PALETTES AND PROJECTS

I am so excited to introduce you to some of my signature painting styles. Over the years, I’ve fallen in love with more than just color—I love the process of making art. My process includes building layers and texture and getting lost in the nuances of how materials relate to each other. The following projects are designed to be technique-rich and informative, but they’re also a way to have fun and explore your creativity.

We’ll incorporate the principles of modern color theory and address common challenges with color. After years of using color in practical applications, my color choices are very deliberate. This doesn’t mean there’s no spontaneity. Choosing harmonious color palettes in advance means you will struggle less and be able to focus on the process more.

One of the greatest pleasures in working with mixed media is that painting in layers is forgiving. You can correct mistakes and adjust your work along the way by experimenting with different mediums and mark-making tools. Be creative in your approach—use what you have—and substitutions are allowed. Nothing is a mistake in the process of making art. If something doesn’t go as planned, consider it serendipity, a chance to discover something unexpected in making your most authentic artwork.

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COMPLEMENTARY SUCCESS

PROJECT: PAINTED POSTCARDS

There’s no quicker way to make an impact with your artwork than to work with colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. Always a favorite combination, complementary colors naturally lead to a visually pleasing painting. While we’re using an opposites-attract approach in this lesson by using pure hues, it’s important to note that the tints, tones, and shades of each complement are just as beautiful together. If you’re using these techniques to create a larger painting, consider principle 2 of my five principles of color: balance the chroma. Choose one color to dominate, and consider muting its opposite to create a more pleasing work of art.

Since rules are meant to be broken, we will break the commonly understood rule of not using too many saturated colors in this project. Postcards are a small space to work within, and bold colors will make an impact. One of my favorite upcycled projects is to sketch on vintage postcards, which is also a good mixed media warm-up. My postcard collection comes from booksellers along the River Seine in Paris and also from the city’s fabulous flea markets. You can easily find vintage postcards on Etsy. I seek out ones that have postage and have been written on. They tell a story, and many are more than 100 years old. What treasures!

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1 | Choose three postcards to work on simultaneously to experiment with different color palettes. To preserve any writing on the postcards and provide a durable base, brush on a substantial coat of fluid matte gel medium and allow to dry thoroughly. If your postcards curl when the matte medium dries, put them between pages of a heavy book to flatten them.

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2 | If you are confident in your drawing skills, draw a simple design with a pencil. I often work with references from the internet or from my own photos. Anything that strikes your fancy can be drawn easily. I created single-line contour drawings of basic plant images, using photo references. To make a single-line contour drawing, draw without lifting your pencil off the page. This keeps the design fresh and somewhat abstract, and it’s an easy technique that allows you to express yourself without getting caught up in the details.

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3 | Trace over the pencil with a permanent ink pen (such as a Faber-Castell PITT pen) to accentuate the contour drawing and give it a modern look.

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4 | This step is key to making these simple works pop. Referencing your color wheel from chapter 3, choose complementary colors for your subjects and backgrounds, such as purple and yellow, red and green, or blue and orange. Using a small brush and fluid acrylic paint, paint the shapes and the background in thin layers, glazing them with the contrasting colors. If you don’t have fluid paint, mix heavy-body paint with a fluid extender medium, such as GAC 100, until the consistency resembles heavy cream.

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5 | Blot some of the color as you go to make sure the layers stay transparent, revealing the writing underneath.

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6 | Layer the paint, using analogous colors (adjacent on the color wheel) to create more depth. For example, on the green leaves, I added yellow for light value and blue for dark value, but the leaves still look green overall. Continue to add color and details in luminous layers until the pieces become dimensional and interesting.

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7 | After the paint is completely dry, go back with the permanent black pen to emphasize the line work and make it more defined.

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8 | Make a chart of all the color possibilities to make a reference for future paintings. The process of choosing complementary colors is as nuanced as there are variations in each color.

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FROM DARK TO LIGHT

PROJECT: ABSTRACT LANDSCAPE

I stand by my assertion that color is the primary reason we are drawn to a painting, but I concede that without value, color doesn’t hold much weight. We need contrast to create interest; otherwise, artwork with only midtones will be lackluster. In this lesson, we’ll incorporate the techniques from the warm-up lesson in chapter 3: Color Has Value (see here).

Blue and brown hues will be used for darker values, orange for midrange shades, and yellow and gold for the lightest values. We’ll build layers of paint and add collage and stenciling for depth and interest. These techniques create stark contrasts and show how to use color to create a beautiful range of values in your artwork.

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1 | Roll a thin layer of white gesso onto a piece of smooth, kraft-color printmaking paper. This prepares the surface for the next layers of color. Since we love texture, the gesso does not need to be even.

