Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Illustration Correspondence Course, Week 2!

Tippy says put on your virtual thinking caps- it's time for Week 2 of the Victoria Jamieson Correspondence School of Illustration! This week's lesson: Color. Or as I like to say...


(*I am saying this in a Jerry Seinfeld "NEWMAN!!" voice if that wasn't apparent)

Some people are natural colorists and have an innate sense of color balance and composition. Some people also maintain a size 2 dress size while eating whatever they want and not exercising. To those people I say: something not suitable for a children's book blog. For the rest of us I say: There is hope! There are certain rules of color that can make the transition from black and white drawing to full-color paintings a little easier.

So, in class I discussed some of these rules: 

1) warm vs. cool colors
2) complementary colors
3) tertiary colors, or as I like to call them, "those weird no-name neutral colors that make up most of the natural world".

First up, warm vs. cool. Warm colors are generally thought of as reds, yellows, & oranges. Cools are greens, blues, purples.

Easy enough. But guess what, there are more sub-categories. There are warm reds and cool reds, for instance. Personally, I primarily (ha!) paint with 6 colors: a warm & cool red, a warm & cool yellow, and a warm & cool blue. Why, speak of the devil, here they are!

The cool red (alizarin crimson) looks a little more purply than the warm red (cadmium red). The warm blue (cerulean), on the other hand, is a little more yellow-green than the cool, purplish Ultramarine blue.

I did a little Bob Ross-type demo in class (a lifelong dream fulfilled) demonstrating why black is not necessarily the best way to add shadows to a color. Black can dull down shadow colors- there's usually a more interesting color choice to make for shadows if you experiment a bit. For instance, adding a cooler alizarin shadow to the warm cadmium dot. Or, adding some alizarin to the shadows of ultramarine.

I also don't buy tubes of brown. You can make your own browns by combining the 3 primary colors- and this way you can control how warm or cool your browns are.

Next up: Complementary colors! Basically, they're opposite one another on the color wheel. They are:

Blue & orange, red & green, purple & yellow. You'll see these colors a lot in packaging & advertising- complements placed next to one another are visually striking and tend to jump out at us. It's no coincidence that red & green are "the colors" of Christmas, purple & yellow the colors of Easter, blue & orange the colors of the University of Florida (Go Gators! Actually, I'm more of a 'Noles fan- family ties, and all).

Here's something fun that complementary colors do:

Do those two small squares look different to you? SYKE! They're actually the same color, but the background changes how we perceive them. Purples tend to make other colors look more yellow, whereas a strong yellow can make colors look more purple. 

And last rule: tertiary colors. Most things in this world are not pure red, pure blue, etc. That's part of the reason that red poppies or yellow sunflowers are so attractive to us- they're bright colors in a sea of a more neutral background. That may sound discouraging to an illustrator- the prospect of painting a largely neutral painting- but it can actually help in using selective bright colors to draw our attention to something.

Now, some practical examples. How do these rules of color translate to actual children's books?

Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson, illustrated by Tiffany Beeke, is such a beautiful book, and a great example of the effect color palettes have on us. Most of the pages in Fletcher are a warm, rosy, comforting Warm Palette, like the one above.

Check out the difference in mood to the spread above. Now, the colors are much cooler- primarily shades of blue and green. Look at the difference in the color of the grass, for example. Here, we get the sense of a storm, something slightly menacing.

Cool colors don't necessarily mean gloom and doom, however. Above is the final spread in Fletcher, and the cool palette this time creates something mystical, mysterious, and glittering. Especially in comparison to the warm palette of the rest of the book.

I found this beautiful rendition of Hansel and Gretel at the library, written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Jen Corace. Yes, the Jen Corace of Little Pea and Little Hoot. Whoo whoo whoo knew? I love how the entire page is made up of subtle variations of beige, brown, earthy greens-- very neutral colors. This allows the blue of Gretel's coat to stand out like a jewel. It's both a beautiful way to compose a picture, and a way to draw our attention to the important part of the scene.
David Small is another illustrator who is a fan of selective color. In this scene from The Gardener (written by Sarah Stewart), he's using a few of the tricks we've seen before. The figures in the back have the glowing orb/white halo thing going on to set them off from the background. The lines of the table, floor, window & ceiling all lead us back to those figures. And now, with color, Mr. Small draws our attention to the bouquet of flowers, as they're the most colorful things in the very neutral page. As the book goes on and more and more flowers are introduced (it is called The Gardener, after all), more and more color is also introduced. It's a really beautiful progression.

"Ok", you say (I can hear you). "But don't kids like books with bright, bold colors?" Good question. I took the brightest, boldest book that came to mind:
Look, there's that green/red combo going on! It's fun to look for those complementary colors, once you're thinking about it. But even with that bright green and red combination, we're not overwhelmed, because of all the subtle variations going on within those greens and reds. It's not like he took some sheets of construction paper and glued them down- that would be every art project I completed in 1st grade. His paper has those beautiful nuances that balance out the bright hues and bold shapes.

Last but not least, I expounded upon my firm belief in the practice of drawing from children's books. There was much pounding of tables & shaking of fists. Artists go to the museum and draw from paintings- illustrators can do the same thing, drawing from great books. I decided to put my money where my mouth is and try this exercise at home. I took out one of my very favorite books, Oh, What A Busy Day, by Gyo Fujikawa, and set out to copy this illustration.

The point isn't to worry about getting an exact replica. Rather, it's a good way to really look at an illustration. I know of no better way to really look at something than to draw it.

I've been having a problem with my dark colors getting too saturated and heavy- and copying someone else's work lets you play around a little bit, and not get so concerned about screwing up your own piece. After all, if you ruin it, who cares- it's not your illustration, anyway.

Oh, I could go on and on-- I do love to talk about this stuff. But I'll end it there. Later this week I'll post the notes from last night's class- Character! Get the inside scoop on Olivia! Lilly! Skippyjohn Jones! And all your faves!

Until next time!


Nina Crittenden said...

Way cool, Vicki! I would like to compliment your complementary color discussion! ;)

Jennifer said...

I'm loving these posts! (And you are very funny!) :-)

clew said...

Okay, I spent 5 years and a scrillion dollars at a prestigious art school to learn this very same stuff. Damn.

(Okay, I learned a little more too, but I'm just sayin'. Unless you'll be covering scintillation in lesson 3, in which case I'll be really mad!)

Hi Victoria - just surfed by today and had a fun little visit.

Anonymous said...

Go Gators!

Vicki said...

Ha ha, Nina- YOU'RE funny! Although I'll take the complEment, Jennifer!

Clew, don't worry- I don't even know what scintillation is. Unless you mean scintillation of the witty, sparkling variety, of which I obviously know lots, hardy har har!

And M- who is this, Matt?? The only person I can think of with that initial and has Gator leanings...

Carina said...

I like these correspondence courses, Vicki. I love the insight into what you do when you do what you do.

If only I could meet this "M"commenter....

Christina Rodriguez said...

You're such a great teacher, Victoria!

matt said...

These are awesome. You have some very lucky students.

Vicki said...

Aww, thanks, everybody!