Color Fundamentals

Lesson 1/22 - Class Introduction


Color Fundamentals


Lesson Info

Class Introduction

Today I wanna talk about color. Color is one of the most fundamental design tools that a creative person can use, but only if they understand the way that it functions in a work of art. There are plenty of color theory books that an artist can consult, but I like to work from experience, and think about it in a more practical way, and how it works and functions with real materials. There's a couple of methods that people use that have taught me that they can be afraid of color, and that's mostly with my students at RISD. There's the Hit-or-Miss method, and that's really where someone tries to get the color down, and they get it right about half the time, and the other half they don't. And they don't know why. So trying to understand why did it work or why it didn't work is really important. Another method is called Consistent Pallette. And that's the person who uses the same set of colors over and over again in different quantities because they, it's like, "This works, so I'll try this...

again." But it's really limiting in terms of voice. And the third type of person is terrified of color and I call that the Color Tinter. That's someone who usually works only in black and white, and they give little tints of color, but they're so afraid of it, they don't understand it, so they don't really use it. My goal is to really provide an introduction that reveals the mystery of color. Simplifying the conversation. And although I'm talking about this through first the Keynote, where I'll show slides with basically the elements of color, show examples, explain sort of definitions, and we take a break, then I'll do demonstrations with paint and with pastel, and charcoal. It's applicable to all areas of illustration, it's applicable to all areas of design, or anybody who makes art because these are foundational issues. So that's what we'll talk about today.

Class Description

This class will give you an overview of color principles and demonstrate how to apply them. Instructor Mary Jane Begin is an award-winning illustrator and author of children’s picture books, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate and professor in the Illustration Department. 

In this class she covers: 
  • The elements of color, including value, temperature, saturation, hierarchy, complements, light, harmony, and contrast 
  • The use of color complements in image making 
  • The relationship of color to the medium and expression 

Through a series of demonstrations, you’ll learn how to work with color and ultimately make better color decisions. This class covers color theory foundations that applies to all image making, in design, art, illustration, photography, and beyond.


Anna Kotzè

I really liked the informal demonstrations and I also liked the way she set out her pallet with warm and cold colors. This was not only an informative class but inspiring. The casual and relaxed working style, encourage playfulness. Thank you for an awesome class.

Robin B.

I had previously learned basic color theory, but this instructor took my knowledge beyond with layered instruction about value-contrast-complements-hierarchy, etc., and she does it in such a fun way with her own examples of work and great stories! I like her poise and confidence and think this series is a terrific value.


Excellent instruction! Most helpful to me in terms of establishing the focal point of an image through use of value, color harmony. Also helpful to understand transparency and opacity and how that relates to highlights and shadows. MJ is fun and likable.