Mastering colour

Dear Artist, It’s about time I fessed up. When I was at Art Center School in Los Angeles I failed Colour 101. This admission is such an embarrassment to me that I’d ask you to please keep it quiet so it doesn’t go beyond this letter. You see, at first I didn’t like colour — the subject seemed more like mathematics — boring, and a lot of rules. I could never figure out why Albert H. Munsell went to all that trouble to build a three-dimensional colour wheel. Further, the exercise of copying light and shade and reflected light on colour swatches on different colour grounds was evidence to me of student torture. I had to repeat the course. Mad as a plucked Kiwi, I quit dating girls and worked my buns off. The second time around I got lucky and passed the course. Nowadays there is no day I’m not thankful for that course, and nowadays there is no day I don’t wish to better understand the subject. And looking at the colour work of others, I often note many are on page 4 of a 400 page book. I wish they had the benefit of the Art Center course. Understanding colour is illusive, and handling it properly has to be learned. There are just too many defaults in the old brain to get colour right on the first go. That’s why I was pleased to see subscriber and friend Richard Robinson of Ruakaka, New Zealand, has prepared an excellent video called Mastering Colour. With candour and clarity this young painter has summed up in 125 minutes (plus printable lesson notes) the essentials of colour theory and practice: seeing and describing colour, colour mixing and manipulation, colour harmony and light effects. Particularly valuable is the difficult-to-master understanding of how adjacent colours affect one another. As well as answering many oft-asked questions, Richard aptly describes the jumpable chasm between amateur and professional colour. Actually, video is the ideal vehicle for this sort of knowledge. The medium releases valuable principles in a linear way into the reluctant head. At the same time, there is no substitute for the sort of dreaded exercises I had at Art Center. Richard invites you to try some of them, and he had me doing some again. I needed that. Best regards, Robert PS: “Colour is my day-long obsession, my joy and my torment.” (Claude Monet) Esoterica: In Mastering Colour Richard Robinson clarifies the usefulness of the Munsell Colour System with its emphasis on hue, value and chroma. The Nine Value Scale is well covered as is a clear understanding of oft-neglected middle values. Esoteric subjects every painter should at least know about, like Birren’s Triangle and the Yurmby colour wheel are also explained. He also answers that most valuable of questions, “What makes a memorable painting?” I don’t often recommend products in these letters, but this is a good one.   Subject guides the outcome by Skip Van Lenten   I didn’t go to school, but if I did, I would probably have trouble with the color class as well. I’m not sure I understand the theory behind it, since it seems to me that when you paint something, it is the subject that guides the outcome, rather than a set of rules and formulas. But then again, my naiveté may be showing in my work, which seems painfully simple compared to the hundreds of great paintings I’ve seen on the Web.   Rules must be broken by Scott Kahn, NY, USA  

oil painting
by Scott Kahn

I never went to an art school and I never studied color theory. Perhaps it is useful to some, but it is by no means essential. Color, like everything else concerning visual expression usually boils down to a gift, an innate sensibility and sensitivity. Ultimately, I think artists develop their own palette and color sense. Learning rules and formulas can actually inhibit expression, and must be broken if anyone is to find their individual voice. There are 2 comments for Rules must be broken by Scott Kahn
From: peter Brown — Jun 25, 2010

Scott – – As an art teacher I have come to a very different conclusion than you have regarding the art gift, sensibility or talent. Give me a bright student and I will have him or her drawing rather well in a few hours. An average kid will make similar progress with additional exposure. Art is a skill set. Most of the kids I teach in high school have never had a prior art class. I think all human beings have an art sensibility. It is just our culture has not cultivated it.

From: Anna — Jun 25, 2010

As a self taught artist I started out with the knowledge that I was born with talent, how lucky was I. I thought I could wing it with my compostion and colour as I thought I had good taste and common sense. I did well, my work sold so I soldiered on in my ignorance. I now realise in hindsight how flawed my work was and how I little I knew. After 4 years I eventually hit a wall, got bored and stopped improving (I feel it was due to my limited knowledge base). I then decided to teach myself about composition, values, light etc (all those words that kept popping up everywhere in the art world) via dvds and books. Then just at the right time, mastering colour has jumped out at me whilst in the middle of trying to improve my colour palette in my paintings. A new world has opened up for me since I changed my mind set, my work has jumped to new levels. To break a rule well you must first know what you are breaking! I can’t say it enough, seeking out and teaching myself these basics has opened my eyes and made my art journey so much more exciting. I am arming myself with the tools and techniques to break through limitations I had placed on myself by choosing not to learn. A huge light bulb moment for me I must say.

