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Color Fundamentals

Lesson 8 of 22

Set-up Chalk & Charcoal Demo

Mary Jane Begin

Color Fundamentals

Mary Jane Begin

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Lesson Info

8. Set-up Chalk & Charcoal Demo

Lesson Info

Set-up Chalk & Charcoal Demo

So what we're going to do first is create an image that basically translates value construction, composition with value. We'll talk a little bit about temperature as well, because we're working on a warm-tone ground with black and white tools. I'll talk about passing transparency and the hierarchies. Some of the things that we talked about before, but one of the things that I like to do when I'm making a picture is once I have my picture started, I take images in black and white to make sure that my valley construction is really good. So I just took a picture of the pepper that we have, our setup here, which is what we'll be painting. And it's in color now, but I want to make sure that I desaturate it. So I'm gonna turn it to black and white, and we'll go to what I think is the closest translation of what's there. Done. Okay, so that's our pepper in black and white, and basically what's showing is that there is a hierarchy of color, even though we're talking about black and white. And ...

the darkest value, as you can see, is that purple tone. Beautiful velvet, crest velvet that the pepper's on. The pepper itself is the next value in terms of the hierarchy of values. And the lightest thing, of course, is the background. Now the value hierarchy is pretty good. But we want that pepper to be the subject matter, to be the focus. I'm gonna try to make sure that the pepper has maybe more attention based on some other issues, like opacity in this one and then maybe with the next demo, with vibrancy and saturation of color. So the first thing that I did was I made this little chart a value, so that I would have something also to rely on. The darkest dark, all the way through the grays, to the white. So when I'm looking at my picture, I'm paying attention to that value, trying to say how are my values? Do they look pretty good? I could also look back at the photo. I'm gonna use a pencil to start and basically assess the composition. I usually use my fingers. Some people use paper L's. You know that classic artist thing, doing this. Well it actually works. So I'm trying to decide, is my composition square? Is it a rectangle? What am I gonna make it? And I kinda feel like I want it to be a little more of a rectangle. A vertical rectangle. Now if you don't have other tools, you just have the paper and you have the ruler, I align it with the edge of the paper just so that it's kinda of even, a relatively even shape. And I'm not measuring it out, but it doesn't really matter if it's exactly one size or another. Now let me just make the shape first, the composition. And again, I'm aligning this with the bottom of the page now to make sure that this shape is not wonky. And it might still be wonky, I don't know. Hopefully it won't be. Aligning it with this edge now. There's our basic shape. Now the reason why I think it's kind of important to lay out the edges is if you don't lay out the edges of the frame, it's hard to know where your picture ends. And one of the things I want to talk about is color blocking. When you're looking at a composition, you really want to think about the balance of shapes in the picture. How are these shapes going to translate? And I'm going to do this to sort of see where I want that pepper to land. I'm going to tilt my drawing just a little bit. I think I'll sharpen my pencil so that I can be looking at that and translating a little more easily.

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.


I’ve had foundations in many of the color instruction that was presented here so the information was a very good revisit. I also think it was explained better in this presentation than in the other training I’ve had. I enjoyed listening to the lecture, thankfully they weren’t drawn out until you want to stop listening. The demonstration was best after we moved off the charcoal drawing (although that was interesting to watch) because using the paints really brought home to me the application some of the lessons learned. I wish that part would have been more robust so that all of the elements in the lecture could have been directly called out in the demonstration. The instructor was most effective when not trying to multitask too much. Overall, I recommend this course.

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.