color secrets of the pros workbook-2020 ¢©2019/2020 nancy hillis, m.d. 2 thank you for...

Download Color Secrets Of The Pros Workbook-2020 ¢©2019/2020 NANCY HILLIS, M.D. 2 Thank you for registering for

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  • ©2019/2020 NANCY HILLIS, M.D. 1


  • ©2019/2020 NANCY HILLIS, M.D. 2

    Thank you for registering for the Workbook

    Hello Dear Artist and welcome to the Color Secrets Of The Pros Workbook. I’ve put together for you the secrets I’ve learned over the years for mastering the complexity of color. My hope is to instill in you a joy in exploring the wonders of color and a belief that YOU CAN DO THIS!

    Come with me on this journey and learn a few secrets that will make a big difference in your art.

    Warmly, Nancy

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    Color Secrets Of The Pros

    An artist asked me recently about color secrets in abstract painting and how I think about and work with color.

    Color is an enormous topic and one you can spend a lifetime exploring and never reach the end of it!

    In the beginning of my painting journey, I couldn't wait to get into my studio and use bright, vibrant colors.

    I used mostly chromatic hues, lots of paint and very little grayed colors. I was known as a colorist in my oil landscapes and mixed media figurative abstractions. I reveled in jumping from color to color and surprising myself with the color combinations I came up with.

    One day this changed.

    I saw the work of my dear friend and New Orleans artist Duane Couch and was smitten by her use of neutrals and scratchy mark making.

    I loved her minimalist aesthetic and her combinations of bronze yellow, aureolin, parchment, and various green golds and yellow greens.

    Inspired by Duane's neutral palette, I began working in a series, exploring a more grayed palette and less paint.

    Rather than going into the studio and using almost every color I had on one painting, I began to simplify my palette.

    The power of simplicity and constraint

    There's been a great deal of research in creativity on the value of constraint in opening up creative channels. If you've ever done improvisational theatre you know about constraints in the form of prompts.

    Or, if someone asks you to tell a joke you may go blank whereas if they say: "tell me a knock knock joke" it's easier to come up with one. The "knock knock" joke is a prompt or a form of constraint.

    Another example of simplicity and constraint (and working in a series for that matter) is Picasso's The Bull.

    These are eleven lithographs that are a masterclass in developing a series and distilling down a concept to its essence.

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    Picasso worked with the idea of a bull (this is a constraint) and took it from representational rendering to further bulking him up only to increasingly break him down to finally his simplest form in a line drawing.

    This work (as well as Matisse's) is studied extensively by Apple's super secretive design group and for good reasons.

    Years ago I read a little book that made a big difference: Free Play: The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts.

    One concept from the book is about how in one's creative life there's no absolute breakthrough experience but rather a series of ongoing, open-ended breakthroughs.

    Essentially, there's no end to our journey of creating. One of my favorite chapters in the book is called The Power of Limits. Another favorite is The Power of Mistakes (but that's for another discussion).

    Back to the question of how I think about and work with color.

    My artist friend asked me to give her some guidelines or scaffolding for working with color.

    Tips: How To Create Visual Contrast With Color

    Work with simplicity and constraint. Explore a limited palette and limited values. Pick a few colors to work with (for instance, choose 2 secondary colors and the lovely color that happens when you mix the two.

    For example, orange and violet are secondary colors that when combined make a gorgeous color: russet).

    Excite the eye with visual contrast. Using your limited palette, you can increasingly create contrast with: warm vs. cool, dark vs. light, chromatic vs. grayed, textured vs. non-textured, transparent vs. opaque, large areas of color vs. small areas of color, and complementary colors.

    Here's an example:

    Imagine I work with a limited palette of Payne’s gray and cadmium orange. Here's how I can create exciting visual contrast:

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    1. First, they're complementary colors so they're opposites and contrasting on the color wheel

    1. Dark vs. light value: I could add white to the orange, making it a light, pale orange which would

    contrast with the relatively dark Payne’s gray

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    2. Warm vs. cool color temperature (orange vs. Payne’s gray)

    3. Transparent vs. opaque (Payne’s gray is transparent relative to cadmium orange which is opaque)

    4. Chromatic vs. grayed: the light, pale orange is now grayed and even more opaque than it was

    before and this contrasts with the now relatively chromatic and transparent Payne’s gray

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    5. Textured vs. non-textured: for further contrast you could make one color textured by agitating the surface, contrasting with the other color which is non-textured.

    6. Predominant vs. subordinate: I could make one of the colors predominant in the painting relative

    to the other subordinate one.

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    Increase Visual Contrast & Create Maximum Impact

    Here's the secret: the more color contrast you employ, the more visual excitement you'll create with color. You don't have to use every one of these ideas mentioned above, but it's an interesting exercise to experiment with dialing up color contrast in your paintings.

    Complementary colors are colors opposite on the color wheel. They don’t have to only be blue/orange, red/green or yellow/violet.

    You can select unusual colors and contrast them with opposites on the color wheel. You could choose Nickel azo gold and turquoise for instance. Or Naples yellow hue and carbazole violet. The variations are endless.

    What combinations do you imagine exploring?

    Write out some combinations below.

    Decide: • Which color will be dark or light? • Which will be transparent vs. opaque?

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    • Which will be chromatic and which will be grayed? • Which is warm vs. cool? • Which will be textured and which will not? • Which color or contrasting element will predominate?

    Example: Yellow and violet

    Imagine starting with Naples yellow hue and carbazole violet.

    Yellow is inherently a light value and carbazole violet is inherently dark value.

    What if you want to shake things up and have a dark yellow and contrast it with a light violet?

    Well, you could add black to the yellow and create a shade (in contradistinction to a tint when we add white to a color). This cools and grays the yellow. This particular yellow (Naples yellow hue) is opaque but we could make the violet even more opaque with a great deal of white.

    In this case, we wouldn’t have the greatest degree of contrast between transparent and opaque as we would with some other colors but that’s ok.

    Exercise: On the next page, write down some color combinations you’d like to explore that employ as many color contrast elements as possible.

    Depending upon the colors we choose, we may not have all the contrasts listed below. Just try to get as many as you can. This is sort of like playing with puzzles.

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    Remember: Ask yourself:

    • Which opposite colors will I choose? • Which is dark and which is light? • Which is transparent or opaque? • Which is warm or cool? • Which is chromatic or grayed? • Which is dominant or subordinate?


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    Thank you Imagine learning more secrets of professional artists.

    If you would like to go deeper, join us in the Studio Journey Course. In this 12 Module course, we explore not only color contrast but many other concepts such as working in a series, creating many “starts”, intuitive composition, structure, scale, simplicity and constraint and much more. Register here:

    From my studio to yours, Nancy