Category Archives: Design Element

Mixing and knowing about colors is well worth the effort!

Slide2Recently in a class, we could only use three colors to paint with and they were the primary colors; Red, Yellow and Blue. Only, we had to use certain ones together to get different effects. These were watercolors and I did not have all of the names Annette Paquette chose, but I saw the differences in the ones that I did have. Some made very bright colors, others dulled them done and were great for saturated color paintings.Slide1



Taken from a chart that Annette used in class.

We all know what secondary colors are with red and blue, and yellow and blue and red and yellow, but WOW, when they can be changed like this, “you wonder where the yellow went” (have to be my age to know what  that is from!) and the blue and the red.

Greens should always be mixed. in fact my word of advice to any painter, phtylo green is ONLY for mixing – there is nothing in nature that is “POISON” green (unless it is a painted sign or roof or plastic chair.). BUT – mix it with violet and get this gorgeous gray tone that is a cool color, mix it with a red and dull it down to make it a warm color.Slide4

Color can be warm (reds, yellows, oranges) or cool (blues, greens) but when you add yellows to greens and blue to greens they change temperature. Knowing about how color works, is a great advantage.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.


Slide5I helped one of our newer plein air painters with how to connect and make a painting cohesive  by using complementary colors;  like throwing a wash or glaze of red in the green tree shadows and green washes in the red (barn) shadows. There is a scary moment when you think it is nuts to do that, but, it does make everything come together. Also, saw an art exhibit by Sorrello at the San Diego Art Museum, and he said that “the Impressionists gave us the color purple,” and that is the color that I remind painters and students that adds the pizzazz to any shadow in a watercolor (add a drip of cobalt blue in a corner and voila), a fabulous painting with a few tricks of the trade, plus the bonus of the use of color knowledge.Slide6

A Colorful Past, Present and Future


These cannot be mixed, they just are real pure color! We use them to mix all the other colors (hues).

We all learn how to mix the primary colors in preschool, or there about, but there is an important reason why we learn this. Color is all around us, in the things we purchase to wear, to sit on, to eat,and to paint with too. So I decided to teach my 100 year old Mom, about color theory and you get to learn it along with her.

Once you understand that the PRIMARY COLORS are the basic color mixers, you can make any color. So yellow and red make orange, yellow and blue make green, blue and red make violet (that’s what it is called in the art world).These are called the SECONDARY COLORS - they are mixed with the primary colors.redgreen Across the way from each of these colors, are the COMPLEMENTARY COLORS.

Any GREEN object you use next to RED, will make the colors brighter and more exciting. If your red is a bluish red, than a yellower green will be it’s complement. If you can imagine all the colors in between red to yellow, or red to blue, you can see that there are so many to choose from, but the opposite one will make the magic.


YELLOWS and VIOLETS can set a mood if they are pale, but the brighter ones also will do the trick. And look at BLUE and ORANGE, a wow factor when there is just a touch of the complement in a photo can make your work so much better. Use your hand and take away the complementary color and see what I mean. The pizzazz goes away. Just a little hint in the ball by the boat dock was what drew me to take the picture.blueorange

The next color concept is using that color wheel to find ANALOGOUS COLORS. When looking at the chart, see where the colors next to each other can enhance the ones on either side.analogous



.All of these slides are from a book I am working on teaching the basics of “Photography by Design.” Some year, I will get this published but I can give you hints to taking better photos or making more of your paintings using these theories. In a class I am taking we are exploring pale to bright, to washed out whites to saturated colors. When you use some of these mixtures together you can get great explosions of color. A bright red in the middle of dull, grayed down tones can “sing” out loud, and the opposite can happen too. Ladies, you can try adding a scarf or jewelry to an outfit and see it pop when it is with the right color combination. So experiment with your colors and find out what you can come up with to make your life more colorful.

Photography concepts where shadows add more umph.

Slide1Every once in a while, I take pictures to show depth or repeated shapes for teaching purposes. But if you study these, what is it that draws your attention first? Look them over, do you see color first? The top left one has the blue reflection of the sky in the window, which does add interest. Notice the one beneath it where all the arches are the same.