  Learning the hard way by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA  

“Kitchen shelf”
original painting
by Eleanor Blair

My color theory class at Cooper Union was six hours a week for eight months with Hannes Beckman, a master colorist. For the first four months, we only worked with grays. It was an incredibly challenging course, but I use what I learned in every single painting I produce. Color theory and drawing can only be learned the hard way; with a good teacher and lot of work. Then, everything else is easy.       There is 1 comment for Learning the hard way by Eleanor Blair
From: Cristina Monier — Jun 25, 2010

It was time well spent, your painting is excellent.

  Over-usage of white by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA  

“The Modest Monk”
by Peter Brown

In practice and teaching, color is by far the most difficult aspect of painting. There is, however, a basic habit or problem that I frequently see in student work and this is easy to identify. This most obvious issue is an over-usage of white to condition and soften most all of the colors in a painting. The painter ends up with a blur of pastel tints which may be pleasant, but ultimately rather boring. The artist is often sacrificing value (light and dark) to color harmony. This takes the punch out of any painting. We all know that the color white comes in the biggest tubes, but that doesn’t mean that we are supposed to rely on it, relentlessly. There are 3 comments for Over-usage of white by Peter Brown
From: Anonymous — Jun 25, 2010

True, I always try to keep students away from the white paint. But, I think the primary problem is they don’t understand color as value so they don’t realize that a color such as yellow is as light as white, etc. So they grab the white every time. Also, pigments are so different, a quinachridone red or pthalo blue can handle a lot more white than a cadmium red or cerulean etc.

From: Peter Brown — Jun 25, 2010

That is exactly what I was saying. Painters sacrifice VALUE for color harmony. They end up with a blur of pastels. PWB

From: Lawrence J. Philp — Jun 26, 2010

Color is everything. We are taught by Monet and Cezanne that grey is the thing. Mix gray using complementary color on the color wheel. If you are unsure of your color work photocopy a painting and look at it in black, white and grey. You will reach some conclusions. Like them or not. Mixed grays and mixed black make color shine. Intuitve painting, intuitive color work needs/has structure too.

  Safety last by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA  

“Chakras Series #3”
oil painting, 32 x 48 inches
by Linda Saccoccio

I did have a torturous color class that was required at RISD. It was taught by a man who was either a colleague or student of Albers. He was impossible; dry as a bone, and he came off as mean spirited or at least disdainful of our lack. We did endless color studies and gray scales. I was in a trance as I sat on the floor of my room finding colors that changed other colors with a box of Color-aid scattered about. I had a great time, but when it came to Mr. Sillman it was terrifying, and I have to say I rarely understood him. Though he did say something important that was meaningful to me. He said there should be a sign over the entry of all art schools that said, “Safety Last,” meaning that you must take risks. That and all the practice of color studies and gray scales were the rewards.     Asian influences by Sharon Knettell, Woonsocket, RI, USA  

“Bodhisattva Kanon”
original painting, 1883

One of the great influences on 19th century art was the Asian work that was showing up in the salons and galleries. This I believe was the major catalyst in the change from chiaroscuro to a flattening out of form and color. Manet was one of the first to experiment with this as in the Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe where he faces the figures towards the light. Eventually his paintings became more formless and more brilliant. Aiding this change as well was the accessibility to better and more brilliant paint.       Not for everyone by Lorna Dockstader, Calgary, AB, Canada  

“Calm – Medicine Lake”
original painting
by Lorna Dockstader

After watching the first chapter of Richard Robinson’s video, I can see where it would really help a multitude of artists, but not everyone. After many hours of colour theory, colour wheels, mixing, and value studies, I began to realize that maybe it was best just to let it all go, and paint. Everyone has unique gifts. Some are blessed with innate colour ability and I’m thinking it could be an inherited trait. Our daughter, granddaughter, and myself, can quickly pick out any discordant notes in a piece and “know” how it needs to be changed. There are 2 comments for Not for everyone by Lorna Dockstader
From: Linda Mallery — Jun 25, 2010

Charming! :)

From: Curious — Jun 25, 2010

Lorna, without wanting to be disrespectful, do you not think that the work you did do on colour theory before letting it all go and painting has indeed helped you to be a better painter/colourist than if you had not done it at all? even on a subconscious level maybe?

