Figurative Paintings


In general, a split complementary color scheme consists of one main hue plus the two hues on either side of its complement.

TJ playing at the Blues Jam

In the portrait of TJ, his right hand is the focus, the main hue (yellow) even though it is a smaller shape than the guitar strap and background (red / purple).  His shirt, (leaning toward blue /purple) is the other near complement of yellow.  The three small areas of yellow, his face and his two hands, balance the strong, larger shape of the background.  This is one of my favorite combinations when using a limited palette.  Painting in the dim light of a bar requires limiting my colors so that I am sure I’m not mixing mud.

Painting:  Drawn first with dip pen using Noodlers #41 brown ink (2012) followed by watercolor.  Painted during the Monday Night Blues Jam at The Grisly Pear on MacDougal Street, Greenwich Village, NYC.

A full week of paintings and drawing all day, every day made a significant difference when painting at the Blues Jam last night.

Jim Barden, Blues Harp Player

The primary triad color scheme happened on its own.  I felt like I had crossed paths with an old friend.  Slightly neutralized yellow, red and blue make for a lovely, yet strong image.

Painting: drawn first with dip pen using Noodler’s #41 Brown (2012), followed by watercolor

Analogous Complements are defined as three adjacent hues plus the complement of one of the hues.

Rob Fraser and Steve Decker, Blues Jam

Dutchman and Steve Decker, Blues Jam

Both of these paintings fall into the category of Analogous Complement Color Scheme, though I am pushing it a bit by including the yellow green.  I find it almost impossible to tack a color scheme label onto a painting after the fact.  However, to discuss how colors work together to express mood and movement, a vocabulary must be agreed upon. To recognize  a clearly defined color scheme and one that extends beyond the bounds of the color scheme label is instructive.

Both of these paintings are low contrast paintings meaning that all of the colors are close in value ( white to black on the value scale)  The closeness of value combined with the color scheme of Analogous Complements creates a more subdued tempo of visual rhythm than a high contrast primary color scheme such as the painting below.

Justine Gardner, Blues Jam

Another example of high contrast primary colors where the blue and red are slightly neutralized is shown below.

Mike and Justine, Blues Jam

My point is that no matter what color scheme you choose, the range of values (light to dark) is of primary importance.  I find it more effective to be decisive about value and allow color to be experimental.

Paintings: Painted during the Tuesday Night Blues Jam in Easton, PA.  Drawn first with black ink using a dip pen, followed by watercolor.

There is no time to plan ahead when painting musicians jamming in a bar.  I dip into the paint based on the local color value rather than the hue since I can’t really see it in the dark anyway.  Fresher and more inventive color schemes are the result of such blind choices.

Arthur Nielson, The Grisly Bear, NYC

The next morning, in the light of day, the color scheme of a painting can sometimes be labeled.  I end up analyzing the effects of color combinations that please or intrigue me so that I might use them with intention in plein air or studio work.

Paintings that transition along the color spectrum from yellow to purple delight me.  On occasion I have forced this color scheme into a painting and failed miserably.  Yesterday morning when I spread out the paintings I had done the night before at Big Ed Sullivans Blues Jam at The Grisly Pear I smiled seeing this painting of Arthur.  The transitions work effortlessly.

Sometimes it can be an extremely small area of a painting that makes the difference.  In this case, I believe it is the tiny spot on Arthur’s shirt where the red of the guitar bleeds into the green of the shirt. It ties the softer, analagous colors of the top half of the painting to the bolder, sharp-edged shapes of the bottom of the painting where the colors at the other end of the spectrum reside.

The only color missing is blue, though it is represented in the green and in the purple.  Full spectrum paintings are more pleasing to me when one of the six primary and secondary colors is omitted in its pure form.

Painting: drawn first in black ink with dip pen followed by washes of watercolor

Sometimes I need to be a bit more subtle.

Arne Englund, Blues Jam Aug. 30, 2011

I like the bleed of the colors without the sharp bleed of black ink.  The purple guitar strap ties the warm-colored figure of Arne into the cool blue-lavender of the background preventing him from looking like a cut-out, separate from his environment.  Watercolor is an expressive media that is screamingly beautiful when left to do what it wants to do.

Sketched lightly first with pencil, followed by watercolor wet in wet.

Power is restored, paintings scanned and ready for posting!  It is, however, still raining ….

Arne Englund, Steve Decker and Rob Fraser

Sometimes it helps to have a low level of energy.  When I painted these last week, I was halfway through our power outage from Hurricane Irene.  All fourteen paintings done that night during the Blues Jam express a put-it-down-and-leave-it attitude.  Shapes are either united by the proximity of their colors or accentuated by their difference in temperature (warm or cool) and value.  I found that I left many of the figures unpainted, allowing the background color to define the figure as a simple shape.

Steve Decker on Drums

I’m happy when I go home with a painting of a drummer.  So often they are blocked from view.  I especially like the transition from warm to cool colors in this painting of Steve.  When painting like this with watercolor I feel that the paint and I are partners.  I allow the paint to spread and mix on the paper and the watercolor allows me to respond to the music and the energy in the room without getting fussy.

Paintings: drawn first with black ink using a dip pen, followed by strokes of watercolor

There is something about this rainbow effect, including the complementary color accent in the upper left corner (Todd’s shirt against the yellow background) that intrigues me.

Todd Wolfe and Four-legged Rob Fraser

When I purposely use gradations moving from one end of the spectrum to the other, I have failed.  This sketch done last night at the Blues Jam surprised me.  The color choices were totally right-brained.  I wasn’t aware that I had painted a rainbow until I looked at it later.  It was the first painting of the evening after a week of mental and emotional challenges.  The fact that I had given Rob four legs (the fourth was Maria’s suggestion) left me free to be ridiculous.  Ahhhh…. I should be ridiculous more often.

Watercolor Sketch: Drawn first with black ink using a dip pen, followed by watercolor.  Painted during the Tuesday Night, Todd Wolfe Blues Jam at the Larry Holmes Ringside Restaurant in Easton, PA.

« Previous PageNext Page »