Color Fundamentals


Lesson Info

Demo: Establish Colors for Object

That's fun, I've never done that before, painted while I was blow drying. You can see that the color on the right is a vibrant purple, because that's permanent rose and cobalt blue. Even when it's the pinker version, it's still really vibrant and it looks a lot more, to my eye, like our setup than the one to the left, which is cad red, cadmium red, and cobalt blue. Same blue, two different reds. The cadmium red, because it's very orange, has neutralized the vibrancy of that blue and it's sort of a plum tone. So you wouldn't, I wouldn't choose that for that. That doesn't, to my eye, there's the choice. Okay, I definitely am gonna use the permanent rose to paint with the cobalt blue to paint that purple, because that nails it. That's perfect and that's just to show you that not every primary is gonna make the same combination of secondaries as a different combination of primaries. So which were the ones, just over on there that you combined that you did like? So the permanent rose, w...

hich is a very pink colored red, and the cobalt blue made our vibrant purple, and our cadmium red, which is super warm, and our cobalt blue made the more neutralized plummy brown tone. When I look at the pepper though, it doesn't look to my eye like, and here's, you know, where you do a little color adjusting. That seems really pink, like I wouldn't choose that as my, you know, that's a pretty primary looking red pepper there. So like, well, which one does? Well, there may be other reds, but I know my warm red here, my cadmium is probably a closer, yeah, that's it. So now I have two choices sort of made. I'm gonna use a cad red. I'm gonna use cobalt blue and permanent rose for the purple velvet. More cad red plus that green is gonna make the light and the shadow for the pepper. Now the background is kind of a neutral brown. Right. So it may work with, I probably need to bring a yellow into this equation. Now I have a cool yellow and a warm yellow. When I look at that background, it looks pretty warm to me, so I would probably, if I want to make a brown, let's just say I'm gonna make a brown with lemon yellow. I'll start with lemon yellow. We know that we make browns and grays, the tertiary colors, with mixing three primaries or two complements. So let's just try the yellow and then the blue we're using, which is our cobalt. So far we don't really need to have any other blue. So now it's kind of green, and then, all right, I'm gonna turn this brown. How do I turn it brown? Well, I need to add a red. Well, I know it's a warm color and it looks kind of like the peppers. I'm gonna guess it's cadmium, right, not permanent rose because permanent rose is so pink. So if I add those two, I'll see if this looks pretty close. Well, it doesn't look bad but it's not warm enough. To my eye, it looks kind of brickish. There's too much red in there, and I think that yellow is too cold. It just looks cold to me, so I'm gonna try if I mix it with the cad yellow. Oh yeah, I think the cad yellow is the secret, so I'm gonna use cad yellow. I'm gonna try blending in just a tiny bit of cobalt blue, because that background is pretty warm. It's got only a tiny bit of blue in it. That's that and then I'm going to mix. What would my red be? My cadmium red, because again we're pushing that background is pretty warm. Okay, it looks like the pepper. Okay, so this feels closer, but I think it needs a little more yellow. Yeah, this is gonna, I think that'll work out. I think that's pretty good, maybe a little more red. So what I'm doing here is I'm testing my palette to see which are the colors I really need to use. Why pull from every color if I don't need every color? So you could see, yeah, there's that background. Oh, that's my brown. Yeah, I think that looks pretty close. So I now know, and I'll just point them out again, I now know, that I can use, for this picture, permanent rose, put cobalt blue right here, and that's for the velvet, and then cadmium red, which will help with the pepper, and cadmium yellow, which will help with the background, and what'll try to do is integrate these colors in different ways and use them reflectively in the light just to make sure that the whole piece is harmonizing. It will harmonize because there's a green surface, it's gonna be the underpainting, but you also want to make your other colors harmonize. So let's start with the drawing. Yeah. And that's kind of what I was wondering again if you could clarify, because you're drawing onto your green ground, but you're testing the colors on a white, does that-- Have an effect? Yeah. Oh, yeah. So I know intellectually I'm going to have to make adjustments when I go to here, but I know the basic equation-- of what you're looking for. Yeah, I'm gonna shift the amounts, because it's gonna react to the-- Okay. Yeah, so absolutely, yeah. And typically I might lay down a green just to test, but because I already know that that's the only purpose for testing those, I'm not too worried about it, but yeah if you use the tone like we did with the gray scale on the brown tone paper, it's best to work on a surface you'll be actually functioning on, the color I should say.

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.



  • 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.
  • 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.