  Drunk with colour by Grace Cowling, Grimsby, ON, Canada  

“Body Mind & Spirit”
original painting, 12 x 12 inches
by Grace Cowling

The late Ida Hamilton, head of the art department at Westdale Secondary School (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) in the 1940s was — in the opinion of her students, “drunk with colour.” She taught the Ostwald Colour System. We used Prang show card colour, believed at that time to be the truest primary pigments. We did sheets of exercises on shades, tints, complementary colours and for our final assignment a fabric design of repeats using a split complementary scheme in five changes. I think back to working into the night towards deadline and before Ott-Lite was even thought of. Well, I got a passing mark but the concepts learned and passion for colour is still with this 81-year young gal. There are 6 comments for Drunk with colour by Grace Cowling
From: Win Dinn, Painted Turtle Gallery — Jun 25, 2010

An exquisite painting, Ms. Cowling – thank you for the gift.

From: Ron — Jun 25, 2010

Really love your work Grace.Long live us seniors…

From: Peter Brown — Jun 25, 2010

Dear Grace, you could improve this painting with some gray-greens. You could improve it with yellow. You could improve it with orange. This may be blunt, but red, white and blue, with black is not a color statement. And, a symetrical composition is not the most exiting. It looks like a fabric print. I would buy that fabric, in a minute, but as a painting? I am not so sure. PWB

From: Ouuuuch — Jun 25, 2010

What on earth are you talking about mr Brown? Is it your computer monitor? There is already grey green, orange and hints of yellow in the painting according to my computer screen, along with touches of purple, red and the vaguest hint of blue. And secondly, why do you value your opinion so highly that you give it even when it is not asked for?? what’s up with that Mr Brown?

From: Peter Brown — Jun 26, 2010

Sorry Grace, And yes, I may have a defective monitor screen. I do see bluish vines in your painting. Forgive my assumptions, and my impertinence. I should know better, and I thank you for reminding me of that. P.

From: PeggySu — Jul 01, 2010

This painting is gorgeous. I’m fascinated by the variation among the designs in the centers of the large circles. The more I look the more I see. Very inspiring. (PS — There are multiple ways to check one’s computer monitor for color veracity including viewing a reproduction of an old favorite or a scan of a self-generated sample. And, of course, these posted pictures are low resolution.

  Colour obsession by Mary Moquin, Sandwich, MA, USA  

“Cloud Mysteries”
oil painting, 18 x 18 inches
by Mary Moquin

When I was in art school, I thought you were either a black and white artist or a color artist. I believed there was some predisposition and that some of us were doomed to never understand how to use color. Then I had a professor who said, “You know, color can be learned.” I was still reluctant to believe him and spent my undergraduate years avoiding the subject and studied etching which pretty much remained black and white and a little local color. A few years after I graduated I began to realize how much I needed to understand color and how limited I was by my knowledge. So, I read all the books, Itten, Albers and Munsell. I did color exercises and color swatches. I became so excited about the magic of color that it has become an obsession of mine. Even with all this experience, I still bought the package Robert recommended because I love color so much that if there is even one new thing I learn it will be worth the money! There are 3 comments for Colour obsession by Mary Moquin
From: Gayle — Jun 25, 2010

What a gorgeous painting – romantic and spiritual. I love it. Fhe complimentary orange drifting on the horizon to the touch of light on the lake. It is all the best that painting should be, not slavish copying but an object that, through paint, conveys your real passion and feeling to the viewer.

From: Linda Mallery — Jun 25, 2010

I also love this one!