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2 | Roll on a few paint colors that represent medium and dark values. Spread them in uneven amounts, and create a horizon line at the top third of the paper for the landscape composition. I used brown for the darkest value and teal and quinacridone azo gold for the midrange values. Let each layer dry before adding the next.

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3 | With a brayer, lighten up the colors a bit by adding a thin layer of Titan buff or cream paint. To make sure the layer is not too heavy, put some paint on a palette, roll the brayer in the paint, and then roll some of the paint off before adding soft touches to the painting.

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4 | Select collage elements that coordinate with your palette and the mood of your piece (see here for more information on making and collecting collage papers). Be thoughtful about where you will be placing the collage papers. Think about composition rather than placing things randomly. Your collage papers should cover no more than half of the substrate. Use your intuition for what to cover and which paint marks are worth leaving exposed.

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5 | Use a heavy-body gel medium and a brush to fuse the papers to the surface. Make sure the edges of the papers are adhered. Repurposed key or gift cards work well to flatten out the papers as they are attached. Allow to dry.

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6 | Choose stencils the same way you did collage material and think about the composition. Stencils with organic designs work well in landscape paintings, because organic and nature naturally come together in harmony. Use an old, stiff, dry brush and dab it in the paint, brushing off excess paint onto waste paper before stenciling. Gently brush it over the stencil for a feathered effect.

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7 | Being thoughtful of color values, add dark blue to the painting if more contrast is needed. The purpose of this exercise is to use color to enhance a painting with dynamic value.

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8 | While the paint is wet, run oil pastel through the paint to leave marks of contrasting values, colors, and textures. This technique can be a little tricky because the oil and water might want to stay separated, but it’s completely satisfying when it works out. In this example, I used orange to draw through the turquoise.

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9 | If any part of the composition is too bold in contrast to the rest of the painting, you can tone it down with a very thin layer of white paint so that you can still see the layers beneath.

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10 | Add final marks and details to carry the eye through the work.

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HIGH-KEY/LOW-KEY

PROJECT: MOODY ABSTRACTS

Creating a good color value range doesn’t mean having to hit all the notes. Sometimes a great composition can be achieved through a range of only light colors or only dark colors, called high-key and low-key. The goal is to keep variation within the range of values you’re using. The pleasure in creating limited-value work is that it can convey a specific mood quickly. Dark tones convey a brooding, somber, intimate, or mysterious atmosphere, and light values create a joyous, spacious, energetic, or light-hearted feeling.

For this project, we’ll create two mixed media abstracts simultaneously—one high-key and one low-key—using graphite, acrylic paint, stencils, alcohol inks, and a smaller range of colors.

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1 | Create one high-key and one low-key color palette using a limited selection of colors in the same family but with different value ranges. For example, I used pastel green, orange, and pink for my high-key colors and dark green, orange, and crimson for my low-key colors.

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2 | Prepare the surface of the wood panels by brushing a coat of clear gesso on each. This protects the surface and allows the natural wood to show through in spots. Allow to dry. With a brayer, spread a thin layer of white gesso on each panel. Don’t cover the entire surface. Create texture and irregular marks by rolling the brayer back and forth. We are all about texture! Allow the gesso to dry.

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3 | Add a light color, such as Titan buff, to one board and a darker color, such as brown, to the other. Use the brayer to apply thin layers.

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4 | Now the fun starts. Using your favorite mark-making tool, create organic marks on your surface. I used a water-soluble graphite stick because it’s unpredictable and leaves lovely marks.

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5 | Begin to add color. The best way to build a beautiful range of depth in your artwork is to add thin layers of paint, being mindful to use darker colors on your low-key painting and lighter colors on your high-key painting.

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6 | Build more layers and continue to make sure you’re using variation within the value range in each painting.

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7 | Add stencil designs to your work. Stenciling is a great way to increase depth and texture. Use a stiff, dry brush with a small amount of paint to gently brush over the stencil for a feathered effect. Apply to no more than half of your surface and use as much of the stencil design as you would like, as long as you don’t leave any hard edges. Use a contrasting color, usually darker than the surface.

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8 | Using the graphite stick, build up the organic shapes with bold sketch lines. Instead of creating even marks throughout the painting, choose a focal point and emphasize it with the graphite. If desired, you may spray with fixative again, or just allow the next layers to react with the graphite.

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9 | Add an unexpected twist. Drop, drip, and splatter coordinating colors of alcohol ink in select areas of your artwork. Work in a well-ventilated area and wear protective gloves, since the inks can stain easily.

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10 | For some final pops of color, create small, bold marks through the painting with an oil pastel. Use coordinating colors so the contrast is subtle but noticeable enough to create interest.

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COLORFUL NEUTRALS

PROJECT: ARCHITECTURAL ARCHES

Gray is sometimes thought of as a boring color. But, when grays are mixed properly, you can achieve amazing colorful neutrals. Gray isn’t just black and white mixed together. It’s a rich world of muted colors. Add white and you have colorful neutrals. We can layer these muted colors to create a lush current of implied color.

