In the early 70’s I rented an apartment near Cleveland Circle in Boston.


The kitchen was narrow with high ceilings. A large window allowed the morning sunlight to pour past the potted herbs onto the glass doors of the cupboards, the counters and the floor.  The night I painted the walls bright orange and the cupboards fire engine red, I dropped into bed with a migraine.  I thought it was from the colors I’d chosen in too small a room.  Most likely, it was from the fumes.

Next morning, I awoke to the most cheerful kitchen I’d ever experienced.  The following year, I moved to a studio/loft space where I repeated the red and orange interior decor wherever possible … the bathroom I constructed and the one wall that wasn’t brick.  The memories of those days flooded back to me while painting this morning’s drawing, a sketch of Mike’s kitchen in Mountain View last month.  I threw the die and came up with the color scheme Analogous with One Complement.  The dominant color was to be orange/yellow.  As I remembered the effect of the fire engine red paint, my orange/yellow counter top became more of a red/orange.

Artist Trading Card – Morning Sketch: Sliced Apple, drawn in ink with fountain pen, followed (weeks later) with watercolor.

I have had two significant mentors in my life as an artist, Adolf Konrad and Betty Stroppel.  Adolf passed in 2004.  Betty passed this morning.  Both Adolf and Betty believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.  I now hold two batons in my hand.  Adolf, in many mysterious ways, has continued to be my guide.  I am expecting Betty to appear any time now.  It is clear to me that I will follow in their footsteps, sharing through conversation, teaching and example all I have learned.  The most basic lesson from Konrad was to draw every day …. every single day without exception.  From Betty, the most basic lesson was to paint every day ….without exception.

This blog is about Color……. however, I left my paint tins behind when I left by the light of flashlight on November 1st to catch a plane for California.  Hurricane Sandy ripped through New Jersey leaving us powerless.  I improvised.  Still, I ended up with mostly ink drawings.  That’s not such a bad thing.  As Adolf would say “Don’t ever stop drawing!”

Creative Color is about seeing, whether in black and white or full spectrum.  The important thing is to keep looking, keep exploring, keep searching and keep the eye and hand coordination in World Class Athlete shape.

United Club at Newark International Airport waiting for flight to San Francisco

Newark International Airport No.2

Newark International Airport

Cafe, Mountain View, California

California Transportation, BART and Cal Train

Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park

Hangar One, Moffett Field

Music Concourse, Golden Gate Park

San Francisco Streets

Warming up in a coffee shop by Golden Gate Park

Moffett Field and improvised palette

United Club, San Francisco Airport

San Francisco Airport

And there are more …….. I hope to pass on the excellent advice of my mentors …… draw, draw, draw ….. paint, paint, paint, be willing to share everything I know, be supportive, encourage good daily work habits, draw, draw, draw …. paint, paint, paint.

Sketchbook drawings: drawn with fountain pen filled with Noodler’s Black Ink

Here are a few photos of the monochromatic wall mural in progress:

Monochromatic Dining Room Wall Mural

Left corner of wall mural

Close up of trees

We hope to finish on Wednesday.

Dining Room Wall Mural: painted in latex paint

I never mind when my friends sleep longer than I do.  It allows me extra time to draw in the morning while sipping a cup of coffee and gathering my thoughts for the day.

Morning After the Birthday Party

For this little morning painting I did not play The Color Scheme Game.  What I’m finding is that even when I don’t throw the die, I choose my colors more carefully than I did prior to my daily practice of playing the game.  My eyes are seeing color schemes in the landscape as well as everywhere else around me.  I find I am using color to direct and redirect attention in a way I have not done before, by choice rather than by luck.

The Narcissus was just starting to bloom.  I regret that I didn’t paint the Narcissus on my last day in Portland when it was in full bloom.

Morning After the Birthday Party, Portland, Maine – drawn first with fountain pen filled with black ink on d’Arches watercolor paper followed by watercolor.

While the musicians set up for the Blues Jam at the Raven’s Nest on Wednesday night, I sketched the piano in the corner.

