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farmlandWell, I’m going to teach an art class again — thought I was finished with that, but guess it’s in my “blood.”  Beginning September 15 (Thursday) from 1:30 – 3:30, I will be teaching a class on how to compose a work of art at the Maumelle Senior Wellness Center in Maumelle.  This is a seven week class, and will include examples, critiques, information, exercises, and perhaps occasional homework.  Students will use their own materials, as well as materials provided by the instructor.  I’ve had many years of experience teaching this subject, both in high school art classes, children’s classes, and adult classes.  A lot of the lessons will be based on the blogs I’ve shared on this site.  Cost is $45, and there is a maximum of eight students so call MSWC as soon as possible, if you want to register  (501- 851-4344).   I’m looking forward to seeing you and sharing my understanding of composition and design principles.



Split complementary

The split-complementary color scheme is just what it says:  the complement of one color is split on either side so that it is a 3-color scheme.  What happens is that one color temperature becomes dominant and the other is subordinate.  Another way of looking at is is to select three analogous colors and then look for the complement of the middle color.  In this way, a harmonious relationship is provided as well as an accent color that enlivens the composition.  This color scheme is found in nature most often with the hues blue, green, and orange.

To choose your colors, ask yourself what mood you want to convey.  Cool colors convey a feeling of peace and calm while warm colors could be used to show activity, vibrancy, brightness.   One or two colors could be neutralized while the accent color is used in its intensity.

In my first example, I used a split-complementary scheme of yellow, orange-red, and blue violet.  The analogous colors where used predominantly, and the blue-violet was subdued and used only sparingly.  It’s a hot summer day!


In my second example, I used a split-complementary scheme of red-violet, blue-violet, and yellow.  The warms are dominant, and the yellow is partly subdued.  A night scene is suggested.  This is a good exercise for you to try – let me know how it turns out!









A good way to plan a composition is to use recognizable color schemes.  Each color scheme has its own appeal and mood.  As I wrote about previously, complementary colors are those opposite each other on the color wheel.  Complementary color schemes can be pretty chaotic unless one color is used as a predominant, and the other is subordinate.  I used a simple composition in the following watercolor studies (5 x 7″) to show how value, intensity, dominant and subordinate color affects the mood. 

Comp1 STUDY I  

I used blue as the dominant hue in this first small study in values from light   to dark.  The complement, orange, was used as an accent.  The study seems to suggest evening with some light from the sinking sun.


I reversed the colors in this second small study, using orange as the dominant and blue as the subordinate colors.   The oranges are used in a variety of values from light to dark, and the accent of blue is used both dark and light in the foreground grasses and in the tree trunks.  A little blue can also be found in the texture of the barn. Do you see the difference in the mood?


REDGREENColors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, such as red and green, are said to be “complementary.”  Notice that that is not “complimentary.”  These colors complement each other, acting as opposites.  If they are used next to each other, the contrast is intense and disturbing.  If one color is mixed with another, the colors blend into each other and are neutralized, or grayed. 

Yellow, red, and blue are said to be primary colors, because the pure color cannot be obtained by mixing.  The secondary colors are green, orange, and purple.  Tertiary colors are yellow orange, red orange, red purple, blue purple, blue green, and yellow green.  As any grade school student knows, secondary and tertiary colors are mixed from the primary colors.

The complement of red is green, the complement of blue is orange, and the complement of yellow is purple.  But what are the complements of the secondary and tertiary colors?  You can figure this out without looking at the color wheel in this manner:  If you want to know the complement of blue-green, think – the complement of blue is orange, and the complement of green is red, so the complement of blue-green is orange-red.   Likewise, the complement of red-purple would be yellow-green.  Understand?

In the next post, I’ll show examples of a small watercolor in complementary colors.


Having gone to one of Skip Lawrence’s workshops several years ago, I remembered an exercise that he does like “scales” every day before beginning to paint.  It is an exercise in different kinds of contrast:  contrast of value, contrast of hue, and contrast of intensity.  I can’t see how he does it every day, because it took me 3 days to finish mine!  However, I don’t work hours at a time.