In Making Mud (see here) you learned how to easily desaturate a hue by using its complementary color. You can make a blend of your own grayed color or use a few right from the bottle, like Titan pale green, Van Dyke brown, or my favorite yellow ochre. Metallics also work as amazingly well as neutrals. Just keep the softer side of color in mind as you select paint for this project.

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1 | Tear kraft color paper into small pieces (see here). You can use any color paper, even white, and add more neutral paint layers to your mix.

2 | Loosely draw an arch on the paper with water-soluble graphite. If you are unsure about the details of the arch you wish to sketch, print out some images to use as a reference. Keep in mind that we’re creating an abstract impression, not drawing precise architecture.

With a brayer, add a thin layer of white gesso to the paper without covering everything up. The whole point of working in layers is to allow previous marks and images to peek through to make the piece more interesting. The gesso also activates the water-soluble graphite, which has unpredictable but beautiful effects.

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3 | Stencil over the gesso in spots, using natural muted colors of acrylic paint. I use a dry-brush technique, adding very little paint to keep it from bleeding under the stencil. Use an old, stiff, dry brush and dab it in the paint, brushing off excess paint onto waste paper before stenciling.

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4 | Although we’re using muted colors, value is still an essential design element. With a brayer, roll out a few drops of a darker color, such as Van Dyke brown, gray, or metallic bronze, onto areas of the paper. Continue to add more paint layers, more stenciling, and always keep in mind that variation is key.

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5 | By now, your original arch sketch has probably disappeared. Make a few new graphite marks along the same arch you’ve been working on, and activate them with paint or water to make them darker. Remember, this is meant to be a loose sketch of architecture, not an exact study.

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6 | Once an abstract image of an arch begins to appear, begin adding gilded details. Shimmery gold or bronze paint, a metallic paint pen, or gold leaf creates the perfect accessory to your piece.

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7 | Notice what your eye is drawn to, and decide if you need to soften any strong lines with a light brayer coat of white paint or make other areas pop out with a darker value or marks. The most important outcome is to see that you can make a painting that feels rich in color while still using neutrals.

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Graphite marks are a great way to add depth to a piece.

CHROMA POP

PROJECT: PAINTED PORTAL

We may be drawn to vibrant colors, but a common mistake in painting is to use only pure hues. Pure saturation leaves no area for the eye to rest and offers nothing that makes an impact. Placing a strong contrast of neutral colors next to saturated colors makes a significant impression.

We’ll explore what happens when we use Portuguese tile patterns and mostly neutral colors to make one bright color pop. This project works for any subject, but I focused on the rough texture of an old door from Lisbon.

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1 | Using a brayer, cover the majority of the paper with a layer of white gesso and a little bit of metallic bronze paint.

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2 | Mark on the page, using soft pastel, sometimes called chalk pastel. This is the fun part of mixed media, where you can distress the page.

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3 | With a brayer, lightly paint more layers over your marks, allowing them to blend. Texture is one of my favorite ways to create dimension. Use found items or tools to run through the wet paint or dip into colors and scumble across the surface.

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4 | Use a dry-brush technique and neutral shades of acrylic paint to add portions of stencil designs for a beautiful soft, hazy look (see here for the dry-brush technique). Allow the paint to dry.

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5 | Add collage elements to the page, continuing to build up the neutral background. Learn to have a discerning eye for where they flow best. Often artists begin by randomly adding collage pieces in a haphazard fashion to their page. Be thoughtful in your composition by using the marks that are already on your surface and thinking about the design that comes next.

For this project, I was inspired by my photos of Portuguese tiles and used my handmade gel-printed papers (see here for instructions on making gel-printed papers). Use a heavy-body matte medium to adhere the papers so they won’t wrinkle too much. Often artists just begin by randomly adding collage pieces in a haphazard fashion to their page. Be thoughtful of your composition by using the marks that are already on your surface and think about the design that comes next.

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6 | Sketch a loose drawing of a door, using a water-soluble graphite stick. I used a reference image from a door I photographed in Lisbon; create one from your imagination or use a similar photo reference. Blend the graphite lines with water and gesso to give the sketch different value ranges and texture.

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7 | Add a pop of color to the door. I used bright teal, which worked wonderfully next to the warm neutrals. The key to making this bright color stand out is to use restraint on the rest of the painting. As you play around with the possibilities, you will get familiar with the combinations you prefer.

I applied the teal paint sparingly, using a dab of paint with a dry brush and lightly running it over the surface. This captured the texture of the old door, and the color still popped. Remember, the image is not meant to be exact, only a dreamy interpretation of an architectural element.

