Color Theory Basics Part I

Armand Cabrera

Color is hinged on value. To have good color, you must have accurate values. To have accurate values, you must get the correct relationships between the colors and values right. Colors and values seen by the human eye are hundreds of times greater than what is available in your pigments. Because of this, you must get the differences correct.

EXAMPLE: For measurement, we will use a value scale of 10 places, where 0 = black and 9 =white.
Let’s say all the things you see in the sunlight are at a range of 6, 7 and 8 on the value scale. All the shadows are at a range of 3, 4 and 5. Therefore, all the colors in the sunlight or shadows must be in their respective value range–including white and black.
So…white in the shadow cannot be lighter than a 5 on the value scale.
Black in the sunlight can’t be darker than a 6.

It’s futile to copy the color you’re seeing unless you compare it to every color around it. To compare something, you must first have something to compare it with, right?
I always start with the thing I ‘m sure of…so if I am sure of the color and value of the sky, I start with that. If I’m sure of the color and value of the grass, then that will be my starting point.
I then evaluate all my other colors and values to my initial choice.

So how do you make the range of different colors you see in nature fit into the limitations imposed by your pigments? This is where you can use the other aspects of color to show the variety of your scene without compromising the value differences.
The other aspects of color are saturation, hue and temperature.

When faced with a slight change in value, see if you can use a hue change or temperature change to capture it. Save your value changes for the great division of light and shadow.

Sidney Laurence

Armand Cabrera

Sidney Mortimer Laurence was born on October 14, 1865 in Brooklyn, New York. There are few confirmed facts about his childhood and early adult life; it is believed he studied painting with Thomas Moran’s brother, the marine artist, Edward Moran.

In 1888, Laurence studied antique drawing at the Art Students League of New York. In 1889, he married the artist, Alexandrina Fredericka Dupre. The couple moved to England. Their first home was in the St. Ives Artist Colony on the Cornwall coast.

Laurence became a member of the Royal Society of British Artists in England and the Salmagundi Club in New York. Laurence was an artist correspondent and produced illustrations of the Zulu War for Black and White Magazine in London and images of the Spanish American War for the New York Herald.

In 1904, Laurence left his wife and two sons in England to become a prospector for gold in Alaska. During the next ten years, he continued to prospect and paint. Eventually, painting won out and by 1923 he began painting fulltime. Laurence opened a studio in Los Angeles. In 1926, Carl Block, an Illinois store owner, asked Laurence to provide him with as many paintings of Alaska as Laurence could produce. With the success of his painting sales, Laurence split his time between Anchorage, Seattle and Los Angeles.

Laurence was not the first artist to paint Alaska, although his work stood out among others because he actually lived in Alaska. He was not just a tourist, as were other artists like Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Hill. Primarily a marine and landscape painter, Laurence had the ability to capture the grand scale of the Alaskan Wilderness. In his paintings, the human elements seem fragile, their hold on the environment temporary and insignificant. He used old European motifs and applied them to the Alaskan backcountry, creating an art that was his own.

Sidney Laurence died in Anchorage, Alaska in 1940 at the age of 75.


Sydney Laurence Painter of the NorthKesler E. Woodward
University of Washington Press 1990

I was attracted by the same thing that attracted all the other suckers, gold. I didn’t find any appreciable quantity of the yellow metal and then, like a lot of other fellows I was broke and couldn’t get away. So I resumed my painting. I found enough material to keep me busy the rest of my life and I have stayed in Alaska ever since.
~Sidney Laurence

William Wendt

Armand Cabrera

William Wendt was born in Bentzen, Germany on February 20, 1865. At the age of fifteen, he immigrated to America, working in Chicago as a staff artist and illustrator. He attended night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, but was primarily a self-taught artist. While working as a commercial artist, Wendt was also exhibiting in Chicago area art shows where he won Second Place in the prestigious Charles T. Yerkes Competition from the Chicago Society of Artists in 1893.

It was in Chicago he met the plein air painter, Gardner Symons. The two became friends and traveled to California to paint; it was the first of many trips there. They also traveled to the Saint Ives Art Colony in Cornwall, England in 1898. In 1906, Wendt married Julia Bracken, a sculptress. The couple moved to California where they spent the rest of their lives.

In California, Wendt spent his time painting the landscape outdoors. His art was an extension of his religious beliefs. Wendt had a deep respect for untamed nature and found not only peace and comfort, but the manifestation of the Creator. His feelings are reflected in the titles of his paintings that use poetic— almost biblical style phrasing like, ‘Where Natures God has Wrought’ and ‘I Lifted Mine eyes to the Hills’. He became a founding member of the California Art Club, and in 1911 was elected as its 2nd President serving until 1914. He later served as President from 1917 to 1919.