The sun creates shadows in the crevices and enhances all of the shapes. Without it these would be flat nothings.  I think these show that the importance is the values in the contrast. Maybe we could try to take the same pictures when the sun is not out and see the power of what happens to surfaces.

Arches add a certain dramatic effect, but look, one is looking in and the other looking out, but the depth is there showing the diminishing sizes. These are creating the depth and add interest in breaking up the picture plane. If you took a straight on picture, it would have all the same sized arches (or windows in a building picture). I always try to paint coming from an angle just because it is less repetitive in size.

So my challenge to you is to go out and see what you can shoot thinking all of these concepts;  Repeated shapes, contrast, angle to create depth and do it on different days for comparison purposes. It is nice to not have to worry about not having enough film anymore. Digital cameras allow us so much more freedom.

Challenges for artists, complete a piece where SHAPE plays it up.

Slide1Knowing the ten design elements can help you flourish in your artwork. The best photography course I ever took was one where we were to use each element and do photos using just one element at a time. LINE was the first. SHAPE came next.

So I am asking you to create work with the design element of SHAPE this month. Paint or shoot for this and see if you can spot good shapes, ones that are positive and negative. And try not to repeat the same sized shapes. Notice how bothing is centered in the photos so the negative shapes are all uneven. The triangle piece has repeated angles which makes for exciting shapes. In th4e florals below, the same thing happens when you do not center something, the outsidfe shapes become interesting. Remember this when taking ohotos of people, keep them near the line of thirds so the negative shapes become part of the piece. sha shshap shep

I notice in my paintings, I often don’t realize that I do accidentally have spaces that are equal shapes, until it’s too late. So if we can understand this concept early on, our artwork will be much better. For instance, if doing a church steeple, you have a quadrant of shapes that are usually pretty much equal. The building takes up the bottom two quads and then the sky and the steeple are the other two. The best defense you have is to break up those areas with shruberies and maybe to frame the top where the sky is and put a tree branch there to round off the top half.Slide2

So take this advice and go for it.

I do remember people in the class getting confused with SHAPE and FORM. Form is three-dimensional, has shadows and highlights. Imagine the distance between trees, those are the repeated shapes that will do most painters in because we tend to make them to same distance. I suggest one goes and takes photos first and you can see how the perspective changes that on a flat plain.

Value and Contrast are the keys to successful artwork

Slide7This may look like a lesson in using no color, or black and white photography, but it goes farther than that. I am just using photos that do not have a lot of color so not to confuse the issues here.

I took a special class in color theory last year and learned about how to see value and color in a different way. Understanding KEY has to do with using objects that can be charted within the values chart. You get to decide with each painting or a photograph whether you want to have something with lots of contrast using the full range of the chart from blackest to whitest, or choose just black & white with not many other values between.This is the most dramatic I feel, and is very stark.highkey

HIGH CONTRAST is exactly that, using the blackest and the whitest, not much inbetween.

When using objects that are closer in value range, you go into color KEY. If you use the lower end of the values chart (darkest values), it is called LOW key. Using more lighter whites, (the higher end) is called HIGH key. And of course you can keep it in the mid range, a softer contrast that will create another kind of mood. When painting, we try to add shadows and more contrast, but there is something to be said about pieces where the contrast doesn’t pop out at the viewer. The shadow contrast photos here are really only 2 values, but not the blackest and whitest ones. Slide3

Usually we use a range of 1-13 values, number one is the blackest. I used 7 but you can guess the ones between each of these. The objective is to create a mood by the values in your piece. These below have an atmospheric feeling because they are low in contrast and are pretty much high key.

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Look on this chart and see the differences in the range of what you can do with this knowledge. Night photography can be challenging but look what you might be able to accomplish. Photos in the darkest, (low key) make some things pop. If doing a painting, this can be effective also. Generally we like to light our paintings in natural light, but by making the sky dark, you can try to create something different from what you are used to doing. Keep the colors in the same range which will read the same color when done correctly.colorkey

So, how about trying to take some photos or do some paintings in different contrasts and keys now.

