Just do it.

“I couldn’t have painted any other way than I did. It simply didn’t interest me.” – Stuart Davis


It’s the simplest lesson I’ve learned in life. Whenever I’m doubting something or unsure, I’ve found the best solutions usually come from just getting up and just doing whatever is – even if that means dropping something or starting over. You have to make some tough choices, but as a rule of thumb, doing something is vastly preferable to stalling. If an image is constantly bouncing around in my head, I just have to eventually paint it. It won’t get out of my head otherwise. And getting it out there, doing something about it feels great. I’m not an unprepared person, but I enjoy doing so much more than planning. If I worry or anticipate something too much, I can really put myself into a stressful creative block.


An example – I was doing this Shenandoah sunset series (above). Little did I know that the subject matter was way harder than I thought. It was just a figure in a sunset, how hard could that be? However, the grasses, those shades of orange and greens and the overblown sun proved really tricky. If you don’t paint with thick enough layers, it’s too soft and wimpy, and if you paint too heavy, it’s too harsh and saturated – this type of sunset needed to be both soft but not subtle. Contrast isn’t usually soft, but this one quite literally had a soft contrast to it. With all that said, and for what felt like the first time in a while, I “failed”. My first attempt at this painting was way too heavy and over saturated and I just couldn’t fix it. Since you can endless layer and paint over layers in oil painting, it’s not often that you reach a dead end. But I definitely reached it with that version of the painting. I was about to chalk it up to my hopefully-not-too-large bank of mediocre and forgettable paintings. It happens, at least I had learned.

However, this time, that painting and the image I was painting from was rattling around in my head so much, and I just wanted to start over. Instead of worrying that I might I mess it up and waste a second attempt (yes I might), or whether it was worth it (it was)… I just stood up, made a new canvas and tried again. I just did it. And it was worth it. My second attempt accomplished the small feet of getting out what was in my head in the first place. It’s not a perfect painting either, but it’s out there and it was what I wanted to do. That first painting was not what I wanted to do. It was a haunting mistake. What I wanted to do, was to recreate that subject matter in a way that fit the lovely sunset I saw in my head and represented in my photo. In the non-words of Hopper – I just wanted to paint a sun. Or in the non-words of Picasso – I just wanted to turn a whitish-yellow dot into the sun.

And then best thing about it is, that doing doesn’t ever have to be perfect, but it does have to be true. It’s only a mistake if it’s not 100% you or your vision. Also, people tend to be good at detecting the things in your life that aren’t all genuine or real, especially artists.

Before then after:



On a final, more simple note, aside from re-doing paintings, I do also enjoy creating less dramatic paintings with the same mindset that if I want to paint something I find, I just do. For instance, my Angels was just a quick cel-phone snap I took while wandering around (bored) in Las Vegas. But the image grew on me and grew on my mind. So a month after my trip, I turned to that image, and didn’t just paint it once, but twice (once on board and once on canvas), because I couldn’t decide which material I wanted to paint it on. I just did both.


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Back and Forth: My painting process explained – part 2

Back and forth. Back and forth. And Repeat.



One nuanced difference between my painting and design process, is that over the many years, I’d say that my painting process is a lot more steady and consistent than my design processes. In design, software, my sources of inspiration, trends and ways to disrupt trends change so fast – they are metaphorical rapids of thoughts. While in the more classic oil painting medium, it’s more like a slow, steady and deep river – one that still takes you to new places, just at a slower and steadier rate. So I feel more confident in writing about my painting process, which has changed only at a super slow pace over the many years.

With that said, right here, I wanted to go into the ever important, frustrating, and omnipresent technique of “back and forth” painting.
“Back and forth” painting is the mandatory process of painting one way one day, and then doing the complete opposite the next day. It’s zigging and zagging all the way.

For instance – one day in painting, you might have to paint very deconstructed: messy, with very unblended brushstrokes. You then let that layer dry.
Then you wake up the next morning, and then have to blend: fix all those messy and deconstructed strokes.

But then “oops”, the next day, you realize you blended too much, and then you have to deconstruct those strokes again. And then you deconstruct too much and then the next step is to blend yet again!

Exhausting! Yes it is!

However, the secret is that all those previous rounds of deconstructing or blending all fit together like a layered puzzle, eventually coming together to create a whole painting.

Here are two more examples of back and forth painting:
1. One day, you have to paint a whole layer of neutral colors. Then the following day, you have to paint a whole layer of bright colors. Then, yet the next day, you have to neutralize some of those brights.
2. Then simultaneously, you have to use cool colors to cool your pallet. And then go back the next day, and warm it all up again.


Yes, it seems like an endless cycle; but slowly, and all at totally different rates and times for different subjects and canvas sizes, it all comes together. Each “cycle” of back and forth become smaller and tighter; they spiral in onto each other to eventually zero in on a “complete” painting.

All that said, do not fear the multiple layers. Do not fear painting something too warm or cool, or neutral or bright, or deconstructed or solid. Each layer informs the next and the ‘mistakes’ of the previous rounds only add to a richer and deeper work at the end.

The painting details, images I’ve included in this post is just one example of a painting in process where I got to a really soft layer, that shows a whole lot of neat texture from the previous ‘back and forth’ rounds.

Two last notes:
1. I liberally used the saying “the next day” in terms of timing for painting a new layer. Generally, because of how slow oils dry, you are very limited in how much you can paint in a 24 hour period. Generally, I have to firmly choose a stopping point daily that respects what warm or cool colors – or deconstructed or blended strokes – must dry before I can layer their opposing style ontop of them. If you paint without stopping all those ‘back and forth’ layers can become a gobbly-gook mess if you don’t have the patience to allow for some drying time. Now, Some great artists do make the gobbly-gook mess a successful work of art. But that’s generally not my style. I go back and forth and allow my layers to dry. Also, timing can vary anywhere between 5 to even 72 hours depending on size, thickness, and level of dryness you require. But for me, 24 hours is my average for how thick I paint.

2. I’m not a big believer in a complete painting. Like Picasso is quoted saying:

To finish a work? To finish a picture? What nonsense! To finish it means to be through with it, to kill it, to rid it of its soul, to give it its final blow the coup de grace for the painter as well as for the picture.
If I had all the time in the world, I could probably go back to most of my paintings and keep layering on them, and theoretically make them better and better. However, time is limited, so I “complete” paintings all the time. But the real moral of the story, or quote, is that you shouldn’t ever be afraid to go back to a painting, or when you “finish” a painting, allow yourself to imagine what it could be.
A painting is never static.



Courage, it’s an Art, not a Science

“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” – David Bowie

“An Endless Pursuit of all that is NOT Boring” – The title of my first senior show, way back in highschool.

I wouldn’t call myself an “experimental” type of person or painter, or anywhere near that innovative. I love traditional mediums, and I love to paint… whatever I feel like painting.

But yesterday with the passing of one of my favorite musicians, David Bowie, I really took the opportunity to think about innovative artists that really had no fear about trying anything out.

David Bowie almost reminds me of why I’m also fond of Picasso. Both artists couldn’t seem to sit still for any one style, and made their mark by pushing their genres above and beyond the traditional.

“I mean, my whole life is made up of experimentation, curiosity and anything that seemed at all appealing.” – David Bowie

– or –

“How aweful for a painter who loathes apples to have to use them all the time because they go so well with the cloth. I put all the things I like into my picture. The things- so much the worse for them; they just have to put up with it.” – Picasso

What have I learned from those innovators in my own traditionally-driven passion of oil on canvas? I think quite a lot actually.

Whenever, I’ve given lessons in painting, one of the first things I always try to hammer into my students’ brains are to JUST TRY IT OUT! Don’t be afraid to experiment with paint! One thing that always surprises me as a creative, are how many people out there are so afraid to mix colors or to try a “crazy” brushstroke or to mess up.

The current coloring-book trend drives me crazy, not because I mind people relaxing and coloring, but because I now witness so many people afraid to blend colors or color heavily within the lines.

I don’t care if you want to stay within the lines! But if you want to stay in the lines… REALLY STAY WITHIN THE LINES and color heavily and with purpose!

Back to David Bowie – thinking of him, I never feel innovative enough. But then I remember his other message, that anything you do in Art should be intentional. If you color outside the lines, then color outside the lines like a champ. If you want to stay within the lines, love the lines and show it with intention.

Whenever I see someone pick up their first coloring book or first paint brush, they tend to be so timid. They will color lightly or paint lightly, barely covering the canvas. I don’t blame anyone for being initially timid at all, but it drives to me to push them quickly outside of their comfort box.

The quicker they relax and leave their comfort zone, the better results they will see. Painting is an ART not a SCIENCE. You should only fear fear itself. There is plenty of room for mistakes and growth. There is even plenty of room for mistakes that become something wonderful on their own. In science, you should fear numbers and being “correct”. In art, you have to relax and just TRY IT OUT!

As an aside, while I have very little background in science, I’m aware that some scientists must act like artists sometimes and come up with creative solutions and make mistakes as well. Science and art are not 100% exclusive. But for the case of this entry, I’m trying to express how the greatest treat in art is to be able to experiment and make mistakes.

The most fearful time for me is when I start a painting, and then when I get about halfway through. I’m never above doubting myself or my abilities. But the reason I have found some success and have produced some pieces I’m proud of is, is that I don’t let the fear stop me.



The above painting of myself standing in Paris, was one of my more fearful paintings to start. Not only do I have crazy lighting and the perspective of the many sidewalks and cobblestones, and the City of Lights out there in illuminated in the background, but the sky is also crazy dramatic.

I knew I wanted to paint this as soon as I took the photo (I mean my husband clicked the photo itself, but you know what I mean). How I could avoid painting the prism of lights in Paris?

But it was still very difficult. And I didn’t get it perfect either, even at the end!

“All my big mistakes are when I try to second-guess or please an audience. My work is always stronger when I get very selfish about it,” – Bowie

If I wanted to paint a night in Paris, and if I feel like it’s blue, PAINT IT BLUE. If I feel like all the lights project a kaleidoscopic prism on colors onto the gray pavement, then I better paint a wild set of colors. No one leaves the real life Paris unmoved. So if I’m to dare to paint the place, I better at LEAST TRY to paint is bright and colorful!!

Therefore, never be afraid to try. And please if you pick up a coloring book, COLOR BOLDLY!

Thank you,






Even MORE of my many views on color theory – Part 3: Choosing a Palette

Ironically, in opposite to the title of this post, I don’t often choose a palette when starting a painting. More often, I let my subject inform the colors. And generally I choose to paint an image based on the colors already present. I hardly ever choose to paint an image that does not have amazing colors. Thus, choosing a palette isn’t so much of “choosing” as “finding” colors that already exist within the subject.

With that said, there have been a few times where, as an exercise, I’ve tried to consciously choose a color palette, or to be  more deliberate with choosing my colors. I feel like choosing is a different act and has it’s own advantages and drawbacks to finding a palette. Hopefully, using a little bit of both helps conceive a painting with a strong, clear color scheme and produce stronger work.

Here are some specific choices I’ve made in color palettes, as well as a description of their purpose:

Roma and Nice pink and purple sunsets:

10403363_818059474870806_1695206765269098513_620I just completed my “honeymoon” series, where I painted one image from each of the four cities we visited. I wanted views that weren’t typical, but still were indicative of the cities they represent. Also, I found that I typically took pictures during the best time of day for lighting: near sunset.

Each sunset was captured on a different day and in a different location, so they were each very unique. However, I found that I could use color to connect the two. I deliberately used a very purple and pink palette for the incredible lighting.

T14962c9e104d29d824bd4639067a2_620he neat thing about painting, is that even when using similar colors and purposefully choosing a scheme, the subject still imposes it’s uniqueness through the colors. For instance, The Roman street painting (bottom) matches Nice (on the top), with it’s warm pinks in the center. But towards the edges, it suddenly diverges into deep aquamarine blues, representing the cool, deep shadows of near sunset on an urban street.

Nice, being an airy resort town, has more warmth, but still touches upon some deeper ultramarine shadows (and prussian blues) near the edges too. It’s a lesser amount, which lends Nice a warmer representation. It’s cool that the same colors, but in different amounts, can create two different locations.

In both cases, I used ultramarine and prussian blues for the shadows. I used naples yellow and white plus alazarin crimson for the warmth. Prussian blues are a bit heavier, flatter (duller or muted) and warmer than ultramarine blues, so they lend a warmth to deep shadows, versus ultramarine, which gives shadows a bright coolness. Nice’s warmth was so warm, that I used more prussian blue, so that the shadows were warmer and didn’t cool-down the scene. On the street in Rome, the shadows were more bright and lively, but cool. The ultramarine represented the hustle and bustle well. Also, it was more complimentary to the warms. Nice was a lot more analogous in its warmth. But both still contained contrast and information about the atmosphere and locations based on the use of blues verses reds (which verge into oranges and yellows). If you want to go analogous but still have contrast, using colors from separate ends of the color wheel is a good choice.

Venice and Paris ultramarine and orange sunsets:


These next two paintings still related to the purple-and-pink-er ones above, but they use slightly different palettes.

I used a lot more orange and ultramarine in both. Both of these paintings represent a slightly earlier sunset hour when the sky still displays a more daytime-like blue sky. But when the sun gets so low, the clouds (Notre Dame, below) and reflections (Venice, above) gain contrast and become this awesome brownish orange, which contrasts against the bright ultramarine and cerulean skies or water.


Again, these images also have their differences, also informed by their color use. In Venice I used some purples in the near walls against a much more orange and warm walls in the back where the sun was still hitting. I used a LOT more ultramarine in the water in order to make the warm tinges of colors, reflections in the water.

In Paris, some purples were used in the water, but I use more flat, dull reds in the silhouette shadows of the cathedral in the distance, and the trees. The trees of course are “green” but in the sunset they are dark. Thus, I use a warmer, deep flat cadmium red plus blues and viridian green (an invisible compliment in order to darken the red).

Normally, blues make something recede into the distance and reds make something advance to the foreground. However, in both paintings I enjoyed flipping that so that the red-ish oranges in the distance clouds and distant walls represent the distance and that the ultramarine blues and purples and in the foreground. It’s neat to me that you can manipulate the natural properties of colors so. There is almost a limitlessness to how and where you can use colors.

compcherry2Lastly. The above series was where I really took palette-choosing seriously. I wanted to capture the same spot, in three different times of day. I used the color wheel from red to blue – purple to cycle through the day. I wanted to show how the peaceful pinks in the left-most can say tranquility, how the green can show busy nature. And lastly the blue can be a cool busy twilight/ evening.

What’s I always find neat is that while the first is red, I had to use blues and green “invisibly” in the shadows to create contrast, even if still analogous. And in the green, I had to use blues and reds to warm up and cool down parts. And in the last blue one comes full circle (that’s why it’s a color wheel and not a color line), almost back to red – I had to use reds to create the purples.


I hope this shows how, while intentional colors are important, the act of choosing a palette is so much more than just your own choice. So many other factors and elements come together to form a successful palette. Besides, no matter how you limit or expand your palette, ALL the colors are needed to form depth, contrast, shadows, and highlights. An intentional palette can be decided by differences in usage and amount of certain cool or warm, bright or muted colors.

For more information regarding warm and cool, analogous and complimentary, and bright and muted, see these two previous entries:

Part 1

Part 2


La Lumière Exquise

The Exquisite Light (artistic expressions just sound prettier in French)


On some days there is a certain time between afternoon and twilight (or sunrise and dawn), where the light becomes magical, something special that makes me pause and stare. One of the driving forces behind my painting is a constant urge to capture the lighting effects of that time of day- the exquisite lighting. It’s not just a sunset, but a precious point where, through some affect of sky, dust, or atmosphere, the beams of light that strike the objects from the side create all sorts of bright colors and make the world glow like a painting- before I even make up the canvas.


Most artists intuitively know that the best time to take photos is during this time, either in the early morning or late afternoon. This sort of “sideways” light create the best shadows which not only creates drama and intrigue but also makes it easier to draw or paint, by making all the lines crisper. It’s a like a cheat sheet, but more honest.

Upon finishing my latest painting, I went back through my portfolio and sorta realized how many pieces of mine have been based upon this magical time of day. My subjects have always varied from year to year with not a whole lot of consistency. However, as I went back through a few of them, I realized one thread they all have (whether a figure, an interior, a landscape, or building), is that I have always done my best to capture a moment during the most striking, natural lighting conditions where I had my camera on hand.34344_142707215739372_4572028_n

For me, it’s not always been the exact subjects I’ve painted (which I do still love), but more about the exquisite lighting I’ve spontaneously found them in.



What do you need to start painting?

Lately I’ve been hearing this question a lot: “I just want to try starting a painting for fun. What do I need?”


This question only leads to others, mainly, “How much experience do you have?” and “What is this for? What is your goal?” Like any “hobby” from rock climbing to knitting, painting is a skill that takes work. I feel like people don’t believe how much study and work the arts take. A lot of people seem to assume that once you have the materials, you can just go at it.

That is so NOT true. While I appreciate people who want to start up the “hobby”, I value those attempts more that really try to actually learn what they are about to attempt.

If you don’t have clear answers to those first two questions I’d ask you (experience? and why?) then it makes it a lot harder for me to help you get started. If you have a direction, I can draw you a map better than if you are more wanting to go “anywhere”.

However, in this blog entry, I’ll make an attempt to list some basic supplies you might need if you do indeed want to end up “anywhere” when picking up a paint brush for the first time.


This is my favorite subject, so I’ll start here. I paint with oils, but I recommend any novice to begin with ACRYLICS. Acrylics are a whole lot less testy than oils and are very easy to correct mistakes with- you can easily paint over them once they dry (and they dry FAST). They are easily manipulable  and the color you see is the color you get when you put it on canvas. My favorite brand is Liquidex, the best value v. quality brand I know.

Color sets

This is a very tricky question that I love. If you have a small budget, just get a “basic” set that has the primary colors red, blue, and yellow. You can mix all other colors from there. This “basic set” should include:

– Cadmium Red (a bright opaque red-red).

– Ultramarine Blue (a bright royal blue).

– Lemon Yellow (a bright basic yellow).

– Cadmium Yellow (a more dense, opaque orange-y yellow)

– Naples yellow (a more neutral yellow used often for caucasian skin tones and neutral whites).

– Sevres Blue (or sky blue, light and bright).

– Alazarin Crimson (a deep, dark, rich royal crimson that is one of the best colors in all of existence. Trust me.)

– Titanium WHITE (get double the amount of white than you would any other color, it goes FAST).


if you have a larger budget, please invest in these colors (you won’t regret):

– Burnt Sienna (a light neutral brown, sorta brown-yellow hints of green- great for mixing)

– Viridian green (a forest green that you shouldn’t use often, but is good when blue-yellow mixes don’t produce the right green).

– Prussian blue (a rich overwhelming blue, with a hint of deep green/turquoise) .

– Rosso Veneto/ Venetian Red (a neutral red great for mixing).

That there is almost all the colors I ever use. Mixing is your friend.

And did I forget black? NO! If I could give just one tip to any novice painter – NEVER EVER EVER USE BLACK!!!   Never use it to mix colors. Use compliments to mix darks and shadows, what you would think of as “black”. In life, there is no such thing as pure black. Every dark and shadow has rich shades of other colors. Black should ONLY be used in monochrome black and white works or as solid color (such as a purposeful outline or drawing shape). NEVER mix it. For all intents and purposes just forget that black even exists while you start out. Once I completed the black and white practice pieces of painting 101, I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a single tube of black paint since then. Never use black.

Ok, now that that’s out of my system. Let’s move on.


Of course you need a canvas to paint on. If you are starting out, I’ll cringe, look away but allow you to buy a pre-made canvas from the store. Pre-made canvases suck, but they are easier than learning how to build your own canvas first. Pre-made canvases won’t hurt the novice painter. If anything, they’ll save valuable time.

BUT if you want to dare build your own canvas here’s what you need:

Stretchers – 4 pieces of wood that create the frame of the canvas.

Canvas material (cloth)- the actual cotton weave that you stretch on the stretchers. Haha. Get it. But really, you need a cloth to paint on.

Hammer and staple gun  – to physically bind together the stretchers and canvas material.

GESSO – also called paint primer.. It’s a cheap white acrylic-ish base that you paint all over a canvas before you start painting. Some pre-made canvases are already primed, that means you don’t need gesso. Unprimed means you need gesso.

A gesso paint brush- gesso will ruin all your good paint brushes. You should have a large sponge brush or coarse house painters brush set aside for just gesso, so you don’t ruin any nice real paint brushes.

Gesso bucket – gesso usually comes heavily concentrated, so having an addition bucket to dump in and mix water into the gesso is recommended (but not totally needed necessary).

There are also illustration boards and wooden boards that are fun to paint on with acrylic as well. You don’t always need literal canvas. But canvas has a nice texture, so I highly recommend it.


Acrylic is water-based, so you need a can or cup of water to dip your brush, mix, and paint with. Oils are NOT water-soluble, so you need turpentine but that’s another story for another time. P.S. if you ever mix oil and water, oil floats to the top because it weighs less. So same with painting- you can always paint oils ontop of acrylics but NEVER acrylics ontop of oils. Leonardo Di Vinci made the mistake of painting a water-soluable material ontop of an oil based material, and that’s why the famous Last Supper needs to be restored every few years. Of course he was a genius, but just some experiments of his worked better than others.


This is a subject that I love but also have the least amount of opinions about. For oil and acrylics you don’t need fancy brushes at all. Acrylics and oils are very caustic to brushes, so they get ruined really fast. So what I do is buy cheap brushes and often. Brushes are totally up to individual tastes in what  you feel comfortable using.

I recommend a variety of sizes from large to medium to small, and a few differently shaped tips. I don’t have one brush I use more than others. It just depends on what stroke I’m trying to get. I am generally a fan of mostly square and rounded tips.

And as a general rule, I start a painting using the largest brushes than work my way down to smaller brushes as I get to more of the finishing details. Never start painting with details. Use large brushes to get general colors and swashes of shapes before you get down to the nitty gritty details. l always make sure I cover a canvas in color before I start really getting specific.


Lots of dishrags or paper towels. Paper towels are too weak for oils but just strong enough for acrylics if you wish. You need to have one on hand to really clean and adjust your mixes. They get dirty really fast, but that’s the fun of it. They have tons of uses, so use often as needed. When you go from using one color with one brush to another, you need to rinse with water and then clean with a towel… that’s about the jist of it, but there are even more subtle uses than that.


Nowadays I use disposable palettes, because I’m too lazy to clean up real ones. But in college I used a nice glass palette that was easy to mix on and smooth. But disposable palettes work fine and are relatively inexpensive and easy to clean up (you just dispose of them!). They are actually labeled as disposable palettes and come in all sizes, so that’s easy.


Haha.. I almost forgot this one. It’s always better to paint standing up than sitting down. When a cavas is upright and not flat on a table, you can see the image and gauge perspective and composition better. I use an aluminum easel, just because it’s really easy to adjust and doesn’t break easily. Wooden is fine too. It’s just up to your own preferences there.


Since the days of holding a palette by hand like Bob Ross are old… you need a shelf-like table thing to place your palette on and store other materials below. The fancy word for it is called a “cabaret”, and I don’t know why. But it’s nice to have if you’re painting on an easel standing up.


How do you get a sketch onto a canvas before you paint? Glad you asked! Charcoal is great. It draws easy on canvas, and you can erase easily by just wiping it off with a paper towel. And once you’re done you can paint over it, and voila! You have a sketch, like a map for easier painting. I use soft “linewand” charcoal.


– self-explanatory. Painting isn’t clean. Be careful.

That’s about it! See what I mean by needing a lot of supplies? That’s why I really think it’s better to really learn once you begin and not just “have a go” at it. To go in part way costs a lot and probably doesn’t have a lot of return as really taking your time and getting to know the craft and getting the right supplies.

Hope you enjoyed!

– Kate


A few MORE of My Many Views on Color Theory: Color Schemes

Note: I’d read this previous blog post on color theory first before starting this post, as I might be using some terms in this post, that were first explained in the previous post.

One area where I differ from many other artists, is that I don’t plan my color schemes ahead of time. However, that doesn’t mean that the color schematic I end up using for a particular piece aren’t purposeful. Here I want to elaborate on a few different ‘schemes’ I use frequently.

NIGHTTIME / Light against Darkness

4710240253_cecf846b1a_b11620Personally, I find painting illuminated objects against the dark to be one of the easier color schemes. With daylight, you have to discover the luminosity of a subject yourself, but with illumination in the night, it practically dictates the answer for the lighting for you.

But back to color schemes… for a night scene, I generally use my richest darks, generally ultramarine and prussian blues against some bright cadmium reds and crimson/purples. Here’s the key to the purpose of the individual colors:

Prussian Blue –

A WARMER blue, that is extremely dense and dark. Prussian blue advances to the foreground of a piece, while still retaining a cooler background feeling. Blues are cool colors, but there are warmer blues than others. Prussian is one of those warmer blues, so think “foreground blue”.

Ultramarine Blue –

A COOLER blue, that is more transparent and light. I use a boat load of ultramarine blue in any painting, because it takes many layers to get it thick enough to use as a color on its own. It’s also a very cold color, and is one of the best receding blues I use for skies and background.

Cerulean Blue –

A lighter WARM blue that adjusts the tone of both prussian and ultramarine blues. It also makes a nice violet, purple with alazarin crimson. I also use it when I need a lighter prussian or ultramarine blue.

Alazarin Crimson –

A COOLER red, that is very thick and dark. Again, reds are warm by nature, but some are cooler than others. I use more crimson than any other red. It is wonderful for mixing purples, but warm (when mixed with cerulean or prussian blue) and cooler (when mixed with ultramarine blue). Crimson plus prussian, creates my deepest, most solid dark. However, that dark looses a lot of detail within it, so then I use either ultramarine blue or cadmium red to restore details and lighting flavor.

Cadmium red –

A HOT HOT HOT reDSC086731300d. Cadmium red is the first color to hit the eye, so I use it sparingly and with purpose. It is a great color for highlights in the dark, as it really stands out. It also adds perspective to a work, by showing off a foreground, created by its warmness. I also use it to create warmer purples with various blues.

Lastly, as you can see in the DC skyline painting, that I used a fair amounts of yellows for the true lights (like in the Capitol building). However, more of the canvas is covered by these rich varied darks than it is by actual lights, that’s the great thing about night lights – they are an entire spectrum of rainbow colors where you least expect them – in the dark!

One added painting with similar use of colors is the stained glass from the National Cathedral (shown left). This time, I used copious amounts of alazarin crimson instead of blues for the darkest parts. Because this was a much warmer painting in general, compared to the DC skyline painting with had a cooler sky and water. This was a hot sun- through- window painting where I used crimson (still mixed with some subtle blues) for the dark. Instead of large amounts of yellows for the light, I started using a lot of lighter greens (mixing blues and yellows), because green and red are compliments. The greens (along with the delightful juxtaposition of yellows and blues), become much more luminous against the reds, and thus are transformed into the true, colorful light source. Light is not just yellows, but a whole array of colors.

Both darks and lights are composed of entire spectrums of colors!


3707292903_fbcdd25629_b620ORANGE! I love orange! The best time of day is when the sun starts getting lower in the sky, and through some miracle of the atmosphere, starts streaming orange against structures.

I was lucky to walk by the Supreme Court on one special day where the lighting against that “white” building was vividly orange. I loved painting that color in that scene later. Here’s the breakdown of that color scheme:

Cadmium Yellow –

Actually more of an “orange-ish” yellow. It’s a very solid and opaque ‘yellow’ that mixes great with cadmium red to create a very true, warm orange. As I wanted the entire top of the building to be super hot-warm, I varied the tone of the cadmium yellow from redder (further to the back) to yellower (closer to the front).

Lemon Yellow –

A COOLER yellow. Of course, yellows are naturally warm, but again, some are cooler than others. By itself, lemon yellow doesn’t create the warmest light. It might create some of the brightest light, but NOT the warmest. Thus, a mix of cadmium red (again, a HOT red) and cadmium yellow must be used in addition to really create a hot orange afternoon light.

Lastly, you can see I used a mixture of cool blues for the cooler parts of the painting (towards the bottom), because they contrast nicely with my hot orange. I also used the cool blues sparingly within the warmer columns themselves inorder to show details and variation in how the light is striking the columns/pillars.

5572638563_44a3cda76b_o1620I also used a similar color scheme for my skateboarders. It was another orange afternoon at the time, and I was enthralled with the lights and shadows.

Again, I used a rich mix of cadmium yellow, red, and lemon yellow for the lights. Then instead of cooler blues I used some cooler violet purples (mix of crimson and cerulean blue) for the cooler, contrasting parts (sky and bottom platform mainly).

The nice thing is that my cadmium yellow mixtures contain both orange, which is a compliment to blue, as well as yellows, which are compliments to purple. So I got a CHOICE whether to make my complimentary regions blue or purple.

How cool is that!


MG_6979edit21I did not start out as a fan of neutrals. Give me a bold, bright, saturated hue over a neutral any day. However, I’ve slowly been learning that neutrals do have a great value and place in painting. You can’t show off brights without a bit of neutral to highlight the bold.

In my latest wedding portrait, I had a very “bright” landscape. However, it was mostly rock and stone. Great! I got to use a lot of my neutrals then. Here’s the breakdown:

Naples yellow –

a clean clear yellow neutral. It’s deceptively luminous and mixes very well with classic titanium white. I used it heavily for the sand. However, by itself it looks super blah. So used some hints of other neutrals, like Venetian Red (Rosso Veneto), Burnt Sienna, and Viridian green, as well as some “brights” like cerulean blue and cadmium red.

Wait? Can’t you see them all in the sand? That’s the trick. In the end, the color should appear to be “just” naples yellow, while retaining a deeper glow added by the back and forth use of many, many other colors.

Burnt Sienna –3708093108_afc9f37f78_b620

a classic, “go to” neutral. It’s also surprisingly a bit of greenish color too. When I need a more netural green, I tend to mix it with ultramarine blue. A lot of my greens in the wedding painting are made with burnt sienna. It’s also a good “shadow” color for neutral shadows within the naples yellow sand.

Rosso Veneto (Venetian Red) –

a cheat red. It acts a lot like a redder burnt sienna, when you want red and not green. However, it is very, very flat and dull. So I tend to mix it with hints of brighter cadmium red. It’s also a good mixing color with brights when adjusting the tone or brightness. It’s good to mix with green to get a darker green. But I do tend to use it very little compared to my other paints.

3839605371_515226d3f6_b11Viridian green –

BE CAREFUL with green. 95% of your greens should be a mixture of yellows and blues. ONLY use viridian green when you need the addition of compliment for red or to make a blue greener. I hardly ever use viridian as a color on it’s own. Greens are super easy to mix, and they come out more vibrant when they are the child of yellow and blue than when they come out of a tube already mixed. That said, I could live without it in neutral land. But use it cautiously.

Lastly, the rule of thumb for neutrals, is the more in the mix, the merrier. Use an entire array when you want to create that rich, pulsating netural.

This self-portrait was made almost entirely of neutrals. But since I used such a varied mix, I created a very “bright”, luminous color pallet out of them. Neutrals can indeed be bright.

Thus colors have endless personalities when mixed with different colors, analogous and complimentary. They don’t exist in a vacuum of warm and cool, bright or neutral. Any color can act as any element. But they can only do so with the help of every other color out there cooperating to achieve the desired result. Mix freely and often!

– Kate

For more information regarding warm and cool, analogous and complimentary, and bright and muted, see these two other entries:

Part 1

Part 3


A few of my many views on Color Theory…

It practically goes with out saying, but colors are one of the chief motivating elements for me in painting. I suspect that my romanticism with colors begins with color theory. I wish to discuss a few of own personal views on the subject, with just three beginning categories: Complimentary colors, Analogous colors, and Warm and Cool colors.

1. Complimentary colors:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn my view complimentary colors are the first lesson to learn if you want to make your colors more bold and stand out more. Some art classes will teach monochromatic and analogous colors first, which does makes some sense. However, I feel like those first two are much more boring than compliments. One of my favorite art lessons back in early college was when I first painted yellow lemons with a purple background. It was simple, but just following that simple idea, took a mediocre painting and brought in an added “wow” element.

