How to Study Color – Sketch Tour with Aaron Westerberg

All right, guys. So I’m here with Aaron Westerberg, and he
brought in a few of his color studies that he’s done. And we’re gonna, kind of just go through some
of them and I’ll ask him about how he thinks about color and a bunch of other various questions
that you guys asked him. So hello, Aaron. How are you? Pretty good. How ya doing? I’m doing well. So yeah, thanks for bringing these in. Yeah, I think this part of the process is
something most people don’t show because it’s not the final painting. But you said before that this is like the
most important part of your process. So I think it’s important for students to
at least see it, right? Absolutely. I agree. I don’t show these really, ever. It’s more just for me, you know, that’s why
I don’t really care how sloppy they are. They’re just for me so I understand, you know,
what I need to do in the finished painting. And if people want to see how you do, you
know, a color study like this, they can go on to, and I recorded
you doing a full…the whole process of you doing a model photo shoot and then the actual
color study from the model. So they can get that whole video we made, So I think you have some rules for yourself,
right, about…for when you’re doing color studies? Absolutely. Yes, so can you go through some of those rules? Yeah. My rules are basically, I don’t want any details
in the color studies. I wanna keep it as simple as possible, so
no fingers, no toes, no features. But the values and the placement and the colors
have to be accurate. So everything has to be there but I really
don’t want there to be too much detail. I want the edges to be accurate, I want the,
you know, the values to be accurate, but the details aren’t important. Yeah. Okay, so I think maybe some people are wondering
as they’re looking at this, I’m seeing a few fingers right there. And you were talking about that earlier, you
wanna address that? Yeah, that was…that’s a little bit more
than a color study. I haven’t actually done that painting yet,
and I have a photo of it, you know, a photo of…a bunch of photos actually. And I was having problems with her face and
her hair. And so I tried to resolve those issues a little
bit more in this…this is a more thorough study. You know, it’s…you can kinda tell it’s a
study. I didn’t really…not worried about making
it a rectangle or anything like that. It’s very much a weird looking vignette. But I’m going concerned with the colors, the
temperatures, and everything like that. And then you can see that the hand shapes
are pretty simple. You know, some of those hand shapes are…
like her left hand is, you know, maybe five brush strokes or so. But the features are definitely there on that
one. And because her head was turned, you know,
it was angled down a little bit, and the photo that I have that I wanted to use, which everything
is great in except for her face. You know, her head is kind of…it’s in a
weird angle, and I wanted make sure I was looking… the correct direction. So you were changing the photo, and so you
wanted to kinda work it out in the study? So that’s why it was a little more detailed? Exactly, exactly. Okay, but normally you would keep to this
level of detail. Exactly. Here, let’s show another one. So this is another example. This one…you know, it’s basically three
of the exact same figure and just different ideas for the backgrounds. You know, so this has a pretty elaborate tapestry,
this is a little bit more of a high-key tapestry, and this one is just basically a big field
of color. And this is the one I actually ended up going
with, and I just thought it was the better design overall. I do like this one, but the only thing different
from this one to the finish one was I made a little bit more of a gradation on the color. Lighter at the top, darker at the bottom? Exactly, yeah. Just to make the focus up here? I also…yeah, I did that. And also, I did something a little bit more
tricky with the background. I put a color underneath the background yellow. I put like a, kind of a rich green. And it was the exact same, very thinned out
with turpentine but its the exact same value as the yellow, and then I dry-brush over the
top of that with the yellow. And so I got that color vibration going on
between the yellow and the green. And I really liked it because it really vibrated
against the red of the kimono Yeah, I see you do that a lot in your finished
paintings where you put a wash of a different color and then you dry-brush over it. Do you plan that out in the color, the color
studies? Or do you, in the color studies, just go more
direct and just try to get the general color and then the washes you figure out at the
end in the final painting? No, I generally do it in the color study. Oh really? Yeah. With this one, it’s not in there because one,
it’s on a panel, not a canvas. And I really couldn’t do too much dry brushing
on a panel. But I’ve done another painting where I did
a similar background. So I knew what was coming, so it wasn’t difficult
to gauge what that would look like. Is this one kind of like what… so this,
you have this one here. I’m seeing, I don’t know if the camera picks
this up but I’m seeing some purples underneath the dark greens. Yeah, for sure. Yeah, this one is… and it’s, with my paintings,
I’m not only trying to get variation of color temperature but variation of texture also. So I have a wash, some kind of this reddish-purple
under here, and then kind of this more opaque green-grey on top of it, you know? And, you know, the red-purple will harmonize
nice with the jacket and the green-grey, the same thing. It’s kind of a complement to the red. And you can see, I don’t want the green to
overpower the red too much, you know? This green is okay but, you know, sometimes
you get the green too rich, you know, they almost neutralize each other out of compliments. So it depends on what the focal point is,
but generally I keep the focal point a little bit more saturated than the outside areas
of whatever it may be. Okay. So with these two, were you playing mostly
with like the placement composition? Or were you playing with the values, edges,
and all that stuff as well? Yeah, a few things. For sure, composition, you can see the foreground’s
a little bit lower on this one and, you know, there’s not too much above her, and this one’s
kinda the opposite. But I was also, you know, I had or if you’re
sitting on a rug here on this one and this one’s it’s not. There’s no pattern on the rug. This is gonna have kind of a stripe and there’s
gonna be a little more pattern right here. But I didn’t end up going with that one. I went up with this one, so I didn’t elaborate
any more on that one than I did here. Yeah, this one seems like it’s more about
what she’s holding. It’s like about the weapons, not so much about
the head because it’s so close to the edge. And everything seems to be leading to her
hands. This one, you got right in the middle, even
circle is her head. So is that why you chose that one? Yeah, exactly. You know, this placement, not only visually
it is more pleasing if you have, you know, a different break up of shapes but also, the
meaning of the painting totally changes depending on how you compose. So yeah, it tells a completely different story. And, you know, you can paint one of these
