Monthly Archives: March 2014

Understanding Color and Composition

Over the winter I taught two one-day workshops on Understanding Color and Composition. One was held at the Indiana Art Association in The Artists Hand Gallery, Indiana, PA (Nov. 26, 2013), and the other at the Community Arts Center of Cambria County, in Johnstown, PA (Feb. 1, 2014).

In the morning the students practiced color harmony, using paint chips to experiment with color relationships. This involved a really drilled-down and subtle discussion, yet it turns out that, after really looking, almost everyone is able to see the minute difference between a truly good color harmony and one that is slightly, disturbingly off.

Where did I learn so much about color harmony? In college I thought I knew a lot about color, but it was when I took a job as a textile colorist in the garment district of New York City that my color training was blown out of the water. The stylists taught me not only how to see the subtlest differences in harmonies, but how to mix any color imaginable using the shortest route possible.

Honing this skill of harmonizing and mixing colors has given me great freedom in painting. It has also made me painfully aware of over-reliance on tube colors in the work of inexperienced painters. So, in the workshop I tried to provide a deeply practical understanding of color and mixing.

The afternoon was spent discussing and practicing composition principles. As I said in my workshop description, “Many a great idea suffers because of composition flaws that are actually easy to fix.” These basic problems, if worked out in the thumbnail stage before finishing and framing, can save a lot of heartbreak later.

So, I tried to give the condensed version of “Everything you need to know so as not to shoot yourself in the foot as an artist.” It takes years to really get these principles into your bones, but discussing them openly helps you recognize them.

In the coming year I plan to create online courses on Color and Composition to fill this need.

Here are photos of the dear students in the two classes:

IAA Color & Composition

Hard at work practicing color and composition at the Indiana Art Association

IAA Color & Composition

IAA Color & Composition class and their final collages

CACCC Color & Composition Workshop

Community Art Center of Cambria County Color & Composition class and their final collages