One of the most common questions I get from aspiring artists is, "How to I learn to see and boldly express color?" I remember feeling the same way when I was beginning my artistic journey. I would see a painting I admired and think, "How did they know to add that splash of red," or "I would have never thought to add purple to a face, or green in a sky!"
Over the years, my work has intensified in color as I have learned to see and express color in a new and exciting ways. The great news is that "punching up color" can be learned. Here are some tips that may help...
1. Use Expressive Color Sparingly: Instead of having bold color shouting all over your painting, reserve those bold and brilliant colors for impact. For Example, in a primarily green landscape try adding a pop of turquoise near a focal point, or a hint of magenta on a tree trunk.
2. Use More Neutrals: It may sound contrary to making your paintings pop with color, but even a brilliant yellow has trouble competing next to a brilliant pink. Neutrals will provide a calming base in which to rest your brilliant expressive colors. Try to focus on desaturating (neutralizing) larger shapes, and saturating smaller shapes.
3. Begin with a Colored Background (or Underpainting): Painting your surface bright pink, orange, or brilliant lime green can often get you color inspired and provide a springboard to creating an expressive piece of work. Remember.... don't cover up all that beautiful underpainting, and be sure to try and let the color "peak through".
4. Paint with Emotion: We don't have to paint what we see, but we can learn to paint what we "feel". Break out the yellows and oranges when you feeling energetic and joyous, and cool things off with blues and purples if you are melancholy or just need to feel peace.
5. Use Unusual Color: Take a look at your overall color palette and try to identify the colors you don't use often. For example, there are often some unnatural looking greens and pinks in many pastel sets. Try something different and break out of your color habits.
6. Be Observant and Imitate Artists that you Love: Yes, it's okay to try and reproduce color palettes from other artists. I often see a painting that makes me gasp and I will become inspired by the overall color palette. Choose your own reference photo and try to reproduce the same general color palette yourself.
7. Experiment: Small color studies are probably the best way for you to grow in becoming more expressive with color. Choose a small black and white reference photo and create 10 or more small paintings with varying color palettes for each.
And what's the last suggestion? HAVE FUN! This artistic journey is futile if we are not enjoying the process of learning. Think of it as a grand adventure and the destination is not a beautiful painting, but a beautiful experience in learning and becoming better artist!
"Color is a beautiful mystery that keeps an artist enthralled for a lifetime. Nature has almost infinite variety at her disposal. It is an unfair contest. But we try even so." - Malcom Dewey
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