Creativity Workshop: Big City, Big Color

In Broadway (watercolor on paper, 22×30), a limited palette of blue, green, red and gray enhances the intensity of the angular geometric shapes in the composition.

Some time ago, I began working on a series of New York City-inspired architectural landscapes that relied heavily upon the repetition of abstract shapes to create a three-dimensional effect. I found that patterns of shapes weren’t the only tool in my compositional arsenal; I was also able to introduce a limited, but very expressive palette to create a sense of unity and movement. When paired with a strong composition, a little color can go a long way.

Ultimately, my choice of palette depends upon the subject and how I’d like to depict it. When I decided to paint the scene in Broadway (above), for example, I looked at the street and its dramatic atmosphere. The angular shapes of the buildings in the painting are enhanced by the high-intensity colors I placed against the dark band in the center. Behind the colorful umbrellas, you’ll find an arrangement of Winsor blue, Winsor green, alizarin crimson and Payne’s gray.

Using different values of the same color across a composition creates a sense of unity as the viewer’s eye picks up similar tones and associates them. You’ll find this strategy works best when you limit your main color choices to one ingredient. One advantage of working with fewer colors is that you’re less likely to make mud, but that doesn’t mean that your creative possibilities are limited. The next time you’re walking down a bustling city street, take a look around. You may just find your next painting.

Read the full-text article from which this web extra was excerpted in the June 2010 issue of Watercolor Artist.

Try This At Home!

Take to the streets to ?nd your next painting subject. Look for strong, bold lines in modern architecture. Patterns of shapes are also a plus. After mapping out your composition, select a limited palette that will enhance and unify your painting. Send a JPEG (with a resolution of 72 dpi) of your painting to and tell us about your process. We’ll choose our favorite paintings and publish them on our website. One entrant will receive a six-month subscription to online video workshops, plus $50 worth of North Light ?ne art books. The deadline for entry is June 11, 2010. Deadline extended to June 25, 2010. Happy painting!


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