pretty quick and see that, you know, visually see that right away. And I’m very visual. You know, I write also but I have to see things,
you know? I have a picture in my head but I have to
put it down in paint for me to actually actualize it and see if it’s gonna work or not. Okay. And then in this other one, going back to
this one, I noticed you have an actual pencil sketch in here as well. Is that…did you start with that? Or like, what was the order of how you did
these, do you remember? Well, yeah. All three of these are the same idea. Okay This was another compositional idea that I
had. It’s almost the same pose, but you… Oh, it’s zoomed out. You can see a little bit of her legs Exactly, exactly. So you were just really quickly testing that
out? Yeah. This one’s a little bit more, you know, her
looking over, you know looking over something. It could be a valley, a landscape, whatever. And does that…that’s what you’re going here,
like a…that was the background for this idea? It was an idea from that, yeah. You can also see this is the same idea. So I was playing with that idea. And that was separate from these, you know? And you can see on these two, I’m really playing
with…like this one has a pattern on the kimono, you know? And I really was playing up the kind of rim
lighting on the kimono. See the purple? Oh yeah. Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s much more cool. And I didn’t do that on these. See, this one’s a ton more color, you know,
just more colors in there. And these ones, less. You know, much less. Yeah. These seem to be more about the value contrast,
these about the color contrast, right? Yeah, exactly. This is a totally different painting than
these two, you know? Generally we see, you know, the big values
first, the lights against darks. And then we’ll see the more intricacies of
the colors and the drawing, the more details. But this one definitely lacks a little bit
of that big value statement right away. You know, you don’t see that shape as clearly
as you see these. Yeah. But I mean, sometimes you would choose something
like this, right, where the values are pretty subtle and then the colors are more…contrast
between the colors is greater? Or… like when do you choose that over value
contrast? You know, it’s an emotional thing. Looking at this now, I like it. I might try to do it. But it was just…at the time, this worked
for me. Yeah, it was more of what you had in mind
for that Exactly. It’s kinda the picture in my head and… Is that the first study you did, or did you
start with one of these? I think I started with the more complex first. This and then you went towards those other
ones? Yeah, I think I did this, this, and this. And you can see this one’s a little bigger,
so I thought that that was gonna be the one. Right. You always start with the big one and you’re
like, “Hmm, okay,” and then you go smaller and smaller and then… Right. Let me try this way, let me try it this way
because you could try things much smaller quicker. Were you gonna try something else up here
and then you didn’t? Yeah. It was just gonna be a variation of this same
one. And then you just like, “Nah, never mind.” Yeah, I just moved on to something else, you
know? But, you know, with that one, you know, I
can remember after I did it that the sky and the little bit of the landscape ground right
there was pretty, pretty rich. And so I was thinking, “Well, that’s way too
rich. I don’t…” It’s not that that’s not good, it just, it
didn’t feel right for me. You know, I’d wanna grade that down a little
bit. You know, mute that a little bit more, give
it more atmosphere and more color in there. There’s not a lot of color, but yeah, I just
didn’t do it. And I just like this idea too of kinda like
the, almost like a sentinel kinda guardian figure. Cool. Let me see. Which one do you wanna talk about? We…I mean, did we talk about that… Yeah, we didn’t talk about that one much. What was that all about? Well, that was one where I was working with…the
name of the painting is “Butane Match” and it’s kind of take on Sargent’s painting. He did one called “Sulphur Match”. And it’s just kind of a modern interpretation
of that painting. I mean, his was different. His had two figures in it and one was lighting
a cigarette. It’s funny, too. I look back at that, I think about that painting. And then I actually looked back at it and
the color of the flame on the guy’s face is…I mean, there’s no color at all. It’s like… What do you mean? It was just browns or what? It’s like…well, for lack of a better term,
it’s just white. There’s no yellow in it or orange or red. I mean, If you look up that painting in “Sulphur
Match”, it’s just…it looks like there’s this light on his face, you know, from a fluorescent
light or something. It doesn’t look like it’s a flame at all. Is there color around the white shapes? Because that seems to be like what adds color
to things that are overexposed is the colors around those shapes. Not much. Really? You know, it’s very muted, it’s very muted. It’s just kinda you get the idea just from
where the light source is coming from, from the match. You know, mine has much more color. I wanted to actually put some color in there
and, you know, work on explaining the different planes with different color shifts, you know? So you could see like on her jaw is much more
orange and then on her cheek area is much more kind of…a little more blue-purple in
that plane. And did you stick to when you did the final
painting, and we’ll show…we’ll put up an image of the final painting, did you should
change much or did you stick to that? It pretty much looks exactly like that. But with a face, right? With features, yeah. Yeah. I think this is a really good one to show
how you don’t put detail in. It’s really about capturing the color of this…of
the flame on the face. Because most people doing a color study will
go right into the eye and the nose and the lips. And they would totally get distracted by that
stuff and not really try to figure out the values, and the edges, and the big color compositions. Those features are really not that important
in this case. No. The main thing was getting the color of the
light and then see how there’s a gradation on the face to the shadows. So it’s really warm from the light, and then
it gets really cool right away, and then rolls towards a warmer flesh tone Yeah. I’m seeing some purples on this and then some
like ochres on the top. Is that because the ochres are going into
the hair? Or… Yeah, you know, where the hair overlaps like
the forehead and everything, it’s pretty warm. Because it’s cool light and so it’s gonna
have warmer shadows. And you could see on her cheek area, that
is a little bit more purple because that is a little bit more of the background, you know,
a reflecting background… Oh, I see, right. Okay, that makes sense. You can see on her neck too. See how warm the colors are in her neck with
the flesh tones on her neck, the darker tones right here? Yeah. Is that the light from under her chin bouncing
back into her neck? It’s a little bit of the flame. Yeah, flame light, just more subtle because
her hair is kind of….she has long hair, her hair’s down. And so it’s kinda masking the direction of
the light a little bit but it’s still poking through. You know, so… Cool. In the final painting, did you keep the jacket
really low detail like that or did you start putting in some lights and some opaque paint? Yeah. No, I kept it really abstract. It’s actually a fur coat with like kinda big
