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Get to know your colors!

Get to know your colors. | The Practice Corner | How to Improve Your Art | #artpractice #artpracticeexercises #colorswatching #colorswatchcatalog #colorswatchjournal

Recently I had one of those "Aha" moments. You know when you have been told something many times and it never made sense and then suddenly on the 143rd time you heard it a light turns on and it’s as if you just heard it the first time.

Well, my aha moment has to do with understanding your medium, I mean really knowing your tools and how they react or act in different situations.

Here is the deal I have heard a million times (ok maybe not exactly a million but it seems like it), when you get a new set of pencils or watercolors or markers you should make a chart of your colors.

I have always thought that was a big waste of time, it made no sense to me. I seriously assumed that was for the very organized artists who not only chart their colors, but also have all the pencils in order in a pencil case by number. I imagine these artists have art studios that are very clean and organized and these color charts are hung on the wall as neat reference posters. I am not this organized person and just didn't see the need for doing this. Until today, is when the light went on and I figured it out why it is necessary.

Swatch your colors, don't trust the name or label color. | The Practice Corner | How to Improve Your Art | #artpractice #artpracticeexercises #colorswatching #colorswatchcatalog #colorswatchjournal

Let's say you just purchased a new set of colored pencils. You need to really get to know your pencils so taking time to make a color chart you find out some really good information about your pencils. You will see the real color that comes out on the paper. Not always is the color indicated on the pencil is the color that lays down on the paper. Also, you will find out how hard or soft the lead of the pencil is. You learn how much pressure you need to get good coverage over the paper. You also will see the colors next to each other on the same piece of paper and how it looks on the same paper. You get a lot of information out of this process of charting your colors and on top of that you get to keep the paper in a sketchbook or folder to refer to in the future. Although, you learn so much from this process there is so much more that simply charting is not going to tell you that you should know about your new colored pencils.

The color chart made up of just one swatch of color per hue does not tell you:

  • What is the max value of the color

  • How transparent is the color

  • What the color looks like when desaturated

  • What the color looks like when tinted

  • What is the tonal range of the color

I could go on and on here, but I can admit that the above things would be good to know. Of course, you can use a pencil without knowing the max value of the color, but if you knew that a particular color would not hit the value you needed you would not waste any time trying to use it in your project. Often, I have done this in the past where I would get frustrated trying different pencils to achieve what I needed to find that was not the right pencil. If I had known my pencils better than I would know which pencil would be the right one and save myself precious time.

I now understand the point of charting - it is not just to put your colors on paper it is really about getting to know your pencils. Since this revelation I have decided to make myself a practice journal where I learn more about my pencils and develop a great relationship. I mean when you get to know people you interact with at work is it easier to work with them? You know how they will react to an issue that happens at work and you can try to resolve it before it happens right. So, I have realized I didn't know my pencils as well as I thought I did. So, I am dedicating time to get to know them and document them in my practice journal.

In this journal I am not only making a color chart of each pencil. I am also creating value scales on each color to see where the max is and how light I can get it. I am also creating a transparency chart to really see how transparent each color by layering it over black. Far too many times I assumed a color was opaque and come to find out it was super transparent. I am also adding a few pages where I am mixing my colors together to see what colors actually develop. The thing I love about colored pencils is that you can layer different colors to create a color you need. Most times I choose my pencil colors poorly and have to do a lot of work to get the color back to where I want it. My trial-and-error method on a project is certainly not the right time (or place) to do that. Taking time in my practice journal to document the color mixes will help me refer to them in the future when I need that color. I will know what colors I used and how many layers I used to get there.

My lesson learned this week, getting to know my colors is just as important as properly following techniques. My pencils and I are going to take some quality time to get to know one another over the next couple of weeks. I will share with you what I learn and how effective it is in making my art better in the long run. If nothing else, it should decrease the time it takes (and frustration) looking for the right color. I will gain the confidence that I know what pencil to pick up next.



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