Straight away with this I understood the idea is to record what you actually see in terms of colour and not what you think you see which is easier said than done in practice and as I have discovered means you really do have to observe very closely. At the point I started looking in detail it was incredibly just how many colours I did in fact notice and the sheer range of tones and the only problem is this has meant on recent walks at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire I have become the proverbial nightmare with pointing this out with all the autumn leaves – from my point of view it is almost as if my eyes have been opened in a way they never have been but from my fiance’s it must be driving him demented!
This initial exercise was a lot of fun as it involved simply mixing different colours to produce varying intensities and secondary and tertiary colours as well as all the varying tones. I decided to do this in two ways – the first being to make some charts with the originals being kept in my colour sketchbook for future easy reference and the second the way the course material suggested by just practising on a sheet of paper:
The first way is shown above – this has also enabled me to take the primary colours and gradually add more of a second primary colour and change the saturation. I was also able to practice with mixing other colours within my palette as well and this does provide very easy reference as stated above which can be added to as I discover other media. The pages shown are the mixes done using watercolour paints.
The second variation is shown above – I tried acrylic and gouache paints and freely admit I prefer the latter for mixing but this may simply be down to the quality of paints being considerably better (I have only a cheap set of acrylics at this stage until I decide how much I like them or will use them). Whereas watercolour paints are very translucent and gouache I find delightfully opaque when used thickly I do like the ‘inbetweenness’ of acrylics and the feel of them as you work with them so can see me experimenting further with them. My set of acrylics is quite limiting at the moment but it was still useful to see how many colours I could mix and also the difference in colours as opposed to the watercolour and gouache paints. I find the gouache paints quite granular in texture but this may again be down to quality and I am also fully appreciative of the fact that both the colours produced and how the paints actually work is dependent on the paper on which they are used – watercolour paints work best on specific watercolour paper but I also love using them on a favourite murano paper too (this can be seen below when I used a blue murano paper).
Before I went on to exercise 2 I decided to try colour matching to a clematis from my garden which was in bloom at the time – I tried now to draw too accurately as I was trying to concentrate on the colours but still wanted to record the shapes for my own later reference. I found the back of the clematis particularly inspiring with the different patterns and it was the back impression along with the front impression shown bottom left that were the most accurate in terms of colour matching – it was a frustrating exercise but also one worth doing. I am making a point of keeping a record of the different colours on the side of the paper and adding them to my sketchbook as this is particularly useful when building up layers and colours with watercolour paints but also so I can see the primary colours used to create the other mixes if I have decided to restrict my palette.
This is the exercise I dreaded but ended up seriously enjoying! The idea was to take an 8 cm square of brightly coloured material and to match up the colours on it around the edge so that you cannot see clearly where the fabric ends. Despite being a quilter and having endless scraps I had very few that were suitable except for this one which proved both infuriating and challenging but as stated really enjoyable too – I am aware you can see the edges of the material but due to the nature of the pattern it was not totally possible to disguise. The only colours I really not that happy with in the photograph are the oranges but I was concentrating on the yellows that are difficult to see – on the actual material the colour is matched much more closely to part of the pattern. The pinks. reds and oranges were relatively easy to mix but the greens and the small amount of pale blue were much more challenging.
I will be trying this again in my colour sketchbook as I find a more suitable scrap or may try some hand dyed fabric instead.
The next exercise involved looking through my collection of resource material and finding an image rich in colour that I could isolate a small area of. Using this small area the idea was to reproduce the colours and give an impression of the image – the original section of my image is seen in the top right corner of my photograph and I decided to use gouache paints of red, yellow and blue (no colour names on my set) with a little added black
As this next photograph shows this is one exercise I freely admit to disliking as I tried several attempts with a smaller scale of working than my eventual final attempt above. I was also having problems with achieving the correct colour mixes and also found for the first time I was not comfortable working in that smaller scale and preferred larger more expressive brush strokes. I further discovered that a cheaper generalised sketchbook paper was much better than a rough textured watercolour paper as it also did not dry quite as quickly which enabled me to do colour mixing directly on the paper too – I had to work swiftly to achieve this but it was relatively successful happily. As can be seen I did try some colour mixes on the side of the paper as suggested and this was particularly important in terms of the purple tones as this was the colour that was a particular struggle to mix in this instance.
This next exercise involved mixing and matching colours from 3-dimensional objects and for my initial attempt I chose a leaf from my own front garden along with a nasturtium flower and fushia.
The idea was not about reproducing an exact image but concentrating on the colours that my eye actually sees and not what I think it does.
I chose gouache colours as I am more confident with those at the moment – or thought I was until this point! I am much happier with the colours of the leaf than I expected I would be and fully understood what was meant by really trusting what my eye sees as opposed to what my brain does as there were many more colours than you first realise – some of the oranges had more yellow tones than you first notice and some of the greens had almost red undertones to them as they merge into those adjoining red or orange areas. The nasturtium flower did blend in with the background colour of the leaf when placed against it but the oranges were very slightly brighter and this is where I am not sure I achieved the right tones. As for the fushia – the colours I produced I just could not get bright enough for a clear match and I also found the purples really difficult to get a good mix.
I decided also to keep the edges of the leaf deliberately rough in order to contrast or even mix slightly with the background which was a bright blue. I tried to match the colours of the shadows but again felt I was not successful with this as I do not think I achieved the variation of colours that I could see frustratingly.
Despite my frustration with this leaf and the flowers I do feel it was a huge learning curve and a relatively okay first attempt. Consequently however I decided on a second version but this time using a pomegranate, yellow plum and some small cherry tomatoes.
My main issue here is that I found it easier to match the colours if I did paint the actual objects rather than recording them as impressions using brush strokes – I have suspected Asperger’s and so found the way the course material suggested felt a little alien although I understood what is meant and the idea behind it too and so still tried to concentrate on the colours rather than doing an actual accurate still life.
I tried two different versions – the top using acrylic paint and the bottom version with watercolours and both were done on hot pressed watercolour paper. The acrylic version I had to mix the colours separately and struggled to get the right tones and mixes for an accurate representation – I am really unhappy about the plum and pomegranate but like the tones of the tomatoes.
With the watercolour version I was able to mix the colours directly on the paper through layering and this was much more successful as I built them up little by little. I am much happier with all the fruits and in particular the shadowing on the plum and tomatoes as I was able to achieve the variation of greys and taupe’s that could be seen. I also ensured that the background was painted in on both and the watercolour version was a much more accurate representation in terms of the colour of the card and the shadows caused by the cling film I covered it with it as well as those caused by the fruits. Furthermore on this version the pomegranate is a surprisingly accurate match to the actual fruit in terms of colours and this is also applicable for the plum too and so I was very much happier and despite not being just brush strokes I do fully understand what the exercise was about.
Overall I found this exercise at times really difficult (I am still not happy with the leaf version) but also really interesting and absorbing to do. The exercises forced me to really look at the colours that my eyes actually see rather than what I think and the concentration required to do the exercises was surprising as I was constantly having to remind myself ‘eyes not brain’. I do want to continue to work in my colour sketchbook and practice again some of these exercises so that I both improve in my observation and also that it becomes second nature to record colours accurately whether it is to match material or to record what I see in nature or in a photograph or image.