shoulders. And I started painting it kinda more finished
and I just hated it. You know, I just… So you wiped it off and just abstracted it? Yeah. 100%. I just think it looked better as a big abstract
shape. Which actually helped kind of vignette the
flames and the light, or the flame in the light. Okay. So with that one, did you paint the study
from life? No. That one would be hard from life because the
flame would be going all the time, right? For sure. So you had the photoshoot, and then the model
left and you painted it from a photo? Exactly. Okay. Now, how often you say would you paint from
life for the color study? Well, when I do a landscape painting? Well, right. Of course. I don’t just take… That’s cheaper. You can just go out and…you don’t have to
hire a landscape. Exactly, exactly. But with models, I mean, I try to do as much
as possible, I mean 70% of the time. 70% really? Yeah. It depends on the pose. You know, if the pose is something that the
model can hold for an hour at least, I do it. If not, then I won’t. You know, like…yeah. Like see like this one, you know, she has…I
mean, some models could do it. But both her arms up like that? That’s tricky. And so I wouldn’t wanna try to put her through
that. I might do something simpler just so I can
get the idea like… Capture the colors with the arms down… Yeah, exactly. …and then take a photo and pose her in a
different… Yeah. And I did do that. I did…I painted her in front of…it was
French doors that were open. And I painted her in front of those doors. Is this from life? No. Neither of those are from life. Is there one that you did of these from life
and we just don’t have it here? I did an actual painting from life. Like a larger one? Yeah. I mean, it wasn’t huge, it was like 12 by
16. And it was more than a color study but I got
the idea of what the light did from that study. And then… And then you did these from photos? And then these were no problem, yeah, to do,
to get the… Because you…so you borrowed your colors
from the other painting that you did from life into these and put them in these? Okay. And I made key notes too when I was doing…like
I did the painting, and then I took photos, and then I looked at those photos right away. And I made notes down, and one of the things
was this carpet she was sitting on was really rich in the photos. I mean, it was really red. And from life, it was really muted purple,
you know? And so that was one thing that was surprising
after I took the photos. You know, I’m not a great photographer. And so I don’t know what happens sometimes
from the photo to the actual, you know, the reference when I’m using it. So anyway, I always try to make good notes. Also, you know, like see the progression of
the color shifts on the wall? You know, this kinda blue and then this green
and then this really yellow warm green. So that was really important too. Yeah. That’s not something you would get in a photo,
huh? That’s…that is completely lost in photos,
those subtle color shifts. Especially in the darks, right? Yeah. Absolutely. Okay. So one person was asking about how do you
make the paintings you do from photos look like you’re painted them from life? Like what are some tips? Well, the number one thing is just paint a
lot from life. Yeah. So you get the pattern, you know that the
differences are. Yeah, I mean one thing that painting from
life does is it forces you to paint in a hurry, you know? And so you edit a lot. You know, you edit your composition. And one that you find out from doing that
is, “Hey, if I take a lot of stuff out because I don’t have time to paint all this stuff,
it actually, for me, it looks a lot better.” You know, I like it a lot more simpler. And exactly the same with landscaping, you
know, exactly the same thing. You come across compositions you probably
would have never thought of, and you edit way more than you think you should. Because a lot of times from life, you’re just
trying to get it. You just…I just wanna try to get these colors,
I just wanna try to get this idea down. And you come up with different ideas every
time. I always surprised like, “Wow, I would have
never thought of that you know, if I hadn’t have painted it from life.” You know, in terms of what the colors are
or how much you could edit or just the whole composition, it’s surprising every time. So let’s say you are painting from a photograph
and it’s something that you didn’t paint from life. Are there some things where you look at a
photo and you’re like, “Yeah, I know for sure that this was different if it was…if I was
looking at it from life,” and then you just change it?” Yeah, absolutely. Like what are those things you look for? Like some of the main ones that are obvious
that are different every time. Well, yeah. Generally, you know, a photograph is gonna
record everything the same and everything is gonna have the same edgework. You know, everything is gonna be whatever
the, you know, atmosphere may be, everything is kind of being the same. With a painting, you select, you know? This is my focal point and everything else
is gonna dissipate from that focal point. So, you know, when you paint, you’re trying
to convey an idea. You’re not just trying to convey girl, kimono,
sitting on a rug. You know, you’re trying to show how you felt
about that situation and what exactly emotion you wanna admit from that painting. It’s not just recording a person in a kimono
or whatever. It’s recording the idea, okay? So that’s the most important part. And that’s what a lot of people…you can
kinda tell when people paint from photos because everything is kinda the same, and the edges,
the values, there’s no…not many choices made. And that comes from the people that I like,
you know, the painters that I really like. You know, Sargent and things like that. And, you know, one of the biggest things they
say is you just gotta…you have to just do it. You have to just kinda immerse yourself in
the idea and jump into it. You know, there’s no other way to go about
it. For me, that’s what I found to be the best
idea. Is there is some information as far as color
or value or edge or detail that a photograph loses or adds more of than when you’re painting
from life? Like, what are the things that when you look
at a photo is different from when you look at it from life? Okay. Well for sure, a photo is going to push the
contrast, okay? So the shadows are generally gonna be darker
and the lights are gonna be lighter. So the edges are all…in consequence, the
edges are gonna be more hard everywhere. And then secondly, you know, because it does
that, you’re gonna lose a lot of the color in each. You know, in the lights a lot of times, the
light colors are gonna be washed out. You know, there’s just gonna… And what does that mean? Like for somebody that doesn’t really know
much about color, what happens with the colors that are gone? What does that mean? Well, you just can’t see specific colors. You know, they’re all kinda blended together. They just blend together into the same color? Yeah. You see like a big light area. And instead of seeing like a blue, a purple,
a green, whatever, it’ll just be kinda like one big void of color, you know? It’s hard to pick it, it hard to see it, it’s
hard to categorize it. When you’re working from life, you can see
