Color Exercises

Color Exercise #6: Playful Color

Abstract Watercolor based on Value Shape Pattern

After working diligently on the color charts and color value charts, a session of playing with color is well deserved.  Too much left brain activity makes me grumpy.  Perhaps this is a good time to introduce the “value shape pattern” introduced to me in Jane R. Hofstetter’s 7 Keys to Great Paintings.

I have a pencil and a pile of  small pieces of paper (approximately 4″ x 6″) handy.  When I feel a bit brain-dead, I am able to get the creative juices flowing again by doodling several compositions without any pressure of producing something wonderful or meaningful.  The goal is to view the value shapes to see if they work together to create a composition of interest.  Occasionally, the shapes begin to suggest something real.  Most of the time my shapes suggest simple movement through space.

Value Shape Pattern Cards

In this exercise I used watercolor.  In the next exercise I will use oil paint, applying color with a palette knife.   I selected a value shape pattern that I enjoy looking at.  I  worked small so that I easily painted more than three color studies in one session.  Working on multiple studies will helps me to avoid getting fussy with my experiments.

I applied dark values first, choosing from at least three different pigments.  I used prussian blue, magenta and viridian for my dark shapes.  I allowed the watercolor paint to thoroughly dry.  Next, I applied light values.  Lastly, I applied medium value pigments as accents.

I chose another value shape pattern and repeated the process.

The value shape pattern above suggests pathways through a forest.  Without attempting to create a realistic landscape, I simply dropped in dark pigment, wet in wet, allowing the pigments to mix freely on the paper.  I repeated the process with light value pigments and left it alone.

The last example is one that clearly implies a figure in a landscape.

Once again, it is executed with only two washes, a dark value wash and a light value wash.  This time, I applied the light value wash first and allowed it to dry completely before applying the dark value wash.  As I applied the dark wash I forgot about the shape that suggests a moon.  Thinking about it now, the isolated moon shape might have made to composition too busy.  Simplicity can be powerful and might suggest an idea for a more carefully thought out and executed painting.

The light value shape is not as light as I had intended.  I wanted to vary the yellow and applied a bit too much red, turning the yellow to orange as it mixed on the paper.

2 Responses to “Color Exercise 6: Playful Color”

  1. Kendra Pearl Says:

    Your color theory studies are a wonderful collection of skill-building exercises! I too have studied color theories for nearly 20 years and I’m still intregued!!

    Thank you for posting.

    1. Chris Carter Says:

      Hi Kendra! Color will continue to fascinate, challenge and delight me for the rest of my life. I no longer post to this blog. I keep it just for reference for my students. I now post on my website blog at

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