My intention is not to teach this stuff academically (I am leaving a lot of that out) , nor even to advocate its use. I am presenting it because I have found it very helpful; it has rescued me from many jams where I knew a painting needed something regarding color but could not figure out what. BUT, if you like what you see so far, or like the idea of having a way to accurately analyze and solve a color problem, you will have to spend some time practicing.
You could make a bunch of color charts, maybe even make your own Ostwald-inspired color book, but as for me I am grateful that in my youth I was so taken by this system that I used it for my first two or three hundred paintings. I no longer mix my colors using just hue, black and white. In fact I practically never use black—not because of some silly impressionist’s phobia, but because I can get to my target color faster now that I know my way around. More on that in a future article.
Take a moment to enjoy these groups. They are not aggressively harmonious, but try this: mix a series for yourself and then include a color from elsewhere on the page and see if it “fits.” I remember going to a show of William Baziotes at the Guggenheim and being horrified to see him place saturated colors among the muted. I was more dogmatic then, but the combinations were unsettling.
When a saturation series, a whites series and a blacks series are chosen to converge at a single color we have what is called a star, all of whose colors harmonize as a cluster. When colors are jarring and I don’t want them to be, I consult the stars. We can build a painting’s color scheme (or troubleshoot a bad one) on a framework of stars from different hues, making sure that the centers of the stars match up like the combinations I demonstrated in the previous post.
Now you try! Make a few still lifes using colors derived from hue, black and white, just to get the feel of it.
A final word in closing, to address the issue of value. You may have noticed that value is not one of the specified dimensions of this system, but you’ll also notice that value varies in every one of the harmony groups shown. Value may be the preeminent concern among many—or most—artists, but here are four ways to vary light and dark harmoniously, not randomly.