, and even the cultural context, all of which are extremely important to the way a color appears,” she says.
Beyond encouraging trial-and-error color experimentation, Antonow also suggests reading about color theory from authors such as Josef Albers, Albert H. Munsell, Johannes Itten, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. She also recommends paying close attention to the work of artists known for their dynamic use of color, such as Wassily Kandinsky and Mark Rothko.
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