Begin here and here if this is new to you. Also, if you have not yet entered the world of color in your school work, skip the following weeks and tackle them after you’ve learned a bit about painting. In the meantime, pick any of the previous shape and value exercises (or invent some of your own).

This week and the next few are all about color. First, however, go back to week nine and read up on memory for values. You can use acrylic, watercolor or oil paint for these lessons. My preference is oil.

I’m purposefully not going to give you exercise sources this week, nor for any of our future weeks on color. I did the same in my book and here’s why:

Trained artists know that the color range of their paints (called a gamut) is more restricted than what is seen in nature. This gamut is also different than what is seen in the colors printed in a color book or on a website. You have to be able to mix the color you are seeing, converted into the gamut-range your paints can achieve. If your chosen medium cannot hit those colors, you are wasting your time. –Memory Drawing: Perceptual Training and Recall, page 42.

So where does that leave us? First, your sources must be something which is achievable in paint. With that in mind, the best sources are already in paint. In a perfect world you would have a teacher who had created dozens of paint squares, each with a list of paints used to create the squares.* You would therefore be able to use a source which is attainable and be given a direction to attain it via the listed palette. Furthermore, since you would not have created the sources yourself, you would have no preexisting memory for how to create them.

Second to that would be teaming up with another student. They create your sources and you would create theirs.

As it is not a perfect world, you must use what you have.

In my book I go to great lengths describing how to create your own color sources. In that we’re doing this course in a weekly format, and to keep you moving, we’ll take a shortcut by using squares of construction paper. Construction paper is mostly within the gamut of oil paint and it is also dull in sheen. The differences in value, between colors, is often limited as well. Nonetheless, try to choose paper colors which are not too bright. While you will only use five different colors for this week’s exercise, as long as you’re at the art store pick up fifteen to twenty sheets of differently colored papers. Cut a similarly sized square out of each sheet.

For this week, choose five squares which are dissimilar in color. Pick one of the five as a guide (in my book I call this the constant). You will not memorize the constant, rather, you will use it for comparison while you are memorizing and while you are recalling.

On day one:

  1. Use the constant and also pick one of the other five squares. This choice will be your target-square.
  2. On a sheet of canvas paper, canvas board or primed canvas, draw a number of squares the same size as your cutouts. This is what you will be painting on.
  3. Place the two squares next to each other, stand back a bit and spend the next few minutes staring at the pair.
  4. Now and then, while you are staring, stare just above the squares and take them in via your peripheral vision.
  5. Pay more attention to how the two relate in terms of hue, value and chroma, than trying to discern the exact color of the target-square.
  6. After no more than five minutes, put the target-square out of sight and place the constant next to one of the canvas squares.
  7. Do your best to paint your memory of the target-square.
  8. When you’re finished, place the original target-square directly next to your attempt.
  9. Compare and spend some time thinking about how your attempt differs from the source.

On each following day, choose a different square to serve as your constant and also choose a different square as your target. Follow the same steps as above.

*To the teachers out there:
When you’re looking for something to do, make up an extensive set of color-squares for your students. Use oil paint and add a little medium to it. Be sure to record what colors you used, but not necessarily the exact mixtures. You are creating sources to be used to improve your student’s perception and memory for color, not their memory for a recipe.