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Exploring Color

Learn how to bring your artwork to life

Student in an expressive drawing class.

In previous sessions on repetition and rhythm, we focused primarily on working with visual elements of lines, shapes and textures. Now, in honor of spring, we're breaking out a challenge to work with color in the same expressive ways.

While color may simply seem to be part of the fabric of a painting or drawing, it sometimes helps to investigate how color is used, in our own work and the work of other artists. This exercise will help you explore the different properties of color.

What You'll Need

  • A number of drawing surfaces, size and material of your choosing
  • Drawing tools of your choosing, with an emphasis on new approaches to color materials, such as acrylic paint, watercolor, crayons and pastels.

What You'll Do

Develop a series of drawings in which the appearance of one color dominates while a contrasting color or colors play supportive roles. The recurrence of one dominant color will unify your drawing while contrasting color/colors will enliven and enrich the arrangement.

For purposes of this lesson, I've selected red as my main color, but you can chose any color you'd like to work with to explore an infinite variety of color relationships. 

Next: Let's get down to work with color. >>

1. You've selected a main color, now select a contrasting color. You'll be working with a contrast of complements. For example, red and green are opposite one another on the color wheel; when they work together, they both stimulate and complete one another (other basic complementary pairings are blue and orange, yellow and purple). By using these pairings, you'll likely end up with a drawing that is quite dynamic indeed!

2. In a second drawing, select a color or colors that are next to one another on the color wheel. (For red, that would be orange and/or purple.) Now you are working with a contrast of adjacents. When they form the basis of a drawing, they create a natural sense of unity and harmony. Here, you'll likely create an arrangement that is soothing and comforting.

3. In a third drawing, select a mid-tone gray to create a contrast of saturation. You'll mix the neutral gray into your main color and create a range of variations on the original color. When you mix gray into red, for example, you rob the red of its richness, fullness and purity. The more gray you add, the duller the red will become.

In the end, you'll create a broad range of subtle variations, ranging from pure to dull and everything in between. Then you'll use this palette to create a drawing or series of drawings.

These will naturally be unified (after all, they're all variations of your main color). Yet, the expressive quality can be as dynamic or as serene as you wish, depending on the range of purity you choose to work with.

As you complete the above challenges, don't forget to upload your drawings into our community. As always, for each drawing you upload, remember to leave a constructive comment about someone else's work as well. Good luck!

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