This is usually done in watercolor, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work in any medium.  First of all, I sectioned off a half sheet of watercolor paper into 9 equal spaces – three across the top and three down the edge.  Each of these sections is about 5 x 7″.  I separated the sections with narrow artist’s tape and wrote the particular problem above each.  Across the top the sections are high key, middle key, and low key (light values, middle values, and dark values only).  Down the left side are contrast of value, contrast of hue, and contrast of intensity.  Then I proceeded to paint contrast of value in each key with monochromatic greys.  Below those, I started to paint the different keys in contrast of hues (color) but decided to make it a little more difficult by using a color scheme from the color wheel:  analogous, double complement, and complement and 1/2.  Below those, I painted with contrast of intensity, meaning that I had to gray down all but one dominant hue.  The first I did in a semi-triad color scheme, the second as a split-complement color scheme, and the last as a complementary color scheme.  This took time and a lot of thinking, but it was well worth the effort, since I learned so much from the exercise.  My results are below.  If you want or need more information about this, send me a comment, please.


contrast exercise



One of my strongest concerns in making a painting is CONTRAST.  Contrast can be achieved in many different ways:

1. CONTRAST OF VALUE:  This is the opposition between white and black and their immediate gradations when mixed with various colors.  If a painting or drawing has high value contrast, it pr0bably has at least 6 different variations from light to dark. Strong light or sunlight makes for a wide range of contrast, while cloudy days and diffused light makes for a limited range of contrast.

2.  CONTRAST OF HUE:  This is the contrast of hues (colors) in the same values against each other. For example, the action of a bright red on a bright green background causes optical effects resulting from the contrast. If a painting has light values,but different hues, it is said to be high key. If it has dark values, but different hues, it is said to be low key.

3.  CONTRAST OF INTENSITY:  This is the contrast of a clean color against a dirty one, or intense color against neutral. A little bit of color at its maximum intensity (strength) against a grayed down hue produces a very effective type of harmony.

4.  CONTRAST OF TRANSPARENCY:  Color can be transparent like colored glass, semi-transparent like cloudy glass, or opaque like a thick layer of house paint. Transparent color like the stained glass of a cathedral, is the most powerful of all. In the same way, transparent paint is more powerful than an opaque passage. This works best in watercolor, of course.

5.  CONTRAST OF TEMPERATURE:  Consciously or unconsciously, we are aware some colors are warm (red, yellow, and orange) while others are cold (blue, green).  A single hue may vary in temperature: a purplish blue is warmer than a greenish blue, and a purplish red is cooler than an orange red. To identify whether a hue is warm or cool, think about how much red or blue is in it. Warm colors have certain emotional overtones that differ from the emotions evoked by cool colors, so use thus principle when you are seeking to imply a certain mood.

6.  CONTRAST OF COMPLEMENTS:  Colors which are diametrically opposite one another on the color wheel are called complementaries, and they have the power to bring out the maximum effectiveness of their opposites when placed side by side. Thus, yellow will emphasize an adjacent purple; red reinforces a nearby green, etc. The remarkable fact about complementaries is that the nerves in the eye will create an illusion of the opposite color. Therefore, a bright patch of red will seem to suffuse the surrounding area with green.



In your sketchbook, draw something beginning with every letter of the alphabet — you can draw one a day for 26 days, or do more than one a day.  Try to use some abstract concepts as well such as J = Jealousy.  Use color medium of your choice.

Additional ideas

blue set

Ignore depth of space and simplify and flatten the shapes in a still life.  Use a complementary color scheme with close values.  Let either warm or cool colors dominate.


Try using either a high horizon or a low horizon line.  The choice depends on where you want the emphasis to be.

At the Rivermarket

Go to a fresh food market and take pictures of the displays and the customers.  Try to tell a story with the characters in your scene.