Color Fundamentals


Lesson Info

Demo: Establish Value Structure

So let me grab my charcoal pencils here. Now one of the things I like to do is probably for me start with the darkest thing which is the purple ground and I don't mean ground, the purple fabric. So I'm just gonna use the pencil on its side. I could do this little noodly thing like this all day long but it takes too long so I also believe in economy of motion. One should try to move with economy as opposed to you know wasting time on something that doesn't need to be attended to in a particular way unless you stylistically want little tiny marks across the bottom of the surface that's fine but what I want is just get that tone down. I will use my fingers and some stumps but Kenna I will rely on you if I get charcoal on my face (laughs) that you will let me know cause it happens all the time. (pencil scratching) I'm more than happy to let you know MJ. I always tell people when they have something. On their face. Yeah. Now this particular tool, it's a pencil. You know often I'll a...

lso use a like a chunk of charcoal that if you're doing a big piece you wouldn't use a pencil. It would take too long, but this is a pretty small painting. Drawing I should say, it's not a painting. Even when I"m drawing I always think of it in terms of paint. But what I'm doing is laying down a toner. I'm gonna use my finger. That's hence where you know I can make a mess with this in terms of getting it on my clothes and the like. But basically what I'm doing right now is I'm rubbing this tone into the surface of the paper because my fingers, all of our fingers have oil on them and that oil helps to adhere the charcoal to the surface of this particular paper or any kind of paper. So that's a really useful thing. I'm gonna actually probably need someone at some point to sharpen once I do this, to sharpen the charcoal pencil so that there's a little more surface area on in. But for right now, I'll keep, and I'm gonna lay this down as darkly as I can because if you look at that, it's a very deep value. It's the darkest thing up there so I don't wanna make it too light and then hence everything else will have to be that much lighter. (pencil scratching) And let me just turn this way. So the value of the purple is dark but there's also a little bit of light on there so I'm gonna try to establish that as well. Well let's start with, let's start with this tonality. I also have things called stumps and a stump is just another tool. It's a little more sensitive than the finger. I mean my finger is you know this size so if I need to get into a little little area then I'll use the stump. And all the stump is doing is it's pressing the powdered pigment of the charcoal into the surface and if you don't do that then the charcoal is just sitting on the surface and that's okay but unless you use some kind of spray fixative that powder is gonna go all over the place. Some artists work where they use the pastels, they use charcoal totally on the surface and they don't spray fixative cause that can darken a piece but it has to be under glass or something because that's extremely delicate and you can lose, someone just has to smear it and the whole picture will change. So I tend to like to push the color into the surface and I'm not really worrying about the direction of my marks at this moment. I'm just trying to lay down a color tone. But when we get to the pepper I'm gonna pay a little more attention to the direction of my mark. When you're dealing with color it's important. (stump squeaking) Sorry about the squeak (laughs). Some of my students are like, oh, MJ. Why are you making us make this horrible sound. It's maddening and it's like, well, part of the pain of being an artist. You have to listen to the squeak. Alright so pretty much have this down. And then I'm gonna attend to the background and I think I'm gonna actually lighten it up a little bit. Okay. When we do the paints they won't make so much noise. But here is my deep tone. Okay, and I don't care if it goes right into the pepper too. That's okay because we know the pepper has a tone to it. It's the secondary value, it's not the lightest thing. We can move some of that right into, and the other thing you can do which is kind of a cool thing is if you have an X-acto knife or a knife of some sort you can make a little patch of powder which I think I might do right now cause I don't want the pepper to have too much streak. It's super super smooth so here's where the mark making comes in. I'm just gonna take that powder and lay it across the pepper. I don't want there to be like strokes, what I call like brushstrokes. I want it to be really really smooth. So I'm just gonna make a little patch here. Put it on my finger, put across this thing. And you know it's interesting because I did the same technique on the iPad and it functions the same way but I have to tell you, there's something really pleasing (laughs) getting charcoal and paint on your hands. You know I just like the mess. It makes me feel connected. I can totally understand that MJ. We actually do have some questions that are coming in. Oh sweet. About the tools that you're using. So from Sunrise, are you just using a charcoal in a pencil form? Yup this is just a charcoal pencil. It comes in sticks as well and you can use a combination of both but that's all this is is just a charcoal pencil. There's you know the reason why the charcoal works well is cause it's really super movable. You know whereas if use what's called conte, it's very very black but it doesn't moosh across the surface. This is a powdered pigment, there's nothing binding it other than, well actually there's binding it. There's a binder in pastels and charcoal but I'm not sure what it is. It leaves it super loose, that's why it's easy to turn it back into a powder. And people are very much wanting to know about your pencil sharpener and where you got that or what it is. What it is yeah. Cause we've never seen one like it. Oh okay, absolutely. So I personally, I mean I have this standard kind of pencil over here. This is a 2B lead which is slightly soft. It's not super sharp, it's not super hard, nor is it super soft, it's kind of in between. These are great, but for me, I don't know if it's the weight or what it is, but I think it's the weight. It's a heavy thing. It's a mechanical pencil that architects use and it's the thicker lead, not the skinny lead. I'll just pull it right out. You know, it's the reason why I use this is because I don't know, I feel like that point is sharper. I can control it, I can then stick it in my cute little. That's the one. This sharpener. (Kenna laughs) It makes that very pleasing grinding sound. I'm a tactile person so all these things matter and then you get this point like a needle. And I work tiny so that mark is so small and controllable whereas I just don't feel like I can do that with that pencil. But this is, I think this is Staedtler Mars and you can buy this at any art supply store. Mechanical pencil, the fatter lead not the skinny lead. I break the skinny leads. You know those mechanical pencils where it's a thin little frag. Oh I break those. And the sharpener Staedtler Mars. Yeah and it's, I'll open it up. Actually what's kinda cool is that, and this is just a, I'm glad you asked about that or somebody asked about that, the powder inside can also be used. We're not using pencil, we're using charcoal. But if I wanted to, I could take that powder. We can even mix it in, what the heck and use it in the same way that we're using the charcoal. So your leavings in a way, it's like using up the bones to make a soup you know. You're using that as well and I talk a lot about things in relationship to food and people because I like people and I love to cook. So and I think everybody can relate to that cause we all eat and we all have relationships. So here's our, here's just the base. Two tones, I'm not gonna worry about the edges. We'll clean that up after. If we're being super protective, I coulda taped those off, God bless. But this paper tears so I didn't really wanna do that.

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.