From: Gail — Aug 15, 2012

I love your paintings, Mary and your use of colour is deliciously emotional and evocative. I love the subtle colour undercurrent of what you know for others who also know to see. I was thrilled when you told me to mix two compliments together to see how many colors I could make with them. I wish I could paint like you!!!

  CMYK colour classes by Ron Sanders, North Port, FL, USA  

“My Wife and Child”
oil painting, 20 x 24 inches
by Ron Sanders

In teaching adult education art classes, I found that many students were wasting half the class trying to figure out the colors in front of them and then struggling to reproduce them in paint; often with poor results. I therefore set out to teach a class on the subject and while studying Munsell for four and a half years at the Columbus College of Art & Design, it was 10 years in the printing industry that led me to teach students a CMYK based color model. In actuality, it has much in common with Munsell, shifting the complements from the usual RYB. My goal was to make it as simple as possible for students to understand color mixing – how to think about color, to analyze and talk about color, and then how to reproduce color accurately. The class was such a success that the students wanted something in book form but I couldn’t find anything to recommend. Most books are 400 pages of archaic history that is irrelevant to the student. Others are recipe books that don’t teach anything about color, they only make students dependent on the crutch. So, at the insistence of my students, I put my class lessons into a book, written very much the way I teach it. It is short and concise at only 50 pages. It is laid out in short bits of info around large illustrations. Going with the KISS Theory, I attempted to make it easy to read, simple to find info. There is 1 comment for CMYK colour classes by Ron Sanders
From: Kathy Kvach — Jun 27, 2010

What beautiful color and beautiful subjects. The expression that you captured on your wife’s face eloquently expresses her feelings about your child

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Platinum Heat

oil on canvas by Don Haggerty, Seattle, WA, USA

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Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Mastering colour

From: Nancy Christy-Moore — Jun 22, 2010

Robert, I too attended Art Center School in Los Angeles and I too totally hated the color and design class there! It was a contibuting factor to my quitting the course and deciding to become a fine artist. Making endless color swatches until 3am in the morning taught me nothing. Today I am known as a “colorist” producing paintings and teaching workshops centered in colorist expression. My best advice to all artists is to learn from those whose color theories are understandable and experiment with your own response to color. Enjoy it and celebrate it!

From: Dwight Williams — Jun 22, 2010

However, (isn’t there always an “however?”) Even before color theory or practice comes shapes 101. The frame of any piece of art is it’s composition. If that’s not first all of the color, texture, depth and detail is like hanging the living room drapes before the foundation is poured. The drapes are important, but later!

From: Donald Neff — Jun 22, 2010
From: Hélène Vinet — Jun 22, 2010

I could cry right now ! You have totally expressed my feelings to a T when it comes to colour. I do think of it like a math problem so I’ll get the info you just passed on and thank you so much for making me feel like i’m not the only one !

From: Vicki McMurry — Jun 22, 2010

Imagine my surprise to see that there is another book titled ‘Mastering Color’ besides mine. I clicked on the link and was pleased with Richard Robinson’s approach to color as well as his learned information. My book is presently published in Russian also. This is a full circle of my past. My Grandfather was a Russian immigrant at the turn of the century. He became a proud American citizen and did well here in the states. I immediately emailed him to let him know that I would be in his area this October visiting my Aussie relatives. Mom was a WWII Australian war bride.

From: Myra — Jun 22, 2010

I really enjoyed this video. I actually purchased the second lesson.

From: Haim Mizrahi — Jun 22, 2010

As much as I would like to agree with you, I must say that the alternatives to understanding colour has been ignored in an irresponsible fashion. There is a world out there full of promise in the zone of Intimately understanding colour, the journey of remembering the ancient dialogue God had with its 1st prototype, imprinting the rules of nature into our emotional DNA. Yes, it is important to understand colour, but, I think, only so we can immediately put it aside in order to let our soul venture through our instincts. I call and urge everyone to improvise, to let the unknown show its way through our temporary entities.

From: Mark D. Gottsegen — Jun 22, 2010

I have a one-hour lecture that covers the technical matters (source of colorants, the action of light on them and the eye) the theoretical matters (Munsell and the 50 other systems), and the practical matters (color management). Academics have made color difficult so it’s become part of the academy’s special language — too arcane for us outsiders, so we stay outside. There is no need for that malarky.