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8 | The original photo shows a beautiful grate over the window in the door. I mimicked this in my painting by using a stencil for the wrought-iron grate and sheer metallic gold paint. This is one of those touches that leaves me feeling very satisfied.

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9 | It’s still important to bring in a good value range to make the painting more dynamic. Use the graphite stick to bring out a few details in the door to enhance it.

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10 | After looking over my composition, I decided to add a muted burnt orange stencil detail as a complement to the teal door. It makes the door pop and creates harmony in the work with the weight and texture next to the door, keeping it from “floating.” That last touch may be just the thing you need to tie your piece together. The layers and texture really add that touch of old-world Portugal.

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Keeping track of my color choices helps me make quick decisions the next time I’m stuck in a painting.

TRICKY GREENS

PROJECT: DYNAMIC LANDSCAPE

The most difficult color to work with is green. Straight from the tube, some shades look like a Christmas explosion, while others are dull and lifeless. The best greens are the ones you mix yourself. In this lesson, we’ll learn how to create the right mix of greens and how to create a great value range. As you mix various yellows and blues to create a range of greens, you’ll be amazed at how many variations are possible. This experiment alone could take up a whole day.

In this lesson, you’ll see how a green-centric painting compares with one that is balanced with other colors and more natural hues of green. When painting landscapes, many of my students are inclined to use a bright St. Patrick’s Day green right out of the tube or mix a similar super-saturated color. To create a dynamic and interesting landscape, more variety is needed. That’s why we’re going to push the range of hues we use and include complementary colors.

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1 | Choose four yellow shades and four blue shades of acrylic paint and mix them on a palette, using the techniques found in chapter 3 (see here). Create a chart, with the blue colors on one side and the yellow colors on the other, and swatch the different shades of green. I made two versions of each green—a darker one with more blue and a lighter one with more yellow. Experiment and add more or less of each color, as there is an infinite range of greens in between. You can add white to the mixes to create light greens, but these pastels may not be the shades you want for this project.

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2 | For the dynamic landscape, create a ground with warm yellow paint. (For the super-green painting, I left the paper white to show how that affected its lack of depth.) The rich warmth from the yellow will make the final painting glow.

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3 | Create a landscape composition from your imagination or use a reference, and sketch out a general configuration using the rule of thirds to guide you (for information on the rule of thirds, see here). Paint in thin layers of earthy green, covering only some areas of the land in your painting.

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4 | Use a wide range of green hues to establish different characteristics of the landscape. If using a photo reference, pay attention to the details of the land, how the colors shift, and the nuance of the range of color that gives an impression of green. Even if you are using your imagination to create a painting, it’s good to know basics about the land, like that the colors in the distance will be lighter and muted while your richest tones will be in the foreground. The light and dark values help move the eye throughout the painting.

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5 | Add more layers of paint including some cooler greens and darker values. Build up more layers of paint with a variety of brushstrokes. Adding transparent layers of colors over the previous paint layers will begin to create some interesting effects and create depth in the landscape. Notice how much more interest these variations bring to the work compared with the super-green painting.

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6 | As a final touch, add dots of color to the landscape to suggest flowers. My landscape was inspired by the southern French countryside where poppies grow everywhere, so I used red.

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7 | Looking at the super-green painting now, can you identify why it doesn’t work as well as the dynamic painting? We may initially lean toward the saturated composition, but studying the difference between these examples and practicing painting using the concepts from this lesson will elevate your work. Try creating this project again, noticing the different results you achieve.

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Try painting landscapes with different palettes for a variety of effects and moods.

INFINITE BLUES

PROJECT: SMALL SEASCAPES

Color choices can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to blue. How do you choose the right shade? Blues can be warm or cool. If the color has red undertones, it’s considered warm; if it has green undertones, it’s considered cool. The blue you choose is entirely up to you, and I encourage you to play and experiment to discover what you like best.

This lesson will not only expose you to myriad blue hues, but it will also bolster your acrylic painting practice. If you don’t have a million blues like I do, return to the color wheel warm-up lesson (see here) and mix a variety of blues using the modern primaries. Once you have a nice selection, begin playing with paint and create these lovely small seascapes.

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1 | For this lesson, we’ll be working on multiple mini canvases at the same time; I worked on four at once. Doing this offers a chance to experiment with more shades of blue. Painting multiple canvases helps establish a cohesive series, even if different color palettes are used. I also find that while working on several canvases, one idea leads to another, which I can try instantly on another piece.

Begin each painting with a different acrylic paint ground. A ground is a first layer of color on a canvas that influences the overall tone of the painting. I usually like to use warm colors such as pink, yellow, orange, or red mixed with white to create contrast with the blue added later. To give the surface a painterly look, don’t completely blend all the paint, but allow for variation in the marks. Allow to dry.

