A week of study – colour theory

Now that the new pencils are sorted and organised I have been able to follow up some suggestions that interested me in the book ‘Botanical Drawing in Color’ by Wendy Hollender.  She suggests a very limited palette of colours (just 20) from which you should be able to draw most plants.

Given that I am now the owner of over a 100 coloured pencils I was interested to try out her methods.  Her starting point is the primary colours red, blue and yellow and she chooses a warm red and a cool red, ditto with the blue and the yellow – so six primary colours.  She then adds the secondary colours purple, orange and green (two greens).  Then dark colours – sepia, indigo, red violet and another green, then four earth tones.  Lastly white and cream for tints, highlights and burnishing.

She comments ‘ With the exception of the three greens, I have chosen colors that will give me the brightest possible hue.  This is important because you can always dull a color, but you cannot make one brighter.  With the greens I have departed from this theory because really bright greens are rarely found in nature. If ever you need a really bright green, you can mix it with the appropriate yellow and blue…..’

I followed along from Wendy’s book and made myself a colour wheel with twelve hues from the six primary colours; a value bar using sepia depicting nine values from very pale to very dark; an intensity bar with five steps from bright to very dull; and colour bars blending complementary colours together to make dull/brownish tones and colours.

Experiments from 'Botanical Drawing in Color' Wendy Hollender

My swatches

Lastly I followed her guidance and created colour blends using primary colours.
To make orange:
1.  bright clear colour both primaries lean towards the colour being made  i.e. a warm (yellowish) red and a warm (reddish) yellow = bright orange
2. mid intensity colour where only one of the primaries leans towards the colour being made (i.e warm (yellowish) red and cool (blueish) yellow = mid intensity orange or cool (blueish) red and warm (reddish) yellow = mid intensity orange
3. dull muddy colours where both of the primaries lean away from the colour being made (i.e. cool (blueish) red and cool (blueish) yellow
(greens and purples are made in the same way – just using the appropriate primaries in each case)

I must say I sat and scratched my head over all this, and had to turn the radio off for a while so that I could concentrate!  However I think I have it now and below are the swatches I created.  I am amazed at the variety of colours and am happy that I now have a small roll of twenty pencils that I can take out with me and know that I should in theory be able to draw almost anything.

Orange colour swatches

Orange colour swatches

Green colour swatches

Green colour swatches

Purple colour swatches

Purple colour swatches

Earlier this week I posted my picture with the purple berries from last week to a Facebook group called Botanical Art for Beginners.  I have been lurking around this group for some months now, not having the courage to post any of my drawings, but finally I decided to take the plunge.  I received 124 likes and 24 people added supportive comments and suggestions, I was really touched and pleased; social media sometimes gets a bad press but it is wonderful to be able to connect with other artists in the same field as there are not many local to where I am (or at least I don’t know of any).

3 thoughts on “A week of study – colour theory

  1. pelchaktsel

    Really useful work, Sue. I remember doing a similar thing working on gouche during my Foundation Course way back in 1968! We also did complementary colour swatches so a red square and a green square of the same hue which when viewed together produced a yellow square between the two! Well, I think that’s what happened, but you get my drift. XXX

  2. chrishaywood31

    You have done what I have been thinking of revisiting for a while. When you have time constraints it is so easy to rush into painting without giving adequate thought to the colour. I nearly always regret this at a later stage and have to adjust on the painting. Bad practice and a false time saver I know so thanks for the reminder.


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