all those and you can say, blue-green, green-purple, you know, teal-blue, whatever. But you can actually see the individual colors
and name them. It’s much more difficult in a photo, especially…I
mean, in the lights or in the darks, to tell you the truth. The darks a lot of times, you know… In the more extreme values, right, the really
light lights and the dark darks, that’s where you lose the color the most? Yeah, for sure. If you have a photo that’s almost all darks,
it’s hard to, you know, see anything. And it’s the same with lights too. A lot of high-key paintings are beautiful
because it’s tons of subtleties of color, you know? But take a photo of it and, you know, it’s
just looks washed out. You can’t see. And if you can’t see it, how are you gonna
paint it? You know? So it’s very difficult to work just from photos
or to be only from photo reference. Even though cameras are getting better and
better, it’s still difficult. Well, I mean, yeah. If you can afford a really, really expensive
camera, you can capture a little bit more of that. But, I mean, most of us are shooting with
your typical DSLR or even just like an iPhone or something. And those aren’t good enough to capture really
accurate color. Yeah, it’s true. And even with those, I mean, the best camera
ever is not gonna tell you what emotion you felt about whatever it is you’re painting. It’s gonna just record everything, you know? And it get more and more accurate and more
and more detailed. But it’s not gonna say, “Hey, I’m interested
in this,” you know? So…I mean, like with a lot of Anders Zorn
paintings, he’ll have the focal point as he’ll paint it red, you know? Like the girl, whether it’d be a girl in a
forest or something, and she’ll have red lipstick on or like a red bow in her hair. Or he’ll have like…he’ll do a self-portrait
and there’ll be like a big red glob of paint on his brush. So, you know, he chooses where he wants the
viewer to look. And, you know, also by where he puts the focal
point in the composition, but he really uses color that way. And that’s a real simplified way of… It’s just a very obvious way of directing
the eyes. Yeah. It’s like a coke ad, and they put the red
coke bottle in the middle of the… Yeah. And nothing else is red in the painting. Right, yeah. And that’s like just so simple, but there’s
other ways to do that that’s more sophisticated. But that’s the idea. You know, that’s kind of the general idea. Okay. And I think a lot of people, when they do
color studies, they end up actually just creating muddy paintings. So how do you avoid muddy paintings and muddy
colors? First thing I would say, one of the most important
things is, you have to ask yourself or tell yourself, you know, “Well, what’s the temperature
of the light?” Okay? Nothing exists in isolation, right? So things look the way they do because of
what’s around them, right? So for example, if you have something that
has warm light and you make the shadows warm also, it’s gonna look muddy because it’s warm
on warm. And light doesn’t work like that, you know? If you have cool light, then generally you
can say that the shadows are gonna be warm. Okay? So cool light, warm shadows, warm light, cool
shadows. That’s kind of the big 101, you know? Sometimes it’s really subtle, you know, the
differences between them. Yeah. I mean, I think it’s pretty obvious in this
painting at least. Yeah. You can look at even… Cool light, warm shadows. Yeah. And the coolest area of light is gonna be
the closest to the light source. It’s gonna be the lightest and the coolest,
right? It’s the closest so you can see like the highlight
right there. But on her chest right here, see it’s cool
and then it gets warm. There’s some kind of yellow-greens and yellow-browns
where the coat is casting a little bit of a shadow on her chest. And I mean even in this one too, warm light,
you know, then cool as it rolls because the light source isn’t on this part of her face,
and then cool and then it gets warmer as it rolls into the shadow. Yeah. Well, you have actually a few light source,
two light sources on that one. You have the main light source that’s kinda
on her head or on her face, and then you just have that little light source on here. Yeah. That one’s a little more complex because of
the secondary light source. Because it seems like if, without the flame,
the light source would be cool. Like looking at the hand, the lights cool
and then the shadows in there are warm. And then you have that secondary light source
which is really warm. So you have warm, cool, warm. I think when people hear that like warm light,
cool shadow or cool light, warm shadow, they think literally blue and orange or something. But it’s not really…you can have…like
this is…you’re saying a cool. But if you just take that color in isolation,
that’s actually a warmer color. It’s like a tannish, it’s warmer. Depending on what you put around it. If put blue around it… If you put gray, if put pure gray around it,
wouldn’t that be a warm color? Well, there’s no such thing as pure gray. Pure gray’s a… Like if you digital…well, if you take a
photo. Okay, let’s just say this. If I put this color right here, it’ll look
warm, right, compared to the blue-green that it’s around, right? Just like you see how this color is cooler
than this color, right, is cooler than this color? It’s in the environment that it’s in we’re
talking about, not just in general, “This is a warm color, this is a cool color.” There’s no such thing, you know? It depends on what it’s around. That’s a good topic because a lot of times
people ask me, “Well, how do I get this color to look really rich?” Well, generally you put the opposite color
around it. So say if you have something that’s purple,
right, how do you get a purple color to look really vibrant? Put like a muted yellow around it, right? Even like a yellow-green or something like
that. Depending on what temperature the purple is,
you know, it could be a blue-purple, or a red-purple, whatever, but put the opposite
color around it and then it’ll look really rich. And a lot of people do… I mean, I’ll talk about Zorn a little bit
more too. With those girls that he paints outside, they
have a little bit of red in their hair or on their lips or whatever, and then the background’s
green. You know, it’s kind of the forest usually. So green and red, you know, complements. So he does it all the time, you know. And a lot of painters do. I think one of the most popular color compliments
is green-red, and also orange and blue, there’s a lot of orange and blues. Not too many purple and yellows. But yeah, that’s how you do it. You know, you push opposites against each
other. And they could be muted opposites. They can be really rich or they could be really
muted. It depends what you’re painting. You know, if you’re painting a sunset, you
know, a sunset’s a great example of color theory. You know, what color is the sunset? What color are the shadows on a sunset? Right? It’s always usually purple-blue, right? Because why? Well, the sun is orange and it’s really low
on the horizon. So it’s pushing, you know, its color really
intensely on the mountains, right? And so the shadows are the opposite, right? They’re blue-purple. You know, they’re also facing directly up
generally towards the sky and the sun is not washing them out. But that’s a great time to witness how color
works in sunset. It’s very difficult to paint that time because