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2 | Create the sand for the seascape. I used my favorite combination of paint colors: Titan buff, Van Dyke brown, and warm gray. To achieve the striations in the paint that mimic sand, dip a paintbrush in two or more colors of paint and brush them onto the canvas. Paint about one-quarter of the way up from the bottom, and do not blend the colors completely.

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3 | For the sea and sky, we will mostly use one variation of blue, plus white. Heavy-body white paint will allow you to create clouds with a bit of texture.

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4 | To create the ocean, keep two things in mind: Water is usually darker at the horizon, and the horizon line is always straight. Select a darker blue, such as phthalo or Prussian blue, and create a straight line for the water about one-third of the way up on the canvas. While the blue paint is still wet, mix a dab of white into the blue and slightly cover the sand, allowing it to peek out from the surf. Don’t forget to paint the edges of the canvas. Allow to dry.

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5 | Use the blue already on your brush to create the sky. Use the marks and brushstrokes of the bright ground color to inspire your next brushstrokes.

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6 | Mix in more white with the blue, and remember that the sky is usually much lighter at the horizon. Go with the flow, but don’t overbrush and lose the marks you’ve created. The unblended marks represent the clouds. Also, be mindful of not covering up the entire ground color; this will give your painting a sunset glow.

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7 | At this stage, I like to allow my intuition to take over while continuing to paint the sky. I let the previous layers tell me where to put the next marks. Does a brushstroke look like a cloud or a windswept sky? Make sure you let the marks be. Don’t overthink this step or you may overblend the sky and cover up the bright pops of yellow or pink underneath.

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8 | Creating waves and ocean breaks tends to use very similar methods as painting the clouds. Using a dry brush and a little white paint, drag the brush across the edge of the water where it hits the sand. Allow the brush to skip on the surface and make irregular marks. An abstract seascape should look believable but not completely realistic, so be mindful of the horizon line, shading, shadows, and color details.

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9 | Carefully match up the sides of the canvas with the top, and finish up the details. At this phase, I focus on cloud building, layering little dabs of heavy-body white paint onto the peaks of the clouds to give them more dimension. Remember: You’re painting clouds, not little puffy sheep!

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10 | There are a million different variations of clouds and skies. Study them, take pictures, practice making mini seascapes using various background colors and shades of blue, and you will soon be an expert sea and cloud painter. These are abstract and intuitive, so have fun!

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TAMING THE WILD ORANGE

PROJECT: ABSTRACT FLORALS

Orange is an inherently bright color and can overpower a painting quickly. What if we tamed it a little with complementary colors, or other shades of orange, or turned it into coral? Once you learn to incorporate orange and make it less dominating, it might become your new favorite go-to color. Shades of orange make their way into about half of my work.

In this exercise, we’ll let loose and create an abstract floral painting. Orange will be the focal color, and we’ll explore how its many variations can be used together. You’ll discover how to reel in the color orange, use it thoughtfully, and still let it shine as the star color of your painting.

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1 | Working on the paper, start with a scribble, using a graphite stick. This breaks up the blank page and gets the juices flowing.

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2 | Use a brayer to paint a layer of white gesso over the scribbles. This gives the paper strength and a substantial layer of bright white that will contrast with subsequent layers of color. I like letting some of the paper show through, especially around the edges. This gives the painting more interest through the textures that are revealed.

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3 | Lay the groundwork for your composition by creating intuitive lines where you imagine your floral arrangement will be. I used Van Dyke brown, which will create contrast as the layers build. Remember to vary the size and shape of the florals. If they are all the same size, they will be more like balloons. Nature is organic and irregular, so the shapes should be as well.

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4 | To build a palette of subtle oranges, mix several shades and hues of orange to create lush peaches, corals, and poppy colors. I used primary magenta, primary yellow, pyrrole orange, and white to create a range of options. Use these shades to block in abstract floral shapes, adding the colors to the background as well.

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5 | Add shades of green and blue around and below the blossoms to complement the floral focal point. A small amount of cerulean blue makes the orange flowers pop, and a mix of greens in abstract gestures begins to pull the painting together.

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6 | Working in layers to create depth, continue to add paint, marks, and interest to the piece. I scribbled more marks with the graphite stick and created a complementary light aqua background.

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7 | Stand the piece upright and spray a light mist of water over a layer of wet paint, allowing the paint and graphite marks to drip and spread in unexpected ways.

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8 | When the composition seems to be coming together and the balance of color and interest has emerged successfully, add the last layers of paint to shape and emphasize a few of the flowers. Use brushstrokes to suggest petals and centers. Leave some flowers with less detail.

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9 | Are the flowers orange enough? As a final touch, add an extra pop with oil pastels. The saturated color leaves beautiful lines and marks that complete the work and make it stand out.

