Color Retread

Thursday, November 22, 2018 11:19 PM

I''ve been making semi-abstract paintings of the human figure for a few months now, but I find that I''m not really content with what I''m doing. The images I produce are just not abstract enough ... they keep slipping into excess realism. It might seem counterintuitive but I have felt for some time that the biggest problem is color. I would like to be better able to use color for the sake of color to create compositions.

When I paint "real" scenes - figures, animals, still life, landscape - I am pretty good at developing a good color palette and beautiful images. But I''m hanging on to what I see, even though I adjust for things like value, temperature, intensity etc. Being able to work with color for its own sake feels like a big hole in my art education. I never went to art school, but I have attended a great many classes and workshops over the years. While I feel that I''ve learned a great deal from many wonderful teachers, there might be a few holes in my skill set! So I decided to find another class to address color issues head on.

Enter ... or re-enter ... Melinda Cootsona with another of her wonderful on-line courses: Own Your Colors. There is nothing wrong with going back to basics if you want to shore up your skills. Basics are critical! 

I''ve been in this course for about three weeks now and I''ve made a few nice pieces based on the lessons offered. So far we''ve covered value studies, complementary color palettes, dimensions of color and value for aerial perspective, and the use of a variety of limited palettes. 

Sunlight Meets Cat (12 x 12", oil) started as an exercise using a complementary palette. In this case, I used a variety of yellows and purples. My reference was a black and white version of a photo I took earlier in the day. Our cat, Richard Parker, was sitting in a strong ray of sunlight that didn''t quite reach to his face. But the dark, cool color of the face make the backlit ears really pop!

"Jug" (12 x 9", oil) is another complementary palette painting, this time reds and greens. I painted from life, having set a jug on top of a bookcase in my studio. I was interested in the color combinations and juxtapositions to create a compelling composition. I found that by focussing on color in this way (the jug was really just white with a brown top etc) my treatment of the subject matter became much more abstract and in this case, quite different from my usual style. 

The idea behind "Geometry of a Cat''s Life" (20 x 16", oil) was to use color temperature, value, and intensity to create a sense of distance. Richard, again, sitting on his cat tree. I was drawn to the geometric figures and, inspired by Hans Hoffman, made them to recede or come forward using color dimensions. As I painted, I also realized that texture matters. Although the shapes are mostly flat colors, I painted the closer planes with a palette knife to create some texture. Texture is a form of detail in a painting, and more detail brings an area forward, while less detail - in this case flatter application of the color - pushes it back.

I painted this on a prepared wood panel that I plan to use as the front of a medicine cabinet in one of our bathrooms, so it''s ours to keep.  

Link to Melinda Cootsona''s on line courses: