Exploring Color: Unlocking the Secrets

Color is such a significant part of mixed-media art that I sometimes take it for granted. But while making a collage recently my attitude toward color changed, thanks to two different color resources—a book and video—that played a major role. Both helped me create a piece in which exploring color played a huge part, taking me further in thinking about color than ever before. I doubt I’ll ever approach another project in quite the same way.

My color revelations began when I watched Crystal Neubauer’s video Expressive Collage Workshop: Working with Color, and read Chris Cozen’s book, Acrylic Color Explorations: Painting Techniques for Expressing Your Artistic Voice. Crystal’s approach to using color in collage is fascinating, first starting with seemingly disparate pieces and transforming them into a cohesive work, with color being a key component. Chris’s book is the ultimate resource for color in mixed media, as she shows you how to approach the color wheel, mix shades for a variety of results, create a palette, and more.

Exploring color is easy when you have fantastic guides to lead you toward success!

Knowing I wanted to create a collage, I used Crystal’s technique of creating on a stretched canvas—mine was 6″ x 6″. My challenge was to work monochromatically, which I seldom do. I have my favorite palettes, of course, as most people do, and I especially love working with complementary colors. But this time I wanted to raise the degree of difficulty.

I chose to work with turquoise/teal, since I knew I had a lot of ephemera and other pieces in that shade. I amassed a grouping from my stash–I think there’s enough for a small canvas, don’t you? I also painted the edges of the canvas Payne’s Gray, another of Crystal’s tips that you’ll find in the video.

Chances are you have a great palette waiting to be discovered in your ephemera stash.

Crystal suggests composing a collage on watercolor paper that’s the same size as the substrate, then adhering it to the canvas, which is really smart. I auditioned the components until I had a grouping that I liked, then glued them to 140-pound watercolor paper. When that was dry, I trimmed the edges flush to the paper–except for the stamp.

Let collage compositions happen intuitively—don’t force them.

Adding a painted component to the collage would reinforce the monochromatic scheme, and also expand my pursuit of exploring color, especially color mixing and developing values. In Acrylic Color Explorations, Chris suggests making a monochromatic palette by adding black, white, and gray to your chosen color. This is a great exercise in understanding what a broad range of shades you can get from just a few colors, and how incorporating a range of values add so much depth to a piece. I didn’t have an exact color match in acrylic paint to the shade in the collage, so I mixed teal, turquoise, and green until I achieved something very close. Going on Chris’s suggestion to add a complementary color to expand the palette even more, I added orange. Here’s the range of shades—think of how many more you could achieve just by mixing in different ratios of colors!

Exploring color through color mixing is a great way to become familiar with your supplies.

With my newly mixed colors, I stenciled paint onto the collage. To create a gradation, I started with the lightest shade of turquoise, then sponged on darker hues. The painted motifs also help tie the collage elements together. When the paint was dry, I glued the collage piece on top of the canvas.

Having a range of color values helps a piece come to life.

Crystal has another brilliant approach to exploring color and collage that I was eager to try. Instead of having the sides of the canvas panel be all one color, making them look very separate from the collage, she recreates pieces of the collage in paint, as if they were spilling over the side. This adds so much interest and depth—suddenly you’re dealing with something in three dimensions instead of two, making the artwork much more engaging and special. Don’t worry about reproducing the patterns exactly—this is meant to be a somewhat abstract approach. I mixed more paint to replicate the colors of the collage pieces, and painted away. Here’s the side that abuts the vintage quilt piece:

This technique of continuing patterns and colors over the side of a stretched canvas is one of my favorites.

On this side, I carried over the stencil pattern:

Stenciling motifs is a great way to tie collage elements together.

Discovering all the techniques and ideas for exploring color from these two resources has me really eager to learn more. If you have a particular topic, technique, or artist you’re interested in, there are lots of items you can pair up to get a wealth of information. For art journaling, Rae Missigman’s video Deconstructed Art Journal: Techniques for Making a Custom Book pairs really well with Dina Wakley’s book Art Journal Courage. If you want to get more into painting flowers, try Annie O’Brien Gonzales’ video Expressive Still Lifes: Mixed Media Painting Workshop, and Carrie Schmitt’s book Painted Blossoms: Creating Expressive Flower Art with Mixed Media. And for even more on color, try Chris Cozen’s video Exploring Acrylic: 10 Color Essentials, and Patti Mollica’s book How to Paint Fast, Loose & Bold: Simple Techniques for Expressive Painting. Have fun exploring color and beyond!

After completing this collage, I can’t wait to start exploring color in all its aspects.

I’ve found that keeping a color journal is helpful for understanding color and how it works. This blog post offers some ideas for starting your own color journal!

Build your color confidence with the great information and projects in Acrylic Color Explorations by Chris Cozen.
Exploring color and collage has never been so much fun as with Crystal Neubauer’s video Expressive Collage Workshop: Working with Color.
In Painted Blossoms by Carrie Schmitt you’ll dive into color and learn how to paint beautiful flowers that express your style.
Paint your favorite objects, images, and patterns in vivid color with the tips and techniques in the video Expressive Still Lifes: Mixed Media Painting Workshop with Annie O’Brien Gonzales.

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Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques

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