you only have like 5 to 10 minutes before it changes dramatically, but it’s a great
time to witness really directional light and what the colors are in the shadows and in
the lights. Okay. But like with…going back to this whole cool
warm thing, this is…you’re saying this is cool, but it’s not like blue. It’s just cooler because I just wanna make
sure people don’t misinterpret the warm and cool. Because when people say cool, they think blue,
and warm, they think orange or red or whatever. So when you say you’ve gotta make the light
cool, that doesn’t literally mean like put this blue up there. It could just be a slightly cooler version
of this, and that will read it as a cooler light. Exactly. It’s a relationship, because there’s no intrinsic,
“This is cool color, this is a warm color.” You know, it’s just in relationship to whatever’s
next to it. You know, so on flesh tones, unless you have
a really powerful light source like from a neon light or a flame or something like that,
generally like flesh colors are gonna be fairly muted. You know, there’s not gonna be a lot of color
on them at all. And you know, sometimes it’s fun to put a
lot of color on them, like a flame or, you know, an intense gel or like a neon light. I mean, in the movie industry they do it all
the time. They put a…you know, like they do a detective
movie or whatever, they’ll maybe have like a street sign shining on some character in
the movie. But it depends what you wanna say. And a lot of times those kind of images too
connotate that type of scenery. Like you see a real bright light on someone’s
face, you kinda think maybe it’s like a street light or some kinda an artificial light. You don’t think they’re out in the forest,
unless maybe you’re doing like an alien abduction kinda scene. So your brain interprets right away when you
see something like that. That’s why detail is not important with these
comps too. You know, your brain interprets what’s going
on. But yeah, warm and cool, that took me a long
time to figure out, you know, the differences between temperatures. Yeah. And it’s usually more…yeah, like it’s usually
more subtle than people think. Super subtle. Like for example, you could see some real
nice temperature changes in here. Like when you compare the light on her hand,
it’s cooler than the shadows. And you know, it’s cooler than the shadows
in here and stuff, so you think, “Okay, that’s a cool light.” But then when you compare that cool light
on a hand to the cool light on the….was that a book or? It’s a piece of paper. A piece of paper, that piece of paper is cooler
than the hand. So it makes the whole hand feel warm even
though the light on the hand is cool. So it’s all these relationships making things
feel the way they are. Yeah. Well, that’s a good point too. Just, I wanna kind of riff on that real quick. When you do whatever paintings you’re doing,
you have to make sure that the temperatures are consistent. There can’t be warm light on her face, cool
light on her chest, warm light on her hands. You know, it’ll look odd. You know, it won’t…a lot of times it’ll
look muddy or it’ll look like it’s the wrong value. Just, sometimes it’ll look like it’s rubber. Especially if everything’s too warm, things
look like they’re kinda made out rubber. So there’s all kinds of weird effects that
happen if you don’t get the temperatures consistent, you know? And…I mean, weird things happen with color. You know, like on that piece of paper, I remember
looking at some of the reference photos and her hand was reflecting some warm back up
into that piece of paper. So there’s a degree of reflected light on
the paper from her hand, I didn’t put it in the comp but I remember there being, you know,
some warms in there too. And so you never know what color is gonna
do. It’s a weird animal, so that’s why you really
have to be a really good observer. But the main thing is that your light temperatures
are consistent, you know? Oh yeah, also, you know, you wanna make sure
like the temperatures on her skin are the same temperatures that are on her jacket. You can see like this is a cool kinda dark. It might be hard to see that in the video. But yeah, you’ve gotta see that in life. Yeah. Some of the things you’re not gonna see. I mean, photos a lot of times make the blacks
just kind of matte and they can’t see too much temperature shifts in them. But up close, you can, you know? And that’s why it looks good when I put a
little warm bits coming through because it’s warms against cools and the temperature shifts
playing against each other. And that’s important but the warms can’t overwhelm
the cools. Otherwise, it’ll kill the overall lighting
on the painting, it’ll look weird. Like she has a pattern on there or something. Okay. So is there any other advice for avoiding
muddy colors before we move on the next question? Well, I mean…yeah, I could give you a bunch. One thing I would say is, you know, use a
different brush for like if you’re gonna have one brush for the light areas of…like if
you’re doing…let’s say you’re doing a portrait, right? One brush for the light areas, one brush for
the dark areas. And then have another brush for maybe the
background and maybe another brush for if there is like dark areas. Like…just like this one, for example. I had one I brush with this, one brush with
that. You know, one brush with this, one brush with
that with the shadows. Because I don’t want this color to get into
this color, right? Because that’s gonna… if you have a really
light color and you mix it into a dark color, it’ll make like chalk. You know, it…one more way to say it, but
it’s really easy to do that. Even…like with my students a lot of times,
I’ll say, “Well, cool down.” Like maybe they’re trying to get this flesh
color right here, and I’ll say, “Well, cool that down a little bit.” And generally people will say, “Okay. I’ll add blue to that.” And I’ll say, “No, don’t add blue to that.” So like for example, if you have ultramarine
blue, I would say, “Get some ultramarine blue, mix that with white, right? And then so you have like a really light color
ultramarine blue, just with white, and then add that color to the flush tone.” Right, you wanna match the value and then
add it to your… Yeah. You don’t want that blue to overwhelm that
color. And it’ll also make it darker, so…and you’re
not necessarily trying to make it darker. You’re just trying to shift the color. Exactly. Shift he temperature. And they don’t make like a light blue. Oh, they do, their king’s blue. Like more of like a king’s blue. Like if you had king’s blue, that’d be great. Kings’ blue is very much of a convenience
color. But if you just have like a real simple primary
palette, you don’t wanna kill the initial color, whatever it is. So you don’t wanna add a real powerful color
to adjust the slight temperature of, for example, a flesh tone. You just wanna do it a little bit. I do the same with green. If I had like Viridian, I’d add a white to
the Viridian first and then add that to the flesh color. Because you’re just shifting it a little bit,
just tempering it, you know, just a little bit. But I see that all the time. I say, “Well, you know, cool that down, warm
that up, or whatever,” and they’ll add like orange to something or, you know, ultramarine
blue. And then the color and the value will totally
change. And, you know, students just do things and
they think that this is the right way to do it. They don’t even think about it, they just
