The Fruits of Your Labor

Big Red by Daniel S. Jiménez is a wonderful example of just how beautiful the red/yellow/blue color scheme can be. The bright red of the apples is luscious with the gold of the drapery and the cool blue behind that.

Primary Colors: Big Red (acrylic, 23×17) by Daniel S. Jiménez.

The focal area is clearly the apples, and the gold drapery sets the stage admirably, in two ways. One, through color: The gold itself is duller than the red of the apples, and the drapes’ pattern repeats the red, tying the two areas together. Two, through the carefully drawn blue stripe: It practically encircles and connects the basket of apples, but in a subtle way.

The level of realism in Big Red requires strong drawing skills, which Jiménez certainly possesses. Another strength is the handling of the acrylic medium. The blending of colors—especially visible in the gold drapery—shows a lot of skill. Since acrylics dry so quickly, it takes a lot of patience and technical ability to achieve those seamless gradations.

Art Principles At Work
Jiménez could make Big Red better with an even stronger focal point and closer attention to color. As a former teacher of mine once explained, a painting needs a lead singer (focal area), backup singers (secondary areas of interest), do-wop singers (even less important areas) and the band (the background). All the elements need to work together to support what the lead singer is doing.

Finding strength in color. The apples need to be the most visually interesting part of the work, yet the rather uniform red color here is holding them back. It might help to consider using different kinds of apples. They’d all need some red in them, whether it?s a slight blush on a golden variety (like a Gala) or the almost-violet sheen on a dark Red Delicious.

“Redness” is anything from yellow-orange to blue-violet on my palette. These colors can be used within a specific apple as well. The warmer reds will bring a certain area forward, while cooler tones are perfect for darker areas or shadows. Varying the apples in terms of warm and cool reds is also an excellent way to create interest.

Another good way to differentiate between the apples is to try different intensities of reds, using the brightest for just a couple of star attractions, then painting the apples around those with less intense reds. Adding black, white or even an earth color will dull any color. But my favorite method is to mix the color with its complement, which of course is the hue opposite it on the color wheel. Red’s complement is green, yellow-orange’s complement is blue-violet and so on.

Adding harmonic highlights. The highlights on shiny objects can be difficult to paint without making them look pasted on. I find it works well to mix a very small amount of the local color into your highlight color. If it’s still too bright, a transparent glaze of the local color will take it down a bit. Because mixing red with white creates pink—something you definitely don’t want on a red object—this approach requires special care in this case. By putting on a highlight that’s lighter than you want and then glazing over it, pink can be avoided.

Avoiding distractions. The blue drapery to the right of the apples is beautifully painted. So it hurts me to say that I think the painting would be improved by eliminating it. The pattern is quite active and the value difference between the white and dark blue is so attractive that it pulls attention from the focal area. Also, the direction of the folds and the pattern leads the viewer’s eye right out of the painting.

Instead, I suggest either painting a dark blue background in that spot or correcting the drapery so it hangs almost straight down, with very few folds and a subdued, dark color. This part of the painting needs to be relegated to the band—with such changes, the area’s coolness would emphasize the warmth elsewhere, and its darkness would give the lightness of the fruit and gold drapery even more importance. The blue could even include some extremely subtle touches of green, which would liven up the reds even more.

Handling the less important elements. We now know what to do with the lead singer, the backups and the band. So the do-wop singers (the basket and the table) are ready for a little attention at this point.

The overall level of realism in this painting is somehow lacking in the basket; it’s a bit flat. The fix for this would be to add more of a middle value to the sides, along with more shading as the basket curves toward the back and underneath. The top edge of the basket is very well drawn and gives the illusion of roundness; but it, too, should be darkened as it moves toward the back to enhance that illusion.

The wood-graining on the table is a little too defined, and a transparent glaze of a darker wood color would bring the values of the wood and its graining closer together. At the same time, an even darker glaze along the back edge of the table would help it fade even more into the blue background.

Lessons Learned
Color is one of the most interesting and frustrating subjects that an artist has to master. But when used correctly, it can be an enormous tool for creating form and depth. Using a limited palette of “redness,” “yellowness” and “blueness” can help unify a complex composition, while it simultaneously allows for an infinite variety of color possibilities.

About the Artist
Michigan artist Daniel S. Jiménez began his career as a graphic designer and has been working on his art for more than 20 years. As he strives to reach his goal to become a full-time artist, he keeps this credo in mind: “Your best painting will be the next one.”

Mark Gottsegen is an associate professor of art at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and chair of the American Society of Testing and Materials subcommittee on artists’ materials.

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