For those that don’t already know, complimentary colors are two colors at opposite ends of the color wheel. As the name suggests, when the two “opposite” colors are placed next to each other they “compliment” each other, make each other stand out more. Yes, purple and yellow are compliments, that’s why when you place bright yellow lemons against purple, the best of both colors are brought out “pop” that much more.

Complimentary pairs include: Purple & Yellow (think rich and elegant), Red & Green (think Christmas), and Blue & Orange (think athletic colors).

Sadly, when you actually mix compliments together, you get either black or mush (er, I mean “brown”). As a rule, you should never use true black in a painting (unless you have a very express purpose), so all my shadows and “blacks/darks” are actually a mix of compliments.

2. Analogous colors:


I used to think analogous colors were kinda boring (and still sorta do). However, they are just as important. Analagous colors are those next to each other on the color wheel. There are more combinations of pairings involved like: Green & Blue, Blue & Red, Red & Orange, Orange & Yellow, or Yellow & Green.

The best thing about analogous colors, is that they mix very well, and can create that exact tone, temperature, or shade/hue of color you want. If you have a green and want more coolness, add some blue (which of course is an ingredient in green: blue & yellow). If your red is too bold and you want to soften it a touch, without loosing the drama, add some orange or yellow (an ingredient in orange: yellow and red).

I kept mentioning “an ingredient in_” because in my view, that’s one of the most important lessons with analogous colors. If yellow is a main ingredient in orange, then wouldn’t orange and purple have some sort of distant complimentary relationship too? And if red and blue make purple, then wouldn’t red, blue, and purple be an analagous combination that would look great against yellow (like in Dancer) or orange?

In Dancer, I used that red and blue (and therefore purple) analogous pairing. And from there I used just a touch of yellow to create the complimentary lights that “pop”. Analogous colors, at least in my prejudiced mind, might not always be the most glamorous, but without their flowing and mixed pairings, there would be nothing to place those dramatic compliments against.

And yes, I have a particular fondness for yellow and purple compliments when I can get away with it.

3. Warm and Cool colors:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the more psychological and intuitive (and therefore one of my favorite) aspects of color theory are “warm” and “cool” colors. When you think warm/hot, most would say “Red, orange, yellow” and cool would be “blue and purple” with green in between. Generally speaking, warms stand out more for “foreground” images, and cools are more for “background” elements. That’s the initial lesson, however, there’s so much more to it!

Not all reds are truly “warm” and not all blues are actually “cool”. This is where it gets a bit hard to describe, but certain blues are a lot warmer than others. I personally consider cyan, or sky blue, to be a warmer blue than aquamarine blue. Maybe it’s because I see a “cool ocean” in aquamarine blue, or I see a “warm sunny sky” in cyan. Therefore, you never have to be stuck using just reds in front and blues in back. If you have a blue object in the foreground, you can either choose to use a warmer type of blue, or a cooler red (like a crimson) behind it. OR if you really want a challenge, use true cool colors for all your foreground elements and true warms for the background, and see what an unusual, dramatic vibrancy they create.

One of the first times I attempted using the unusual palette of cools in the front and warms in the back was in this pastel from Arezzo, Italy. It’s a pretty simple piece, just the trees, but this has since become one of my favorite color palettes, and I learned a lot from there.

Color Theory in Action:


In Are We Human, Skateboarder 1, I used an analogous combination of yellow and orange for the center and then deep blue to purple shadows along the edge. Blue is the compliment of orange and purple is the compliment of yellow, so I was really happy about how well it all coalesced.

At the same time, I generally aimed for an idea of a “warm” sunset, so even though I used both blues and oranges, the entire piece gives off a warm vibe, while still representing a hint of chillness that comes when the sun sets. The crimsons I used (mixed with some yellows to make some of the oranges) are cooler reds to reflect the diminishing sun.

MG_7062yayIn Are We Dancers, I used similar colors, but to a different effect. I used more yellow and less orange, and more blue, less purple. Since my compliments weren’t as exact, my blue shadows and yellower highlights don’t contrast as much, but form a softer, more pleasant feel. I also used some green in the center top, which works well, as green is the center of the color-temperature spectrum.

But I can’t hold back that much. With all the soft and colorful lighting, I then get to make the focus the guy’s bright red shirt which stands out and makes him the center. Since I held back and only used my warmest color in the center, I get to make the statement that this guy, who I equate to a “dancer” (hence the title of the piece) is important. I don’t have to explain why or say it in words- I get to just let the colors say it for me.

Color theory is a language art uses to make its statements without words.

All the bests,


For more information regarding warm and cool, analogous and complimentary, and bright and muted, see these two other entries:

Part 2

Part 3