Tips for This Week’s Tasks

Ahh, another holiday weekend comes and goes. With the last of the chocolate eggs and mutant, squishy, radioactively-colored “candy” chicks consumed,,,


…your mind doubtless goes back to what is really sweet in life. That’s right… Color Theory!

Aaaand, assuming your brain hasn’t completely shut down due to sugar overload, you doubtless remember that you have two tasks due for Tuesday, March 29:

  1. Finish your earth primary palette color wheel.
  2. Block in color for the upper lefthand still life of project 2 using mixes of earth primaries and white.

Earth Primary Color Wheel

If you haven’t already, complete the color wheel you started last week using earth primaries. A labeled version of my demo is below to remind you of the mixes.


And, in case it helps, here is the demo color wheel without all the text:


Project 2 Step 2: Blocking In with Earth Primaries

Also for Tuesday, finish blocking in color for the upper lefthand still life. You will use ONLY the three earth primaries—mars black, indian red oxide and yellow ochre—plus white.

Blocking in means creating an underpainting that indicates general coloring for everything. It is an excellent way to plan and to set up color relationships from the get go, which saves many many headaches in the long run.

For Project 2 Step 2, please block in the overall color (hue, value and chroma) of both the light side and the shadow side of the objects/sections of your still life. In other words, render the color or colors within an object/section using a mixed hue/value/chroma that approximates what that color looks like where the light hits AND also what it looks like where the shadow falls. For objects that are mostly one color, the result will be a two toned object. A red ball, for example will have one color in the light and another in the shadow. If that ball was multicolored however—say red with blue polka dots— you would render four colors: red light, red shadow, blue light and blue shadow.

Here is the example I did on Tuesday:


Can’t remember how I got there? Read below and be reminded.

A Few Instructions

You saw the demo on Tuesday, so hopefully this process is familiar. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to take a gander and make sure you’re on the right track. Seriously. There’s important info in the wall-o-text to follow. Maybe even a baked good or two. Okay, not really, but there’s still need to know stuff. So ready read!


  1. Select an object or section of your still life. As yourself what is the base/overall color of this object? Remember that, for the purposes of color theory, we always want to see things in terms of a hue on the color wheel (primary, secondary or tertiary). This shouldn’t be much of a problem for this project, since all of you (should have) picked objects with a fairly definite hue. However, you may have to make a determination for more neutral areas such as your background. It helps to look at the part of an object or section where it is hit by the light, because that is where you will find the most pure color.

  2. Mix a color for the light area of your chosen object or section, matching as closely as possible what you see. You may not be able to reproduce high chroma color (see the “Tips” section later on in this post), but do the best you can to match the value, hue and chroma. Hold your palette knife up to your still life to compare your mix to reality. It can also help to put a test swatch down on your paper and step back to evaluate.

  3. If necessary, you can add white to the colors you mix to lighten the value. This is called tinting.

  4. Paint in the light area of your selected object or section. Refine your drawn shapes as you go, and practice good painting habits: hold the brush at the end, pick up pieces of paint, and make brushstrokes with a definite starting and ending point (don’t scrub). You can paint smoothly with the help of a soft brush and, if necessary, a little water OR you can leave distinct marks. If you choose the latter, just remember to consider where you’re placing those marks. Often painters use  brushstrokes to emphasize the three-dimensional contour of what they’re painting.

  5. Mix a color for the shadow area of your selected object or section.
    Shadow colors can be challenging, especially since they are influenced by many things (more on that next week),complimentary_colors but a good starting point is to add a complementary color to the light side color you mixed in step 2. Complementary colors are those appearing opposite on the color wheel. In a subtractive color system like painting, the addition of a complementary color can “shadow” by reducing chromatic intensity (essentially, it desaturates). This happens because the three primaries mix to create black, and complementary colors together contain all three primaries.

  6. shadowPaint in the shadow area of your selected object or section refining your drawn shapes as you go, and practicing good painting habits (see step 3)

  7. Step back and evaluate. Are the colors as accurate as possible compared to the still life? Do the shapes you have painted match the shapes of the object or do you need to make adjustments?

  8. Repeat steps 1-5 for every object or section of your still life. If an object has more than one color, each color within that object will have a light and a shadow block in unless it falls entirely in the light or shadow area (like the red on my pear).

  9. Step back and evaluate. In addition to the things you looked for in step 6, you may also need to reconsider certain colors after everything is blocked in, since they may look different when laid next to one another.

    hmmIf you could use a fresh perspective (and who couldn’t), ask a friend to look at your piece. Alternatively, view it upside down, in the mirror or through a lens. All of these methods shift things just enough that the boo boos become apparent… more apparent than most of us would like, even.

  10. Profit!

Read Me: Additional Tips for Project 2 Step 2

  • The color out of your tube has the most chroma. You will never get by mixing a more intense color than the starting chroma(s). To that end…

  • You may not be able to exactly reproduce some of the colors in your still life using an earth primary palette, because the colors have relatively low chroma. Why? Earth colors all contain at least a little of all three primaries. Thus, our yellow ochre also has a hint of red and a hint of blue somewhere in it’s makeup, which is effectively the same as mixing in a complementary color.

  • Try to see every color—even the neutrals—as having a definite cast related to the color wheel. A tree is not brown… it is red or orange or blue, only with less chroma.

  • Don’t forget you are trying to match all three aspects of a color: value (how light and dark it is), hue (what color it is) and chroma (how intense or pure that color is).

And finally…

Don’t Be Afraid to Revisit Your Subject


Some of you have complicated still lives. If you get into this process and realize you are in over your head, stop and simplify your set-up. Eliminate or switch out objects and re-draw/re-transfer. It’s fine provided you retain at least one still life object with a definite primary or secondary hue.

Of course, starting over isn’t ideal, but it is better to spend a couple hours rethinking your approach now than to suffer throughout the remainder of this project with a still life that is overwhelming. I would rather you do a really excellent job on something manageable than a mediocre job with a set up that would make M.C. Escher develop a nervous tic.

That said, I’m not advocating that you shy from a challenge because… eh… you kinda don’t wanna. Pushing your limits is what takes you from good to great. I’m just saying suss out those limits, and find a balance. And, if you have questions or concerns, e-mail or comment. That’s what I’m here for.


The Peeps photo at the very top of this page links to a silly Vine. Clicky click it if you need a daily dose of goofy good fun.


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