do it. And it’s like, “Whoa, geez. You had nice flesh tone and now it’s gone.” You know, the value and the temperature are
both completely off the scale. So yeah, you’re just trying to temper the
shifts in color. And it’s important. Like even on this on this dog, you can see…see
these little blue shifts right here to where his paw was closer to the blue fabric? It’s gonna have more influence with the blue. I didn’t add like this color to that, right? It’s just a blue with a little bit of white
to that color. And that’s how I got that color. If added this to that, it would be darker
and almost greenish. Right. Yeah. Because you’re adding it to a yellowish tone. Right. Yeah. It would, yeah. Okay. And okay, so this one, it’s a question we
both get and we were talking about this earlier. And it’s kinda a newbie question. And I wanted ask you this because you hate
when people ask you this. I don’t know about that. So what’s your favorite flesh tone? Okay. Well, so… So explain to people why that’s just completely
the wrong question to ask. Okay. So I’ll unpack that a little bit because,
you know, first of all, you know, flesh tone is a generic thing. You know, nothing looks the way it does…
or, let me back that up. Things don’t look…things look the way they
do because of what’s around them. Okay? So for example, this little bit on the top,
these flesh colors look the way they do because of what’s around it. This is a really rich red, you know, kinda
bluish red around the flesh colors, right? So these colors are much richer than these
colors. Yeah, these two people have the same exact complexion… They look exactly the same. …if they were standing next to each other. But the environment completely changes their
color. Exactly. So this color behind or next to these flesh
colors look a certain way. These colors will look way warmer down here
than up there. So it depends on what’s around and influencing
the subject. That’s what gives it its color. You know, if there were blue around it or
whatever, there needs to be some degree of blue in the flesh colors. You know, nothing is gonna be on its own. Yeah. Here’s another one where like, this might
even have been the same model or some…I don’t know, maybe, I mean it’s just a Caucasian
girl same as her, right? They’re very fairly pale skinned. This is very, very blue because of how blue
the background is. This is like a really obvious difference. Yeah. And it was super cool light, you know, it
was north light coming through French doors. And hopefully you can pick this up in the
camera but very blue. You know, very blue. And you can see that the flesh or the shadow
colors, you know, greenish. Yellow-green, right? And even some warm kinda almost like burnt
sienna colors. And if you bought a tube and it said Caucasian
flesh and it had these blues in there, you’d want your money back, right? Yeah. This isn’t Caucasian flesh. But I know in a lot of painting, or in some
of the painting classes that I taught, people would bring in those flesh tones and we would
set up a more of a cool light source like this. And they would still…they would start out
with their flesh tone and it would be like, you know, like your peach, your tan, brown
color. And I’d be like, why…you’re not seeing that
at all in there. Why are you starting with that? Yeah. One thing that we haven’t even talked about
but I wanna talk about it, it’s super important is with these color studies it not only teaches
you, you know, what you’re gonna do and how you gonna do it in terms of what looks good
to do in terms of the composition and edges and all that kinda stuff, and the colors,
but it also…what also is very important is the sequence of events as you put them
down. So for example, the flesh tones in the head
and everything, that was the last thing I painted. You know, all these other things are way more
important to paint first than these, because if I didn’t have this background and these
red purples to gauge the flesh colors, they’re all gonna be guesses. You can even see that this isn’t even…you
didn’t even put those three last things in there. Right. Yeah. So those are the very last things you’re gonna
do. How come you didn’t even finish it? Well, I didn’t need to. But that’s great. Yeah. And in case people aren’t seeing this, these
three white spots, that’s like the exact same color as this wash thing you put in underneath. He didn’t even cover that up. Right. That…you have to paint that way. That’s a sequence, right? Because if…I mean. a lot of people do vignettes. You know, they’ll just have a head and just
the background’s gonna be whatever the background is when they start. But if you paint a head and you don’t paint
the background but there is gonna be a background there–so like, for example, you paint ahead
and paint all the flesh tones and everything and then the background’s red–nine out of
ten times, the head is gonna look washed out and chalky because you haven’t related the
flesh colors to what the background is gonna be. You have put some at least of what the background
is gonna be so you can relate the two. Because just like we’re saying, the flesh
tones are gonna relate to the background in that they’re gonna reflect off of it, you
know? No matter what the person’s doing, you know,
it has a huge effect. So the sequence of events is very…or sequence
of how you put the colors down is very important. And generally you start with some of the richest
colors and some of the darker colors. Right. You get your contrast in color and value in
as soon as you can? Right. And a lot…this is another thing that students
get confused with. And I was totally confused with for a long
time too. I read somewhere that you always put your
darkest dark in first. So a lot of times I’ll see people painting
and they’ll put like the pupils of the eyes in first, you know? And it’s like, “Yeah, that’s the darkest dark,”
but when you squint, your iris and your pupil kinda merge together. You know, if you have like brown eyes. So it’s not that, it’s the large dark areas. So like with this one, a large dark area could
be this, you know, the carpet. Right? It could be the carpet and her, actually. But it’s not the darkest darks. It’s not, you know, like her jeans that she
was wearing, it’s this whole thing. It’s the largest area of dark? Yeah. It’s the big areas of dark, you know, that
you see that kinda merge together and you squint. So you know, like her hair is dark. Yeah, that’s good but you really need these
surrounding areas to tell you the story of how the flesh tones are gonna look before
you put the flesh tones in. Okay. It’s really important. Cool. Well, thank you. One of the other really common questions that
I got for you were how you choose the colors on your palette. Like do you start with the same palette pretty
much every time, or do you change the palette depending on the painting you’re doing? And just any general guidelines that you use
to choose your color palette. And how large is it? Is it limited or is it…do you have 20 colors
on there? Yeah. My palette is basically a warm-cool palette. I have a warm cool with almost every color. Every primary? Yeah. So…and a little bit more. So one one cool of every primary and of every
secondary? Well, a little bit. But… well, I have some convenience colors
on there too. Like Kings Blue and things like that and I
