The neutral gray divides the warms and cools while, at the same time it ties them together.

Todd Wolfe and Shellie Mitchell

Transitions between colors create mood, energy and movement in a painting.  Transitions can be abrupt or subtle.  Transitions act as cliffs to fall from or stairs to take at one’s own pace.

Double complementary color schemes can appear static if the shapes are or similar size and / or quantity.  Shapes of neutral color may be used wisely to throw the balance off a bit and breathe a bit of life into the painting.  In this painting, the neutral of Todd’s shirt keeps the blue background from coming forward into the space of Todd and Shellie’s heads and the saxophone.

I rarely use red/green when playing with double complementary color schemes.  Red and green are too close in color value.  Purple / yellow as well as blue / orange provide a full and dramatic range of color value even in an undiluted wash.

Painting: Drawn first with black ink using dip pen, followed by washes of watercolor.

Transitions between figures using color.

Todd Wolfe, Rob Fraser and Steve Decker, playing at Tuesday's Blues Jam

For me, this little painting is what jamming is about.  Todd and Rob are face to face, not playing to the audience.  They are playing off one another’s rhythm and sound, held together by Steve’s drum beats.  The colors and little shapes that are suggested by their bodies play off of one another, separate and unique, but creating one whole.

Drawn first with black ink using a dip pen, followed by brushstrokes 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.

Unwinding from a stressful day, I decided to play with colors and values using Todd Wolfe as the inspiration.  Without the Blues Jam on Tuesday Nights I might lose my sanity.

Todd Wolfe starting off the Tuesday Night Blues Jam in Easton, PA

I was thinking about color wheels and color schemes throughout the day as I searched for lost props: pitchforks, barrels, fake fires and Renaissance chairs.  The color can be far more playful when the value choice is strong and bold.


I knew the ink would bleed as soon as I came close enough to it with my brush.

Todd Wolfe, Blues Musician, Watercolor Portrait

The night was young and I hadn’t yet shifted into painting mode.  My brush hesitated, fearful of the black ink bleed.  My mood throughout the day had been a bit dark and I didn’t want to carry that darkness into the night’s experience of the music, nor into the expression on Todd’s face.  The ink lines already expressed a tension in his brow that I felt in my own.  After the first few tentative strokes of color I stopped.  For me, the painting works in its simplicity of color.

Painting: dip pen in black ink followed by a few strokes of watercolor washes.

Todd Wolfe playing at the Todd Wolfe Blues Jam, March 8, 2011, Larry Holmes Ringside Restaurant, Easton, PA.

When I painted at the Blues Jam last Tuesday evenings I was not intentionally using a color scheme of double complementary colors.

Todd Wolfe and Rob Fraser at the Blues Jam

It was the next morning when I lay out the little paintings that I analyzed their strengths and weaknesses.  I am often surprised when paintings fall into particular color schemes.  In the case of these two paintings, the color scheme is one of double complementary colors that are adjacent to one another: Blue/Orange and Purple/Yellow.  In the painting above, Todd Wolfe (left) is predominantly purple /yellow with the blue pants acting as an accent.  Rob Fraser’s (right) orange guitar brings out the subtle blue of his shirt while his purple paints link him, visually, to Todd.  The yellow strap also links to Todd’s yellow guitar.  Of course, these are not the actual colors of the clothing they wore.

Imagine how separate the figures would be from one another if the colors didn’t, in some way, link the two musicians together.

Blues Guitarist, Todd Wolfe

In the painting above, the double complementary colors appear in a single figure leading your eye around the figure to create a sense of depth, motion and rhythm.

Both paintings were drawn first in black ink using a dip pen, followed by watercolor washes.

Several years ago I was introduced to the concept of using a “Mother Color” when mixing pigments for a unified palette by Stephen Quiller’s book, Painter’s Guide to Color.

Roberto tuning his guitar, Blues Jam at Larry Holmes Ringside Restaurant

Though I like the concept, I was never able to apply it successfully while painting.  I simply don’t plan ahead that well.  Whether I am painting in oil, watercolor, acrylic or gouache, I can’t help but dip into a bit of pure color here and there, getting lost in the moments of inspiration.

Chas Cochran playing harp at the Todd Wolfe Blues Jam, Larry Holmes Ringside Restaurant, December 21, 2010

What I have found most useful to my way of painting is choosing color based solely on its local color value, the lightness or darkness of the color when used in its pure form without any other color mixed with it.  When the value works, the painting works.  An added benefit is that the painting, especially the quick watercolor and ink sketches I do while listening to the live music at Todd Wolfe’s Blues Jam on Tuesday evenings at the Larry Holmes Ringside Restaurant in Easton, PA, is that the spontaneous use of unrealistic colors often adds visual movement and energy to the paintings.

The pure colors mix on the paper with the other pigments or the black ink, unifying the palette beautifully.

Todd Wolfe playing guitar at the Blues Jam, Larry Holmes Ringside

I usually start with either a gesture drawing in pencil or ink.  I then brush on washes of watercolor.