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Painting with Color Scales


work on the problem, because that’s fun and can be helpful, but sometimes, in the end, it’s my heart, or my gut, that decides, or some other internal “craving” for one color or another.

How do you actually use a color-scale in a painting? Here is an easy example. Without thinking about it too much, I choose a color. Say, blue-green. This is my root color. Now I write down the colors of the blue-green major scale using the formula above: blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet, red, orange, yellow, green. Then I create a 4-color chord, á la the description of triads above, except extended by one note. The resulting chord is blue-green, red-violet, orange, green. Borrowing from music nomenclature, I name this chord Blue-green Major7. Now I can create an abstract painting depicting this color-chord. I take each color of chord in turn and apply it to the canvas, a splash of thin wash here, a bold slash there, generally letting the each color dry before applying the next color. I try to emphasize the root color, blue-green in this case, perhaps by using large blotches of saturated color. At the same time, I try to balance all the colors, just as I would try to balance the notes of a guitar chord, so each is distinct, but not overpowering. Sometimes it takes a few rounds of applying the colors, but the result can be a very cool-looking, simple idea.

A slightly more elaborate example is using a color-scale for a figure painting or still life. For a nude figure, I would use the different chords from the scale harmonization for different elements of the figure. I might use the 3- or 4-note chord based on the root note of the scale for the face, the chord built from the 2th note of my scale for an arm, and the chord built on the 5th note for a leg. So using the scale of blue-green major as the example, the face would be blue-green, red- violet, orange, green. The arm would be blue-violet, red, yellow, blue-green. The leg would be orange, green, blue-violet, red. The bump and hollow riff is extremely useful in drawing nude figures or animals, so I always look for these shapes in my models and feature them in the painting, like in the upper arm or knee. Applying the first element of Synchromism, I would try to depict advancing planes in warm colors and receding planes in cool colors. So if the face is looking out at the observer, I might use orange for the nose, because it sticks out, red-violet under the eyes and blue-green for the sides of the cheeks.

So why use color scales in the first place? Unless one is interested in music as well as painting, there may be no good reason. For me, it gives a way to use my knowledge of musical scales as an analog to understanding color. By mapping my knowledge of music notes onto the color wheel, I have a better handle on the relationships between colors, how to flow smoothly from one set of colors to

Copyright (c) 2007 Joey Howell. All rights reserved.

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