From: Darla — Jun 22, 2010

It’s a shame that color theory has to be taught in a boring way. Like mathematics or history, it can be extremely boring when all that is taught is memorization of theories, facts and formulas without applying it to real things in the world. Like math or history, it can be fascinating when you explore it as it applies to the world.

From: Timm Etters — Jun 22, 2010

Wow. I’m not sure you’ll understand this, but I am SO happy to read this letter… I am a mural painter of 25 years now. A red-green colorblind painter. My daily frustrations with color are a constant battle, frustration, and source of stress. To even find out that someone who can SEE color can have trouble with it as well as someone who cannot. My eye’s palette is primarily made up of blues, yellows and grays, yet my murals reflect the full spectrum of colors. I primarily work with values as opposed to hues, and often have help from various people in my life, people I TRUST that is. I know that color will continue to be a source of frustration for me, but I wake up every day and welcome the challenge. It is so wonderful to read everyone’s input on this subject. Thanks for all that you do, Timm

From: Susan — Jun 23, 2010

Hi Timm, This is for you. My husband is colorblind, well he is called color deficient. The eye doctor told him he could have glasses made to correct the problem. Maybe this could be help for you. Susan

From: Richard Robinson — Jun 23, 2010

Having some troubles with everyone trying to download at once – the server couldn’t handle it so I’m in the middle of fixing that now and am keeping everyone informed of the progress, so hopefully there won’t be too many annoyed people out there.

From: Tatjana — Jun 24, 2010

Well, I am one of the few who actually enjoyed math, geometry and color theory – but I can’t say that my love for those disciplines made the learning process any easier. It’s still a long process to learn how to create harmonious paintings.

From: Marvin Humphrey — Jun 25, 2010

Dwight Williams (2nd comment) has it right. Composition, tone and value, warm and cool, takes priority to hue. There is way too much garishness out there.

From: Nicole Lavoie — Jun 25, 2010

I know what you mean about the tedious exercises in colours. I tried to get through Itten’s theories of colours but couldn’t. I read what he suggested however it is the method that is thought is art schools that got me through it. Sometimes I wonder when people comment on the beauty of the colours in my work lf the other qualities that make a good painting are noticed as well.

From: Michael Ives — Jun 25, 2010

It is that I received a D- in the only art class I ever took (the teacher confided in me that he had passed me only because he did not want to see me come through his classroom ever again!) I also love to mention that years later an art professor from the University brought a color theory class to my studio as a field trip. After looking around my studio he asked: “Have you ever taken a color theory class?” I confessed that “No, I hadn’t”. “Don’t” he immediately shot back; “It would ruin you!”

From: Paul deMarrais — Jun 25, 2010

I was among the many who took the plunge and bought Richard Robinson’s video. Richard is an excellent artist and teacher. I figured I could use some professional development in my teaching and thanks to Richard I am ready to try out some new things. Like any good teacher, Richard has figured out what he does intuitively and created a system where he could pass on that information to others. It’s no ‘magic bullet’ but to a student ready for his insights, this info is the proverbial gold mine. My feeling is that these videos are a great fit for the more advanced painter. The beginners will obsess on the details and exercises and miss the big picture. This always happens with beginners. The veterans , like skilled prospectors with their pans, will rapidly sift the pebbles and find the sparkling nuggets at the bottom. The beginners will quickly realize that Richard has gained his skills through years of effort and that will be what they will have to begin the same journey. He only offers to help cut the learning curve. Most will become discouraged but others will become hooked on the potential Richard offers them. They will be hooked on the magic of painting. For grizzled veterans like me, listening to Richard and seeing his work, is a thrill. I’m psyched and ready to play

From: Anthony Hollenstein — Jun 25, 2010
From: Roland Hendry — Jun 26, 2010

It would be valuable to hear the comments of others regarding the Robinson Colour Video here in these live comments. I found it excellent. I learned a lot of things I did not know.

From: Gayle Lundquist — Jun 26, 2010

I am thinking about buying it and would also like an honest opinion if anyone found it disappointing.