In 1912, the Wendt’s moved to Laguna Beach. He was a founding member of the Laguna Beach Art Association. Wendt was also elected to the National Academy of Design as an Associate Member the same year.

During his career, Wendt won many prestigious awards including a Bronze Medal in the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, Silver Medals in the 1911 Louisiana Purchase Exposition and 1915 Pan-American Exposition in San Francisco and a Gold Medal in the 1925 Pan American Exposition in Los Angeles.

During his lifetime, William Wendt became known as the Dean of the Southern California landscape painters. He influenced generations of painters with his monumental canvases filled with bold bravura brushwork, strong color and design. William Wendt died in Laguna Beach in 1946.

A Special Note:
From November 9, 2008 – February 8, 2009, The Laguna Art Museum will host In Nature’s Temple: The Life and Art of William Wendt. It will be the first, full-scale retrospective on the art of William Wendt. This exhibition will be accompanied by a major 164-page color catalogue with a 50-page essay by Guest curator, Dr. Will South.

California Impressionism
William H.Gerdts and Will South
Abbeville Press 1998

Plein Air Painters of California
The Southland

Ruth Westphal
Westphal Publishing 1982

QuoteHere away from conflicting creeds and sects, away from the soul destroying hurly burly of life, it feels that the world is beautiful; that man is his brother; that God is good.

~ William Wendt

William Forsyth

Armand Cabrera

William Forsyth was born in California, Ohio on October 15, 1854. He was the oldest of four children. The Forsyth family moved to Versailles, Indiana when he was only ten, eventually they settled in Indianapolis.

During the Financial Panic of 1873, Forsyth left high school to help earn money for his family. He worked with his brother, painting stained glass window decorations in houses. Forsyth never returned to high school, although he was motivated to continue his education. He was a voracious reader of fiction and non-fiction and taught himself math.

In 1877, Forsyth attended classes at the newly opened Indiana School of Art in Indianapolis. Although the school closed after only two years, Forsyth made contacts that allowed him to travel to Europe to study at the Munich Academy. Forsyth was formally accepted to the Academy in 1882. He studied drawing—first under Gyula Benczur and then Nikolaus Gysis. In 1883, Forsyth began painting classes with Ludwig Von Loefftz. After finishing his last year at the Academy in1886, Forsyth opened a studio in Munich with J. Otis Adams—another Indiana painter. Adams left for Indiana after only a year, but Forsyth stayed in Munich and finally returned to Indiana in late 1888. Upon his return, he opened an art school in Muncie with Adams. After two years, the school closed and Forsyth then joined the faculty with T.C. Steele at the Indiana School of Art.

Forsyth, Steele, Otis, along with Otto Stark and Richard Gruelle became known as the Hoosier Group. The group was influential in the Midwest and was one of the first regional art movements in the country. Forsyth also helped found the Society of Western Artists in 1896. Late the next year, Forsyth married one of his pupils, Alice Atkinson. She was 18 years his junior. The couple had three daughters. After the Indiana School of Art closed in 1897, Forsyth had a very long career teaching at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis from 1906 to 1933.

William Forsyth died of kidney failure in February 1934 at the age of 80.


The Hoosier Group Five American PaintersEckert Publications 1985
Judith Vale Newton

The Passage – Return of Indiana Painters from Germany, 1880-1905
The Indiana Museum of Art 1990
Martin Krause

Ordinary people only see the form, and not the mood outdoors. To them the clouds are white, the sky is blue, and the trees are green. The artist sees a great deal more than this to him the most attractive things are those that are expressed in some subtle way.~ William Forsyth

Making Linen Panels For Outdoor Painting


Armand Cabrera

I’ve been asked by some readers of this blog to show how I go about making my panels for painting. It is a fairly simple process but I will explain it step by step for those of you who are interested in making your own.

I do buy my birch panels from SourceTek. I find them to be the best panels on the market and I have never had a problem with ordering like I have with some other companies that make similar products. I also buy my glue for the panels from SourceTek, it is a non-shrinking glue called Miracle Muck. I buy it by the gallon, which will make more than a hundred panels for me.

I start by laying out a roll of linen, in this case Claessens 820 from Utrecht. I place the panels out, spacing them with enough room to leave an edge of about a quarter inch larger than the wood.

Using a pencil, I draw a line as a guide for cutting the linen with my utility knife.

Since I’m making these on my studio floor I slide a cutting mat under each panel before cutting the linen.

I cut out all the panels I’m going to make that day and stack them for gluing.

Next I pore out some glue on a panel being careful not to use too much.

With my putty knife I spread the glue evenly across the boards surface and if I do have too much I scrape it on to the next panel so I don’t waste it.

I use an ink brayer and starting from the center roll all the air pockets out from under the surface of the linen.

When I am sure the linen is completely flattened out I flip it over and place some weights on it to dry.

Once the glue has dried overnight, I trim the edge of the board and the panel is ready.