have like a purple magenta violet, I think it’s called. But like I have cad red, just straight cad
red. It’s kind of a really primary red. And then I have a Quinacridone. Okay. So warm and cool red? Warm and cool red. And the Quinacridone is pretty dark. You know, it’s a replacement for Alizarin
Crimson. And then I have Quinacridone Rose, which is
a lighter really cool red. Okay? So I like red a lot, but you know…and I
just recently put Phthalo Green on my palette, you know? But I have Veridian and I have Phthalo Green. I have Cobalt Blue and Ultramarine Blue. But back your question, I don’t just limit
myself to a few colors. I used to a long time ago, I used to use just
like the Zorn palette. And it’s a great starter palette, I highly
recommend it. But it’s limited. You know, a palette is limited so… Which isn’t necessarily bad if you’re new. It’s not bad, it’s great, it’s great, but
you gotta understand that it’s limited in terms of, I wouldn’t wanna paint with the
Zorn palette outdoors. Okay? It’s…good luck, you know? There’s no…you know, yellow and black don’t
make that rich of a green, right? So there’s a lot of green outdoors depending
on where you live. Well, and then there’s a lot of blue as well. Blue, yeah. Blue sky. But for indoors, I think the Zorn palette
is great. You know, painting figures and doors and things
like that and interior scenes. But I use my full palette all the time but
I’ll just, you know, use parts of it depending on what am I…what I’m painting. If I’m painting a cooler painting, well then
I’m not gonna use a lot of cad red, you know? I’m gonna stick to more of the cool colors. Or if I’m painting, you know…it just really
depends on what I’m painting. But I’ve done a lot of studying of color,
so that study has freed me up a lot. You know, I’ve done a lot of still lives,
a lot of color studies, a lot of landscapes. So I’m not afraid to pick the wrong color. I’ll put warm blues and cool blues all within
a cool painting, but you gotta know how to…where to put them. And how to mix them. Yeah. And how to mix them so that they don’t, well,
get muddy or make the paint look chalky or the temperatures incorrect. You know, if the temperatures are incorrect,
it’s not gonna look vibrant, it’s gonna look dull. Even if you put really rich colors in there,
it the temperatures are wrong, it’ll look dull. You know? And it’s just…that’s how color works. There’s not a lot of color theory taught that’s
really correct. A lot of…I see a lot of confusing vocabulary
used when people are discussing color theory. And I don’t think it needs to be used at all. I think it could be kept really simplistic
and easier to understand. I mean, I don’t know if you can see this,
but see these two two, these two pieces of white? No, they can’t Oh, they can’t see that? No. we can move, we can shift this. Could they could see this? Here, there, now they can see it. Go ahead. Either way, see these three values of white
here? Yeah. These are all three different temperatures,
right? So how would you…what would you say this
one was? Yellow-ish, orange-ish. This has more yellow in it, right? This has…you know, this is… it’s close
but still, this has more yellow in it. And this probably has more blue in it than
all three, right? Yeah. So these are three different temperature whites,
right? So you have to observe things and learn to
identify things so that you can mix them. You know, one of the really important aspects
of learning how to mix color is to first identify it vocally, you know, and just say orange-red,
blue-red, green-red. What color, what temperature is that red? You know, when people say, “Oh, it’s red,”
it’s like, “Well, geez. That’s like, you know, the ocean is blue.” Okay? There’s so much color in what you’re saying
that you have to narrow it a little bit more for your mind to be able to mix it, right? So one of the important things that I have
my students do is describe…like if someone says something’s gray, it’s like, “Well, you
told me nothing, you told me nothing. You told me the saturation level of something,
that’s all you told me. You didn’t tell me what color it’s leaning
to. There’s green-gray, there’s blue-grey, there’s
purple gray, there’s red gray. There’s every single color gray you could
think of and there’s different saturation levels of each of those. So which is it?” Go to Home Depot, look at all the different
variations of gray they have in the paint color chips. Do you always assign some kind of hue or temperature
to a gray? You’re not gonna take ivory black and mix
it with titanium white and you’re like, there’s my color. Do you always kinda shift it towards…even
though that’s still probably gonna be a cooler…it’s not gonna be pure gray, it’s going to be like,
it is gonna be a cooler gray then like the Munsel system gray, right? Or… Yeah. Well, I mean it just depends on where you
put it next to. You know, if I put that gray next to a red
jacket, right, it’s gonna look pretty cool. You know, it’s gonna look pretty cool for
sure. Yeah. It’s gonna be a really cool color. But I want that temperature to shift, I don’t
wanna paint just something gray, you know, like…or black with white. You know, because like, you know, there’s
Ivory Black, there’s Mars Black…how many different blacks are there? Right. Exactly. There’s a lot, you know? And that’s another thing too. You know, I did the Schmid color charts, right? So now I do them on my own when I wanna explore
different colors. And I did one of blacks, you know? I have a blog on my website and it has some
of that stuff on there. But it’s really interesting to see all the
different variations of black. There’s also a Perylene Black, which I didn’t
know about until maybe four or five years ago. Didn’t even know that color existed. And it’s a great color. It’s a real Phthalo kind of green looking
dark. And really powerful. But you wanna see all those things. You know, you wanna see what they are and
then you build… just like with artists too. You wanna see a bunch of different artists
and build yourself a visual vocabulary. So you wanted to paint something, it’s like,
“How did this guy handle it?” “Oh yeah, I like that. How did this guy do that? Oh yeah, I like that too. Let’s try to put this and this together and,
you know, give ourself a new take on that same idea.” Same with music. You know, you’re always gonna be building
from what’s done before, and then, you know, what’s your response to whatever it may be. That’s why we can still paint and make music
and do art, you know? A lot of people say everything’s been done
before. But it’s not true because you haven’t done
that. And so you doing that is new, right? So that’s what, you know, enticing about doing
painting and art is that you’re creating something from nothing. And for me, color is a whole new thing, you
know, besides drawing and painting, you know, just real generally. The whole kind of category of color is huge. You know, it’s huge and that’s what I’ve been
into lately is just exploring color. And it’s really fun and it’s really exciting. Nice. Okay. So one thing that I think really stands out
in your…some of your paintings that I’ve been seeing on Instagram is like your backgrounds
have those…the blotchy pattern. It’s like a stroke and you leave it alone,
you don’t mix it in with the next stroke. And they’re very separate strokes. Broken color. Can you talk a little bit about broken color? Yeah. Well, the more spontaneous a stroke, like