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ROYAL PURPLE

PROJECT: MIXED MEDIA LANDSCAPE

Purple is a popular color that’s been used by royalty throughout history because of its rarity. But we don’t need a pure hue when red and blue make purple. The key to mixing this shade is knowing how to use a hue of red and a hue of blue to produce the shade of purple you want. Artists become more confident when they’re able to choose the right colors to mix the perfect purples.

While we usually think of landscapes, grass, and trees as always green, the truth is that with the right light or squint of an eye you’ll see all the hues of the rainbow. Push what is expected and reimagine what is possible when you use color for landscape. Purple for the shadows on a cool autumn day? Why not?

Let’s identify which tubes will make the most intense and unmuted purples. To create a mixed media abstract landscape, we’ll mix different reds and blues to produce a variety of purple shades. The purple you use is a matter of preference. I gravitate toward redder violets and muted plum colors, but you may favor vibrant bluish-purples. Knowing how to make these colors is key. We’ll also discover which paints straight out of the tube make the most vibrant purples and which offer earthy plums, red-violet shades, and bluish-purples.

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1 | Prep the canvas with a layer of white gesso. Use a thinned-down brown paint to create the ground. Use a ratio of 70:30 of water to paint. The mixture should be light and fluid as it covers the entire surface. Stand the canvas up and allow the paint to drip and create interesting marks. This earthy tone will be a perfect complement to the purples we’ll use for the landscape. Allow the paint to dry.

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2 | Mix a range of purples using three shades of red and three shades of blue. Try using combinations of primary magenta and primary cyan, quinacridone magenta and phthalo blue, as well as ultramarine blue and cadmium red. Which make the brightest hues, and which make the earthiest? Which do you prefer?

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3 | Paint washes across the canvas with the various shades of purple you created. Work from intuition or use reference photos to create your composition, thinking about the design and representation of the landscape. (Using images as a jumping-off point without copying the original is a great way to charge your creative muscles.) Be mindful of the rule of thirds to create a successful design.

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4 | Block in other colors, being mindful of values. Use a light blue at the top for the sky. Light green keeps the painting grounded in reality. Adding deep purple-blue at the base creates a striking contrast. Make sure that purple remains as the dominant color on the canvas and be sure to leave some of the background showing.

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5 | Bring in yellow as a complement to the shades of purple. In order to create variation and to mimic the different elevations and vegetation of the land, paint with different types of brushstrokes. This also helps move the viewer’s eye around the piece.

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6 | Add landscape details such as trees. Add marks to represent changes in the land, such as hills and valleys. The idea is to give an impression or a suggestion, not to create something exactly as it would be seen in nature. Use a dab or two of paint to mimic what you want to see.

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7 | If your details begin to look too contrived, spray the wet paint with water and watch it drip and run. This frees the design and lets serendipity happen. If the drips overwhelm the painting, wipe them up before they dry. It can be satisfying to see these unpredictable new formations in your work.

From this point on, a lot of back-and-forth happens with a painting, a balance of calling on your foundation skills and following your intuition. The most important thing to remember as you work through the muck is that variation is key.

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8 | After working out the composition, being mindful of value, mark-making, where your eye leads you, and the overall placement of color, let the painting sit. Take a couple of photos of the piece and walk away for an hour or a day, giving yourself a moment to breathe. Then come back to it with fresh eyes. You’ll know what to adjust and fix.

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9 | Add final touches with oil sticks or oil pastels where colors converge or where the composition needs to be strengthened. I love the sketchy marks and beautiful texture they create on the surface of the canvas. I often only use like color with like color: green over green or a similar hue of purple over purple. This gives the painting a subtle shift but makes an impact in the overall richness. Alternatively, add any last details with acrylic paint marks.

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A THIMBLE OF RED

PROJECT: ABSTRACT GARDEN

Henri Matisse said, “A thimbleful of red is redder than a bucketful.” Red is a powerful color, and when used in the right amount, it can make a great impression in your painting. Too much, though, can be off-putting. After practicing with all the many layers of red in this lesson, artists should be able to achieve the look of red without needing pure red.

The magic of this playful project is in staying loose and free and scribbly with the layers, producing results that are fresh and abstract. I’ve had to train myself to not make everything smooth and detailed so that my artwork can be more abstract and interesting.

Remember that varying the values, marks, and colors is key. You’ll learn how to balance earthy greens with many variations of orange, pink, coral, and other warm tones to represent the feeling of red.

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1 | Prep the board as discussed on here. Using a brayer, apply a layer of white gesso, creating a rough but evenly covered surface that will accommodate the subsequent layers of paint and marks.

2 | Using a graphite stick, scribble over the gesso. Why scribble if you’re going to eventually cover up the marks? This technique will loosen you up and allow you to face the surface without fear. So scribble away and be free, my friends!