From: Mel Davenport — Jun 28, 2010

Sure hope Richard’s free stuff turns out to be helpful……..rural high school art teachers need all the free stuff they can get their hands on!

From: Nev Sagiba — Jun 28, 2010

This is good and presses my buttons. There is no “right” or “wrong” colour. It’s up to the artist. Van Gogh’s colours are all “wrong.” That is the secret of his work’s magnificence. He did it HIS way. The colours came from him.

From: Monica Kaminski Cavanagh — Jun 28, 2010

How timely was your latest letter on color! Thank you, I will definitely follow up on the video. Also, I took a college course on design in the late 60s that has been a foundation to my work ever since.

From: Lisa — Jun 29, 2010
From: Ginny Blakeslee Breen — Jun 29, 2010
From: Barb — Jun 29, 2010
From: Dennis Clark — Jun 29, 2010
From: Sharon Marie Rosati — Jun 30, 2010

A good write up on color theory. Kaden can read about how important this is with his art.

From: Robin d’Arcy Shillcock — Jun 30, 2010

One, Matthys Röling, a master in oils, had his students paint stripes of colouring gouache on strips of paper, then fold the paper so that the stripes remained horizontal, aim a spotlight at it and paint the whole scene, the folded paper and the shadows it cast on a white sheet as precisely as we could. It was an exercise in observation, in seeing what light does to colour and what shade does to colour. He also had us mix every hue we saw on our palettes, also a tedious exercise. Once we’d finished our studies and they’d been criticized he’d swap the yellow spotlight for a blue one and we had to do the whole thing all over again.

From: Mahsun Haji Taib — Jul 01, 2010

Thanks for reminding and highlighting the importance of color works. I’ve been painting using colors by instinct. I never go to art school or having the benefit of being taught using colors the Munsell way. But I don’t mind going through the strict discipline of learning to understand colors. I just need the structure to do it. Thanks again. (Malaysia)

From: Judith Madsen — Jul 01, 2010

It gave me a chuckle that you are like the Oprah of Painting..heaven help anyone if they are not ready for the influx once you promote them. I was one of the first to download the program.

From: Jim Rowe — Jul 01, 2010

To be fluent in the use of colour would be a great benefit and joy. But at the same time , to discover , the hard way, by yourself, the properties of colours is a more creative approach. Which adds to the recognizable signature style that each person should have. I am focusing on my creativity and personal style, I would like to learn all the “proper” art techniques, but I instead I think I will do it my way. And no, I haven`t sold a painting in 13 years. But I feel good about what I do, even though it is lacking.

From: Francine Harvey — Jul 01, 2010

Here I thought I was the only one with this colour quandary and trying not to “come out of the closet”. Kind of unrealistic isn’t it, as anyone gazing at my paintings can figure that out. They may not be able to put their finger on it , but something will most likely not sit right with them as they view my work . There are two that I hoping must be all right because I always get comments on the colour and the feeling in invokes. But, in the end, the whole thing is subjective don’t you think?

From: Rick Rotante — Jul 02, 2010

Color Everyone sees the primary colors i.e.: red, yellow, blue, and green. But life is made up of more muted colors. Grays if you will. And these are harder to see and much harder to define. Color is relative to what you want to paint. Color theory is only about being able to mix the correct color you seek for the particular thing you are painting. It isn’t about techniques and theories as such. Yes that is true to be able to mix the “right ” color, but color is relative to who is mixing it and what they want to achieve and say. What determines what color used is the painters point of view to the subject and it doesn’t have to even be what you see. Those who poo poo color theory never produce work of their choice. They are locked into painting what they end up with, with no control over content. Think of it as controlling the environment of the canvas. The results will be what you intended not what you happen to come up with. It’s having more control. The same as understanding design and form. If you don’t know carpentry, the house you build will be faulty and never right. It’s speaking without knowing the language. How many of us have listened to a foreigner speak and think them illiterate. They are not of course, but they have little control of the language. Same with color. Color expresses our feeling about a subject, tells the viewer our feeling about the subject. We can enhance or change with color. Change temperature of the piece even if it’s not in front of us. It’s well worth the study to overcome learning about color.