Table with Flowers and Piano in the Corner

Turned out to be a double complementary color scheme: Purple / Yellow and Blue / Orange, the Purple / Yellow being dominant and the Blue / Orange acting as supporting actors.

The Noodler’s Black Swan in English Roses add such a lovely touch of color as it bleeds into the watercolor. I enjoyed the reflections in the table as well as the reflection of the framed drawing in the front panel of the piano.

Sketchbook drawing: drawn first with dip pen and ink followed by watercolor.

While waiting for our salads to arrive, I quickly sketched Sue’s Special Coffee Drink, coffee, Tia Maria and whipped cream.

Sue's Special Coffee Drink

The dominant colors in this analogous color scheme are red, orange and yellow, all other colors are neutrals.  A touch of blue gives a bit of relief to the overall warm palette.

sketch: drawn first with fountain pen filled with a mix of red and black Noodler’s ink, followed by washes of watercolor added later …. the salads arrived before I could add color to the ink drawing.

What I thought might be a quick sample of using Color Wheel Five to paint the view through and beyond my kitchen turned into an all day struggle.

View beyond the kitchen

The problem spot in the painting is the table.  I changed the hue and value of the both the top and the draping cloth at least a dozen times. The light through the windows continued to change and my value sketch offered little help.  In spite of the struggle, I enjoyed every minute of the challenge, keeping colors clean and using both full intensity and neutralized hues.

Painting:  oil sketch on gessoed birch wood panel 5″ x 7″

Transitions between shapes as well as combining detail shapes into larger masses can be accomplished by using clusters of cool colors and/or clusters of warm colors in similar values.

Oli Landwijt and Bob Thena's Sleeve

Oli’s blouse, the glass of beer and the table work together as one larger shape, separating the red background from the yellow shape of Oli’s arm.  The separation by the clustered cool shapes allows the yellow shape to set up a movement between near distance and far distance.  The watercolor sketch is grounded by the darks of the chair and the table, allowing your eye to bounce around and enjoy the variety of ink lines that define each object.

Ink and Watercolor sketch drawn during the Tuesday Night, Todd Wolfe blues jam at Larry Holmes Ringside Restaurant in Easton, PA on August 2, 2011.  Drawn first with black ink using a dip pen, followed by watercolor washes.

Playing with watercolor provides a fast and easy reinforcement of the concepts I know, but sometimes forget.

Value Contrast Direct the eye to Focal Points

Once a month I have breakfast with X to toss around ideas and to discuss the latest ups and downs of our lives as artists.  This month the topic of teaching workshops came up.  We shared our ideas of how and what to present to our students that would give them a sense of having learned something useful that could easily be incorporated into their work, inspire them to learn more on their own, while at the same time making the workshop fun and satisfying.

The topic led to teaching “rules”.  As artists, we know that rules are made to be broken.  We also know that work is often strongest when breaking a rule is a choice or a recognized “happy accident” than when the rule is broken through lack of understanding or even knowing about the rule.

One rule is that the lightest light and the darkest dark should only be in the area or areas of the painting where you want your eye to focus or return to again and again. If you have the lightest light and the darkest dark in other areas, the illusion of space in the painting will be diminished and your eye will wander all over the painting, lost among shapes and colors and values (not necessarily a bad thing, but generally without emotional impact).

Painting: Drawn first with dip pen and black ink, followed by watercolor washes.  Painted while Roger and Rob were setting up for the Todd Wolfe Blues Jam on March 8, 2011

When traveling, especially when visiting family and friends, it is difficult to have more than ten or fifteen minutes to spend on a sketch.  It is even more of a challenge to choose colors while engaged in a conversation.  Painting over an ink contour drawing with only one color provides a satisfying solution.

Alexis's Room in Seattle

When using only one color, my focus is only on the pattern of lights and darks.  I don’t have to concentrate on color scheme choices or on warm/cool choices.  I am able to stop and start watercolor washes as the conversation permits.  The black ink runs a bit into the pigment, an effect I often like.  In this case the black mixing with the venetian red mixes toward a burnt umber creating a slight color variation that is not distracting.  When painting in this manner I prefer using Burnt Sienna, Venetian Red, Indian Red or Burnt Umber.