Categories: Watercolor

Color Theory at Otis

As many of you know, I’ve been getting my Fine Art Certificate at Otis. I put off the prerequisite, Color Theory, forever, feeling like it was the brussel sprouts of the curriculum that I “had” to take because it would be “good for me.” But I hit the point in my program where I couldn’t take any of the higher-level (read: more fun and creative) classes ’til I got this one out of the way. I’m actually glad I put it off as long as I did because I don’t think I would’ve appreciated it or learned as much as I did ’til I started hitting brick walls in other classes as all the full-time students around me seemed to know all sorts of stuff I was clueless to (i.e.: which paints stain or granulate, which ones are transparent or opaque – and how do they know all this?). Well, I didn’t learn any of that in color theory! LOL! Turns out, that’s earned by trial and error (which I’m making plenty of mistakes that’re teaching me these things!) but I am glad I finally took this class because I did learn all sorts of other things I didn’t even know I didn’t know.

We started by making our own original color wheels by mixing each and every precise color out of a small palette of primary and secondary acrylics. Here are the three assignments I thought might be of most interest to others to learn from.

Analogous Colors:

This might not look like much at first. Like, why on earth did I put that vibrant cadmium orange and cobalt blue in the center of all those browns and grays? Well, who knew you could make every skin tone known to man out of these two analogous colors (a hundred and eighty degrees apart from one another on the color wheel)? They also make great colors for earth, sky and fog.

This was my first time painting in anything other than watercolor – these are acrylics – a whole new learning curve there! (Mostly in this case, learning how to use Scotch Tape #811 and fresh sharp Exacto knives!).

Notice the black and the white squares kiddie corner to the orange and blue. Every color on here is a either one of these four solid base colors – or some combination of two, three or four of them. Cool hunh?


This next exercise took three colors side-by-side on the color wheel to combine and contrast them.

I look at these colors as I mix and apply them and think of how I’d use them as a Director to subliminally connect or separate characters through wardrobe choices or what I might discuss doing with lighting or production design elements with my DP or Production Designer to emphasize foreground, mid ground or background or highlight, recede or show connections between characters, props, etc.

One of my many goals in getting my certificate (in addition to just losing time blissfully) is to become a better Director and enhance my core literary expertise by empowering my visual storytelling skills.


Lastly (and actually the first and most simple), this exercise shows how the exact same color of gray can be changed by the vibrant primary or secondary (or any, really) colors it’s influenced by or that it reflects.

Just like the friends we choose, or the family members or work associates who most affect us, or how we populate our stories on the page – or even how our style or the tone of a particular piece can be impacted by a sequence and surrounding – these dynamics affect “the big picture.”

The irony of how life imitates art hits me in every class.

Heather :