From: Michele Sires-DeLorean — Jul 04, 2010

I am delighted to say that Richard Robinson untangled some messy assumptions I had regarding color mixing by presenting the simplest way to harmonize colors. His latest Mastering Colours DVDs is worth a look, particularly if you need a fresh approach.

From: Johanna Beyers — Jul 05, 2010
From: Andrew Khabaza — Jul 07, 2010

I would like to highly recommend Mastering Colour – a set of videos and supporting materials produced by New Zealand artist Richard Robinson and mentioned in one of your posts. I have a few – relatively minor reservations (see below) – but I believe that this video course would be of great benefit both to beginners and advanced artists (e.g. those who have taken formal courses, say at art school). It is primarily aimed at those who want to paint in oils, acrylics or gouache (but watercolourists could get a lot from it to). So what do you get for your money? Just over 120 minutes of video instruction divided into eight chapters. Starting with two short introductory chapters it than moves through describing colour, values, colour mixing and concludes with chapters on manipulating colour, colour harmony (one of the most concise, lucid and useful presentations on this subject I have seen) and light effects. From the chapter on values onwards, each contains suggested exercises (between three and seven per chapter), many of which are demonstrated in detail on the video (which is ideal for the less confident beginner). Then you get the supporting materials. Each chapter is accompanied by a pdf which is a transcript together with most of the still images used in the video and some screen shots. Some people would regard these materials alone as worth the price charged. As well as these notes on each video (about 15 pages each) you get an assortment of goodies that you can print out – you’ll need a colour inkjet or laser printer and some photo quality paper if you want to make good copies. Richard provides a variety of colour wheels, value scales and geometrical figures – each of which comes in each grey scale value and twelve different colours. You get sets of cubes, cones, cylinders and dodecahedrons. Some of these are used directly in the exercises and the others make very useful additional material. Finally you get a colour harmony tool (gamut masks for special colour wheel provided) and the Ultimate Painter’s Tool which I find extremely useful in painting (or drawing) from life. Again you have to print this out onto photo quality paper, then cut and paste the tool together. Essentially it helps you with sighting, creating a composition, estimating proportions, getting angles and horizontals/verticals correct, and isolating and identifying spot colours and values. I would like to congratulate Richard on the very high production values of his work – both the video and pdf’s are of very high quality. This is not just a guy with his webcam shooting some footage at home. It’s comparable or better than a number of professionally produced art instruction DVDs I have. When you produce a course like this you have to decide how much colour theory you are going to include and how to balance this with the more directly applicable material. To my mind Richard has got this about right. He has avoided the one extreme of providing a massive amount of detail (like the Bruce MacEvoy’s colour theory website which few have the stamina to study and assimilate, or the other extreme of just showing a value scale and a colour wheel (as you’ll find in many of the mass market “art instructional” books). I can imagine a beginning painter, starting out from scratch, would gain immense benefit from the first five chapters alone which take you to being able to confidently mix any colour you see. The more advanced or experienced painter would find a lot to interest them in the final three chapters on manipulating colour, harmony and light effects. For those of his students who want more colour theory, Richard provides a list of references which includes the excellent site “Dimensions of Colour” by David Briggs ( This gives you the sort of detail you’d get during an art school training (or maybe even a little more). I have a few minor reservations with the material, however: • To my mind, Richard doesn’t provide sufficiently clear guidance to the beginning painter on a suitable palette of colours (perhaps because no two artists can ever agree on this!); • For what it’s worth I would suggest they start with a split primary palette of six colours plus white: a warm and cool version of each of red, blue and yellow. Richard mentions this in Chapter 5 and says that this is his favourite palette. (If you want to know why this works so well and is probably the best “beginners” palette, get Michael Wilcox’s excellent book Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green, 2nd Edition, 2001, ISBN 0967 9628 70, • I would suggest that until a beginner gains some experience with this they should not try a more restricted palette of, e.g. just three colours. These restricted palette exercises are useful – and the sort of thing you’d do quite a lot of at art school – but until you have mastered the use of your basic palette they can just be confusing, especially if you are working alone. • Another minor point; in these videos Richard talks about the use of black. In my opinion guys, this is just lazy – we shouldn’t be using black! (Unless you want to make a value scale, and even then you’ve got to adjust it.) Unless you plan on doing your paintings in a physics lab or down a coal mine you won’t find true blacks in nature. What we might think of as a black is just a high chroma (highly saturated), highly subdued pair of complementary colours. If you can understand this you’ll be on the way to mastering colourful greys (and you’re colour mixing will be a lot better too; see Michael Wilcox’s book for more about this). These few quibbles notwithstanding, I do highly recommend this course for anyone who thinks they haven’t mastered colour and I’m eagerly looking forward to see what Richard produces in the future. Andrew Khabaza Epsom, Surrey UK