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3 | Let those scribbles serve as a guide to your composition to help you plan out your floral work and where to put your organic shapes. With acrylic paint, add an underlayer, or ground, this time much more sporadically. Since the overall tone of your final work will be mostly reds and pinks, begin with some cool greens and yellows. These complementary colors will peek through and influence the painting as you go.

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4 | Using dark, rich, red shades, block in the flowers with loose, gestural marks. Consider the composition seriously at this point. Vary the shapes and sizes of the flowers, and position them in a way that prevents creating a center mass cluster. The rule of thirds can help you place them in the top or bottom third of the painting, avoiding the middle.

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5 | Fill in the area around the flowers with muted, earthy green and brown hues to represent the thick of the growth in a garden. Rather than looking at a reference image, imagine how the garden would feel, and use your foundation skills to guide you in creating the elements. Ask yourself if the composition looks right, and keep the rule of variation in mind.

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6 | Mix shades of peach and pink for the flowers, using a complementary shade of green to mute the pinks a bit. Decide where you want to add more flowers, thinking about where your eye wanders and where it gets stuck. Make sure you’re using different shapes, sizes, and spacing for the blooms. Avoid the common mistake of creating a straight line of red balls across the top of the canvas.

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7 | This lesson is all about the red family as the main attraction, so push the underlayer of green hues to the back and layer more corals and pinks to the entire surface. You can still allow the green underlayer to show through in spots.

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8 | Continue to work freely by holding the paintbrush at the end and making light gestural marks using a variation of different reds, pinks, and coral hues. Tightening up and focusing on details will change the feeling of your painting. I prefer my work to be abstract, so I recommend stopping before you go too far.

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9 | The last painting step is to build up the flowers with a few more thick brushstrokes. Try to make a mark and leave it; let a dab be a petal, a stroke be a stem, or a swish be a leaf.

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10 | Add a pop of saturated color by creating line work with red or peach oil pastels, bringing out the shapes of the flowers. As a fun complement, make a few thoughtful marks with teal green pastel. Finish with a spray fixative and spray varnish, which will cure the oil pastels.

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I may use a limited selection of colors, but it still makes a big impact.

BLACK AS A COLOR

PROJECT: MIXED MEDIA FLORALS

The Impressionists often eschewed using black in their paintings. They used color in new ways for fresh interpretations of nature and life. Dark hues were made by mixing various colors. I love this approach and most often will follow suit in my artwork by creating black or dark hues out of pure color. But every now and then, when I feel wild, I use black to make a bold statement.

Don’t be afraid to use black! It’s the perfect color for creating drama in your artwork if used judiciously. In this lesson, black plays a minor role as it gets pushed to the back, allowing the focal color to create a bigger impact. You’ll learn how to mix black with primaries to create a new and exciting color palette and how to work from darkest shades to lightest.

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1 | Create a background by adhering pieces of text or newsprint to the board with heavy gel matte medium, covering the entire surface. Allow the gel medium to dry.

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2 | Using a brayer, tone down the collage papers by covering them with a light layer of white gesso. Don’t completely cover the text; a light pass with the brayer will soften the text. Allow to dry.

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3 | Using a dry brush with a small amount of paint, stencil over the previous layer in areas. I used warm yellow and teal, which will contrast nicely with the flowers when used sparingly. Any designs or alternate methods, such as stamping or mark-making, will work for this project. Play bold!

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4 | While the layers dry, create a limited color palette using black (as a substitute for blue), yellow, and red, plus white (for instructions on creating color mixes, see here). Substituting black for blue will produce the most gorgeous purples and greens. When white is added, the colors become more muted.

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5 | Add another layer by marking up the surface with graphite, colored pencils, chalk pastels, or any other water-soluble medium. This activates the space.

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6 | Using black or one of the darkest mixes, map out a floral composition. Use a photo reference or your intuition while still remembering my one rule: Variation is key. Work with the darkest values first to define your work and to create depth in the florals. Place your focal point in the top or bottom of the board.

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7 | Continue creating a variety of flower-like shapes, layering them on top of one another and varying the size and placement. Use the color mixes from step 4, which are harmonious hues. Allow some of the colors to dominate in different areas of the painting, creating tension and excitement.

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8 | While the majority of the richest colors are at the top of the painting, we can still bring attention to the rest of the work with greens and soft peaches and violets from our color mixing earlier to pull viewers deeper into the painting without overwhelming them.

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9 | This is the part of the process where we get to dance with the work. A little color here and a little color there. Take away some and add some more. Throw in a tiny pop of teal as a contrast to the muted colors. Remember that it’s important to love the process more than the results because it’s the experience that matters most.