Below are some of my “pieces parts” that I love to shoot for. I also use the design element of LINE and TEXTURE a lot in my abstract-like photos. Slide6 Slide5 Slide4 Slide8

Now add the color and see what happens. Remember how the old black and white movies were so vivid? Once the color came in, the spirit of the filmed changed a little. So when doing your photographs or paintings check out the range of values and see how you too can get in the spirit and create moods (or mood swings! LOL)

keyvalues keys

Watercolor: how and why we save “whites”

In watercolor, the paper is the whitest thing (unless you paint acrylic or Chinese white paint over your work). You have to leave the white places showing until you decide where you want your main “accent”, focus, or center of interest. Your lights should wiggle in and out of the picture plane but not be a deterrent and take away from other more interesting features.

mission5How white is white? I know that is a strange question, but whites can have glazes of  paler colored washes so the whitest thing will become more white (if that makes any sense).


Especially when painting boats, of course you want to have them Slide2white, but choose which one you want to be the whitest and drop washes of watered down colors into the others. Back painting darker shades will also make things lighter in front (negative space). Paint a darker shade between the grass blades or flowers to bring them forward and brighter and lighter.


Look at these boats, they are white but the contrast and the shadows bring out different places. You can’t really adjust the whites in a picture, but taking them on sunny days provides the opportunity to capture the whites with shadows. Look at the deep shadows below. They are essential in paintings.

Slide3I have noticed that some new painters do not ground objects with a shadow. Use a light source and see where the shadows lay. It is great to show a color or two reflected in a shiny surface (like metal or glass) even in a window, a touch of a color repeated from somewhere else adds Photos 237interest.

Shadows can create angles to bring the eye into the picture. So do clouds coming in on an angle instead of white little puff balls. (Go out and look at clouds, I take pictures all the time to remind myself that all clouds are not the same.) The problem when painting from a photograph is that in the 125th of a second, a real shape gets snapped. If you watch clouds, they are constantly changing so soften the edges to make them fluffy, do the same with shadows. Wet the edges as you paint them in to create this effect.

Have fun painting or shooting for the whites and don’t forget your shadows.


Red White and Blue won’t give you the “blues”!

Photography By Design1Photography By Design I have this obsession and it is to try to capture the flags’ stripes as they show them on our stamps. I’m pretty sure it is impossible.

In pursuing this effort, I have captured some pretty fabulous photos of flags in the wind. What I have learned is that one must spend lots of time taking many many pictures of flags to capture what I have here. (I must take 30 pictures when I am attempting this.) My favorite is the top one. But this series is also pretty spectacular, don’t you think?

If you ever get the shot of evenly scalloped stripes please send me a copy of it so I can stop this obsession at some point in my life. I do not believe it is real, because I have not come close yet!

Photography By Design2I have taken some other kinds of striped shots and think it is a fun theme to go for “Red, White and Blue” in your photography too. See what you can do with this as a theme. Here’s to stars and stripes, may they wave forever (and you should try this and see if you are better than me at it!).

The picture collages above are from a new book I am working on entitled ”Photography By Design”. It is an ongoing project as I carry my camera with me everyday and keep taking pictures to teach Slide2others. So one day, I will let you know when it is ready.


When taking shots of “pieces parts”, I generally take one Slide5vertical and one horizontal. Remember you are breaking up the space and when looking through a camera lens, you can see how much you want to show and make the composition work for you. Other than blue skies peeking through, notice that sometimes the shadows become the blue.

Slide2One of the design elements in many of my photos is “repeated shapes” in the picture plane. Even when painting, you’ll need to decide how much you want to show within the rectangular area and repeating shapes adds to your work.

Slide5Anything can become a photograph if you know how to create a good composition!

Slide3It is nice to have a theme and I have several favorite ones and get excited when I see how I can create a photo using them.

Some photos are just simple and others more complex, but having something to shoot for often gives great results. Here are a few that I just love. Slide1

This one of my granddaughter by the stained glass window is called “Raisins?”  and it won an award in an art show.