if you only put a stroke down once, it’s gonna look the best generally. Like the more you touch it, basically with
a brush or with some other implement, it’s gonna kind of ruin the spontaneity of it. So if I can put a brush stroke down one time
and leave it, it’s gonna look the best. It’s gonna look the most spontaneous and it’s
gonna look the richest as far as whatever the color is on that, you know, on the brush. Whatever it is, gray color or a blue color,
whatever, it’s gonna look great. So what I try to do is put colors next to
each other without blending them together too much, you know? Because I want it to be really rich and really
vibrant and spontaneous. So generally that’s called broken color. And a lot of the times what I do is I’ll try
to get the value of whatever the area is down first. So like I’ll put a wash down of a background
or a chair, whatever it is. It doesn’t matter what it is, a jacket, and
I’ll try to get it almost exactly right. The value? The value, right. And the temperature too, pretty close. Sometimes I get tricky and I’ll put like the
opposite color, but… Whoa. But that’s…it’s more difficult because you’re
relating against a color that’s not there. You’re just using it for extra pizazz. But that’s more complicated. But…so like if I do that, then I’ll have
to value there. So then I can put a color on top of that value,
right, and the wash underneath will help kinda glue it to the areas that it’s around so I
don’t have to blend it to the next tile that I put down. Does it make sense? Yeah. So you can shift some of the specific temperatures
and hues. As long as it’s the same value as in the background,
they’ll all kind mold together? Yeah, because the values are right. And the colors will kinda bounce around because
they’re all slightly different? Is that what you were…? Yeah. As long as I get the value almost exactly
right, then I can really play with the more opaque colors that I put on top, in terms
of leaving it alone and not having to touch it again and also varying the colors. But the big wash basically unifies everything
at the start, at the onset. Cool. Awesome. Well, is there anything else? And did we not cover some of these things
in here? I think these were all the questions. We got most of them. Yeah. This one’s really colorful, it’s really nice. I know. I was really experimenting on that one. So experiment, trying to push the boundaries. We actually didn’t even talk about the dogs
much. Do you…I haven’t seen many… like did you
finish these two at all? And did you do the finished paintings? You did? Okay. Yeah. Those are actually commissions. Okay. And one of my students, this is both her dogs. But I paint my own dogs. Yeah, I’ve seen your dog. Those are all…they’re really cool-looking. Yeah, I love my dogs. But… so every once in a while I get…people
ask me to do a commission. And basically these are just little comps
for the bigger paintings that I did of the dogs. Yeah. Awesome. And are you usually happy with the photos
that they send you? No. No? No. I won’t do it unless I think that I can get
a good painting from it. And, you know, I don’t really paint dogs too
much beside my own. So different kinda dogs, like this dog was
super hairy, you know? And so my dogs are…you know, they’re Boston
Terriers. So they don’t have thick hair at all, it’s
a very short-haired dog. So, you know, I did these just… they’re
colors studies but also…I mean, it’s so simple to paint a dog. You know, two eyes and a nose and put the
ears in the right spot, it’s basically a dog. Oh, come on. I mean… They’re pretty simple. So these were just color studies for those,
just real quick little sketches. And… because these have more features on
it, I mean it’s… but it’s just like…I mean, that is two dark dots and a highlight,
and it looks like an eye. But, you know, on that one I think I did limit
my palate. I think that was like Yellow Orche, Burnt
Sienna, and black. This one? Yeah, that does kinda look like a Zorn almost. Yeah, I did. I don’t know why I did, I think I was just… Was probably playing around. Well, I think I was out of some colors. I just poor and I didn’t have blues. I think I was out of Cobalt Blue or something. But there wasn’t a lot of color in it any
way. Probably a bad photo you couldn’t see much
of the color. Yeah. So I just kept it real limited. While we have you…this one here, you brought
this. This is the demo that you did for us. We went over to your studio and we filmed
you painting this one for three days. We filmed you actually photographing the model
to show the process of how you pose the model and get the right pose, then you going on
your computer, choosing the photo that you want and kinda adjusting the levels and stuff. And then doing the color study from life,
it was like a one-hour color study. And then the next day you showed how to prep
the canvas, how you do that, and then how you lay it in and how you just complete the
whole painting. And I think you…this final painting took
you two days and then the color comp and photo shoot took you one day. And this, we recorded it and we have a separate
product at So if you guys wanna go check out and watch
this whole process, it’s everything. And you…we have, I don’t know, I don’t know
how long the final video is. It’s like 15, I think more than 15 hours that
they could watch. Oh really? Yeah. It’s just the whole process. But, I mean we’re also…we’re creating a
shortened version of it, so that…I mean, if somebody doesn’t wanna sit through 15 hours,
they can watch the like, I don’t know how long the final is. It’s like two hours long or something, we’re
gonna… All right, that’s good. Two hours so they can watch it, and it’s shortened
and we keep just the like important parts. But then, for example, if they see the two-hour
one and then they see the like the eye and they wanna see how you really…they just
wanna see you paint the eye, they can go to the 15-hour one and just watch you painting
the eye. Or they’re like, “Oh. I really like how he handled these fingers,
but the two-hour version kinda skips through those fingers, and I wanna watch that,” they
can go and they can skip to the finger part in your 15-hour version. So that’s how we do it. And yes, you can…really you can just explore
how Aaron paints. I mean, he explains everything, his whole
process. So again, that’s at I really like being able to create something,
give birth to something that’s my own. You can tell a lot about a person by looking
at a painting that the person did. Every single painting that you do or I do
is a self portrait. And you can tell exactly who that person was
and how they were thinking when they were painting it. A lot of personality goes into a painting. That’s something that’s gonna exist beyond
me and also, I kinda have that lineage of the painters who came before me. A human being is very complex. You know, color is very complex. The more you understand it, the more freedom
you have in painting. If you’re kind of new to color and you’re
not really comfortable painting with a lot of color, I would say, paint with a lot of
color. Set up a still a life or a model or a figure
or whatever. And put a lot of color in there. The more you try to paint things with more
color, the easier it is to understand color. You’d be surprised at how much you learn and
how much you grow.


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