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Painting Tips

The Artist's HandbookOf Materials And Techniques
by Ralph Mayer
Is a reference that I find to be indispensable. I keep mine on my bookshelf, and believe that every artist should have a copy handy.

The Elements of Color
Johannes Itten
An excellent analysis of the properties and psychology of color.

Perspective for Artists
Rex Vicat Cole
The Practice and Theory of Perspective As Applied to Pictures With a Section Dealing With Its Application to Architecture

Paintings by
Stanley Beck
Painting Tips from the Artist

Tips to help you with your paintings
A Color Wheel Variation
Just about everyone who paints has some exposure to the color wheel. It is a handy device for understanding the relationship of hues, grays and tints, and it can be as simple or as complicated as one can imagine. Basically the old color wheel had the three primaries (red, yellow, and blue) placed 120 degrees apart on a circle. Between each primary color is placed the three secondary colors (orange, green and purple), mixed from the primaries. From there, color theorists have introduced tints, and grays, developing principles of saturation, value, compliments, etc.

That is very interesting, and a good study of those devices can really help you to understand color. However, I like to start with a modification of the basic wheel. The first principle is to understand that colors can be divided into cool and warm. Generally, cool colors are the blues, greens and violets, while the warm colors are the yellows, oranges and reds. However, if you have experimented with color mixing, you have probably noticed that there can be cool and warm hues with in a given primary. An example would be Alizarin Crimson (cool) and cadmium Red Light (warm). Cool and warm are relative descriptions, because Alizarin Crimson would still be warm as compared to any blue.

Being aware of these relationships, I like to include on my palette two of each of the primaries - one cool and one warm. Therefore my color wheel will be something like this: Lemon Yellow (cool), Cadmium Yellow Medium (warm), Cadmium Red Light (warm), Alizarin Crimson (cool), Ultramarine Blue (warm), Phthaolcyanine Blue (I consider cool compared to Ultramarine). Some may argue my analysis, but the main issue is the relationships that exist.

If you notice, my placements of these colors are such that any specific color is more closely related to the colors adjacent, than to any of the others. To see how this works, lay out this color wheel with paint, and taking a little of the Cadmium Yellow Medium and the Cadmium Red light, mix an orange. Notice how brilliant and intense the mixture is? You have just mixed two warm primaries. Now, for the sake of comparison, mix a little of the Lemon Yellow with some of the Alizarin Crimson. Do you see what happened? Alizarin Crimson has a bluish quality to it, while the Lemon Yellow leans toward the green (a blue component of the yellow). In essence, you are mixing the three primaries, and you get a grayed or muddied result.

Well, maybe there are times when that is exactly what you want. Isn't it nice, though, to be able to get the color you want without resorting to trial and error? Now, go ahead and do the same thing using the other colors to mix a couple of greens, and a couple of purples. If you learn nothing else from this, I hope you are better able to select, organize and group your paints in a way that gives you the greatest range of possible color combinations, with the fewest actual tubes of paint. It will not only save you money and grief, but will help your paintings to be more harmonious as well.

Additional Reading:

Exploring Color
Nita Leland
Although a watercolorist, her discussion of color is applicable to oils and acrylics as well.


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