You never know when and where your “prize” shot will happen. Just go out and take pictures. If you get some good ones this Fourth of July, send it to me for a critique!Slide2Slide3Slide1

A few more Painting & Photography composition rules made simple!

Slide2rlesaII 101- total.oriWhen I gave a talk on rules of composition to a camera club, I started by showing this slide. I have to say, the first thing on this list is more for painting, as I use an old-fashioned, empty cardboard individual slide holder (push out the negetive inside it) to help crop and decide how much area I want to paint. The view finder in your camera has the same effect (and remember the Rule of Thirds).

The scissors in the tool box is for cropping also. If you center things, creating target practice, or take something that makes you want to chop the work in half, then “apply scissors”.

Slide17In a previous blog, I explained the color wheel and how background colors can change the color in the foreground. I also talked about perspective and coming in on an angle instead of straight on, but diagonals and curved lines add excitement to photos and paintings because they bring your eye into the piece. rulessition II 101- total.ori

And creating certain shapes within a picture, they add to the composition to make the viewer look around and within the piece too.


The mirror and the is to remind you that it is more interesting not to have things doubled, a broken mirror has less similar reflected items. I shared a slide that had a curve of a sandbar on one side, so the reflection was cut off and not whole. The light is the source that gives you contrast.  We want interesting shadows leading us into a picture so low light and no shadows can make for a less exciting piece.

Slide3I told them there are many other tools and one is to have some empty boxes. Those are to fill up with new themes, like the ones I introduced (Primary Colors, Skies, Colors of Spring, Flowers, etc.). I see many people getting stuck on the same subject, so this is a challenge I offer you, do something different, take a risk.

COMPOSITION: Rule number 1- placement of your center of interest

Placement on your paper is vital to a good composition. Let’s explore a few ways to learn how to do this everytime you try. I always am taking pictures to show the best and worst way to take a picture to show differences in compositions and following specific rules that work.  Slide1    Slide2

With this in mind, let’s see how to place objects that are mathematically done to make the best choice.

Whether you photograph or set up a still life for painting, the same rules apply. Centering objects is less interesting. You want your viewer to move around in the piece.

The way you do that is by contrast, by odd numbers, strong focal points, nothing too interesting near the  corners, and most important, placement of the center of interest and what is going on around it.

I find the Rule of Thirds is quicker and easier. You will note that many of Slide3today’s cameras actually have the grid for this rule in the view finder. So when composing your images, keep in mind where these llines are and where the “magic spot” is in your pictures. 

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Slide5I want my viewers to enjoy my work, so I do take many photos to see which photo and composition is best for that subject. Florals and one item pieces generally look better off set because the negative shapes that form around it are more interesting. Odd numbers also give uneven shapes in and around them. Go take pictures and see what you like the best. Have fun!






Photographing abstracts

blues and greensOkay, my daughter states “I’ll never understand your mind!” when I take pictures of shadows and odds and ends in grocery stores. I love texture, reflections, shadows and pieces parts. Sometimes, these combined make for really great abstraction because the viewer has to figure out what it is in the photo. Remember the rule of thirds, & move the camera to where the center of interest will lay.

abstractsThese photos break up the space but the viewer has to figure out what they might be. The first is one that I took at night, by moving the camera (takes low battery power to achieve this feat!).  The building piece, the deep angles make this dramatic. High contrast, especailly with shadows is very exciting and I always look forward to sunny days where I can capture these. I take many pictures of the same shadow until I find just the right one.

That is a trick that you have to get into your head,  take loads of the same thing. Horizontal, vertical and sometimes just changing the angle will produce fabulous shots. I see people taking one picture and thinking that it was enough. I shoot 200 pictures a day and go through rechargeable batteries a mile a minute! One of these days I will go through all the rejects and file things separately, for sure!!

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Textures are created sometimes by what you cut off in the picture plane. I like taking primary colors as a theme, and this photo with the cracks in the paint and sidewalk, has line and shape within the pieces of the colors. The grill surrounded by the brick with the shadow enhance this piece.

Camera Photos 135And the window panes add so much depth to my little one running through this maze of lines. So your assignment, go take weird pictures and make sure there is interesting textures within your photos.