From: Steve Kohr — Aug 07, 2012

I’d like to recommend Richard Robinson’s ‘Mastering Color’ course. It has helped me a lot in terms of understanding color, and how to effectively incorporate it into my paintings. I’ve seen my art improve significantly as a result of studying and applying what Richard explains in his course. I found it easy to follow and understand. I continue to refer back to it from time to time and I always hear something new. Very worthwhile for anyone wanting to understand color. Steve Kohr

From: Roena King — Aug 07, 2012

My desire to study color has been with me for many years. After one color course that I did every exercise in the course, I still did not think I understood how to apply what I learned to my own paintings. Then I purchased Richard Robinson’s Mastering Color Course. Richard dealt with the same concepts as my first course, but his manner of presentation and explaining was so clear and easy to understand. I walked away with much more understanding of color and how to apply what I learned. His course, Mastering Color, is one of the best I have seen. The amount of information he covers is well worth the small amount charged, especially if you compare it with a workshop that you do and when you walk away you have nothing to review but your notes. His videos and PDFs can be viewed over and over. It is a really good course.

From: Catharina — Aug 08, 2012

I have bought the “Master Colour” dvd and found it very informative. As a beginner it was really full on but easy to follow and I think the information is priceless. Applying what is taught have made a difference in my thought process and how to approach a fresh painting. Thanks Robert!

From: Lyn Martin — Aug 08, 2012

I have been following Ricard Robinson’s full course along with others, it has been the best one of all. Really worth to listen to all his videos.

From: Matt Sisk — Aug 08, 2012

Over the years I have done a fair amount of research trying to learn more about color and how to apply it accurately to my paintings. Subsequently, I have found myself bored to tears and not really learning that much as I went along until I found Richard Robinson’s Color course. Richard has a wonderful way of taking all of levels of learning about color and pealing it like an onion, layer by layer until you get down to the simplest form- breaking it into a few easy steps using techniques that he has developed- then giving you practice tips to build your confidence along the way. The beauty of the program is that you can watch it over and over picking up something new every time you watch it. I learned more from the first time I watched the DVD that I had learned in years of workshops and self study. If you don’t try this program you are missing out! Matt Sisk, Grove City, Ohio, USA

From: Leonardo Garcia — Aug 08, 2012

I’m beginner and watch some free lessons. It is interesting the way he transmit his knowledge. I have several videos of Richard Robinson. They are fantastic, I learned a lot. I highly recommend it.

From: Herb Morgan — Aug 08, 2012

Richard, I have been following your free painting videos and have received a lot of really good information about color and a quick look into your use of color techniques. I’m tremendously enjoying your monthly painting challanges. and now I’m ready to invest in your “Mastering Color Video. Wish me luck. Herb Morgan

From: Nancy Sands — Aug 09, 2012

A couple of years ago Robert recommended Richard Robinson’s course on Color Theory, and I purchased it. An outstanding teacher, Richard clearly discusses and explains these intricate and difficult concepts with illustrative examples. I worked through all of the lessons and really saw color with new eyes. During the latter part of my teaching career, I taught high school art and truly wish I had access to these inciteful lessons then. I know my students would have had a much clearer idea if what color in art is all about.

From: Nella Davidse — Aug 10, 2012

I just started painting a year ago and Richard Robinson’s DVDs gave me a real push to continue and to enjoy painting. I learned so much in a short time! Thanks Richard. I also like all the extra video’s he keeps sending!


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