The best advice I can give you for creating abstract flowers is to stop before the piece is overworked. If you’re not sure you’ve gone far enough, hold the painting up to a mirror or take a photo of it. My goal in a work like this is to make gestures and marks that feel free and undefined yet create enough of a hint as to what the subject is meant to be.

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10 | Add oil pastel touches of pure color to define the florals or add pops of color and texture to make the work more interesting. In contrast to the more muted tones of the palette, the pastel marks finish the work nicely.

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Who would have thought that black with red and yellow plus white could mix up such beautiful greens and purples?

YELLOW ON TOP

PROJECT: MIXED MEDIA ABSTRACT BOTANICAL

Yellow is the lightest color on the value chart and can be used to create instant warmth or bring a lightness to your work. Playful and undeniably happy, yellow is always at the top of my color wheel to remind me of its place in my artwork. When mixing colors, use yellow instead of white to get lighter, more vibrant shades of green and orange. White will only create washed-out pastels.

Let’s get wild with our biggest project. This is a great opportunity to try out any of the mixed media techniques or ideas that we’ve covered, and we’ll see what happens when we bring it all together into one big yellow phenomenon. Don’t hesitate to make it your own!

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1 | Gather your materials, prep the surface of your board or paper (see here), and let’s experiment with all of our mixed media ideas. Start by choosing a color palette. In this project, I’m using paint out of the tube and not mixing much. The focus will be on using layers of yellow from here on out—it’s our dominant color, allowing us to emphasize lightness. Paint the surface first with neutrals—such as Van Dyke brown, a soft coral pink, and a touch of cool mint green—making random intuitive brushstrokes. These colors will eventually play a lesser role, but I am starting with them to create contrast and dimension before the next layers are added.

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2 | Add marks with an ArtGraf Artist Water Soluble Tailors Chalk in sienna. I like being able to get a thin line or larger shading marks with the same tool. If you don’t have ArtGraf, you can use any mark-making tool, such as graphite, colored pencils, or chalk pastel.

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3 | Carefully select collage papers and ephemera from your stash that go with the color story you chose for this painting. I selected papers featuring yellows, warm pinks, and peach and brown tones. But, a touch of complementary muted blues or greens is fun to add along the way.

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4 | Think through the placement of the papers, since it’s as much a part of your composition as the paint—this shouldn’t be a random act. What marks are already directing your call to action? Where does it make sense to adhere these elements, and where will parts of them show through the final layers of this painting? Use heavy gel matte medium, or your preferred adhesive, to adhere the papers. Allow to dry.

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5 | Make your mark, be playful, and experiment with the spray paint on the board or paper. At this point, it’s all just building up and the spray paint marks are part of the intuitive process. Try using stencils or found objects to spray over or through; try spraying from a distance or up close to create; and make marks that are interesting to you, the artist. I chose white and yellow, but this project can be done with any color range. Artist-grade acrylic-based spray paint is easy to use and less toxic than regular hardware store spray paint, but it’s wise to take your work outdoors when spraying. Leave the work outside until it’s fully dry.

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6 | Add another layer of collage to make it a stand-out element of the piece. Be thoughtful, using hues that are within the same color scheme. Don’t go overboard with the additional elements, which could cover up the previous layers—we want them to show through.

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7 | Add a touch of yellow and white acrylic paint to keep the piece light and not obscure the layers underneath. This will also push back some of the recently added collage elements. This may be your awkward-teenager/dancing-around-the-canvas phase. Keep pushing through until the elements start to click.

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8 | Texture can be one of the most interesting things about making art, so try out some different tools to achieve that effect, such as a foam roller, a silicone texture tool from Princeton Catalyst, a plastic gift or key card, and anything else you can get your hands on to experiment with the paint. When trying to achieve balance among all the elements, texture is one thing that can pull them all together. You’ll intuitively know when the texture is right. In this case, the texture is just part of the play to create the layers. Too much and you cover everything up; not enough and it’s not noticeable. The repetition of the same type of texture in similar colors will pull it all together.

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9 | To contrast the lush mixed media layers, create the impression of a botanical element. Use a bold acrylic paint color thinned down to a half-and-half consistency and create lines and shapes with a paintbrush (I used pinkish-red). These should be simple, not detailed, since this is another element that will tie the piece together. Instead of painting botanicals, consider adding symbols, a face, or a still life plant, like the one created in Lesson 1 (see here).

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10 | Examine the value range. At this stage, the colors are high-key, but there still should be contrast to create interest. Use gray paint and a water-soluble graphite stick to loosely mark in more botanical elements that feel like leaves or vines or other elements that fit the overall theme of your piece.

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11 | Create a few oil pastel marks as a finishing touch, and you can call this one complete and an absolute blast to paint!

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The dominant color palette choice is in the warm range of yellows, oranges, and corals. When we add in a little pop of teal, it stands out among the rest.

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