Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Michael Chesley Johnson - Picking the Right Color

"Red Rock Crossing Hues"
5x7, pastel

I've seen many students agonize over selecting "just the right green" from their pastels or mixing "just the right blue" with their oil paints. The implication of this is that they're trying to duplicate the scene before them photographically by painting exactly the colors that they see.

The problem with this approach is that we are often faced with a world of dull or monotonous color. Too much green in moist New England, too much brown in the desert Southwest, too much grey in the foggy Northwest. Duplicating the scene may give you a painting that doesn't quite work. We all remember those fantastic scenes we've photographed, only to look at the photographs back home and sadly learn that the camera failed to capture the feeling. It's the same with painting.

Here's a better approach. Pick a color that's close and works well with your other colors. Think of getting the color relationships right, not the exact colors.

Above is a case in point. Under the hazy, almost-overcast light, the red rock slab had a little more orangey-red in it than I've painted it. I didn't have quite the right pastel color. Still, the colors all work together.

Michael Chesley Johnson

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