Looking at Colours

'Colour is a power that directly influences the soul.' – Wassily Kandinsky


Colour is a fundamental component of all art and is often the first thing we notice when looking at any artwork. Creating a spectrum or a library of colours is a project that is an important part of this course.

Observational skills are important to being an artist, and as making drawings and reference sketches in sketchbooks are important to develop considered artworks, so too are the processes regarding with how we engage and think about colour. Today’s mini-project is about finding and arranging colours, rather than making them.

Finding Colours

Collecting colours can be a very engaging process, but it also takes patience. You will need some magazines: interior or fashion are ideal. General lifestyle, cooking magazines or catalogues are good too.

Magazines are contemporary publications with information that's helpful regarding colour trends and fashionable design. Art directors spend their days considering what to publish with professional photographers and designers choreographing interiors and fashion collections. This gives insight into colour combinations and harmonies that fit together. In general magazines are a good tool for referencing and building custom colour combinations. These are very valuable when arranged in a sketchbook or scrapbook and used as a reference.

Another useful reference is paint colour cards. These are ideal for longer term trends and for finding neutral colours. For good colour harmonies I value the colour cards produced by:

Look at paint companies in your own country that specialise in interior paints. (Note that I use these for colour referencing only: I don't create paintings with these paints!)

The Process

Page through magazines and cut out wedges of colours you come across including pastels, greys and neutrals. Sort them into collections of basic colours ranging from pastels to deep intense colours. For instance regarding red, look for all sorts of shades and hues from rose pink to maroon or purple. Do the same for yellow, blue and green. Sort these wedges and make circles of colours, you might have enough colour wedges for several circles. If you do have enough wedges you can make pastel hues, some with warmer tones, cooler tones, deep tones or more neutral colours. You can also create circles of wedges made up of the other colours such as orange, purple, in between colours, browns and greys.

This is time consuming but a very good way to focus eyes and make decisions about colours. If you like, make annotations next to the wedges commenting on how you think the colour was made, if the colour is warm or cold, a neutral, or just name it as if you were a paint manufacturer designing paint colours.

In addition to the colour circles you can make strips or blocks of colour harmonies based on the colour circle you worked on. In this include some neutrals, a contrast colour and other colours you consider to be part of a good combination. Use between six and ten colours that will go together in a painting or design. It is important to play and allow yourself to be curious and spontaneous regarding the process, whilst maintaining a sharp eye. Don’t overthink it and don't worry if you do not have all the colours in the rainbow. Use what you have (this is also an important aspect to this course: working with limitations helps to stay focused). By using current interior magazines the colours will be on trend, and this is also a valuable aspect of this exercise.

You can add more to this collection of colour circles at any point. The circles will come in handy later in the course when mixing paints.

Include in your collection of circles at least one of each of the following colours:

  • Blue

  • Red

  • Yellow

  • Pinks

  • Green

  • Neutrals

  • Greys

Take a look at the video that describes the process I follow.

'The craving for colour is a natural necessity just as for water and fire. Colour is a raw material indispensable to life. At every era of his existence and his history, the human being has associated colour with his joys, his actions and his pleasures.' - Fernand Leger

© 2020 Esté MacLeod

© 2020 Explore Colour