Lots of students ask me how I choose color. When we are using pastels, we are picking not mixing which is a whole separate story. Students wonder if I really seethe color that I’m choosing in my subject. There really isn’t a simple “yes” or “no” answer to that question. Yes, I see those colors there. In every subject, all the colors of the spectrum are present. It’s just that some are more or less reflected to us and some are more or less absorbed. When I’m looking a subject (let’s say these lemons), in the form shadow, I see a cool blueish green which makes me want to pick up an aqua stick. On the other side of the form shadow it appears warmer.  This makes me want to head to a brown or rust colored stick.

I use this sense of color “leaning” towards something as a chance to “push” in a direction. Also, I try to let this be very intuitive and fluid. I try not to be in my mind too much and think thoughts like, “lemons are yellow”. The idea that a lemon is yellow really has nothing whatsoever to do with how my particular lemon. In it’s particular environment with the particular lighting is appearing to my particular perception machine, (my eyes) and how my brain is interpreting all this info at that particular moment.

Soooo, I pretty much can throw out any notions or biases regarding local color. So yes, you could say that I’m exaggerating the color or pushing it.  But it’s also a matter of responding to my subject through careful observation and alternately responding to what it is that my piece is thirsty for; a more emotional and intangible sense of what my piece needs.

Below is an example of a landscape where I’ve “pushed” the color. First is the original reference and below it is the painting. I like to think about my color choices as being kind of feisty.

Are you stuck in a color rut? If you find that your pieces always have the same flavor and not in a good way, change it up! I don’t want to be afraid of any of the sticks in my palette. If you have colors that you habitually avoid, try to consciously incorporate those. Sometimes we avoid colors that we have a bias against, like “oh, that’s too garish” or “I don’t like purple”, or “ I wouldn’t be caught dead in that yellow”. Just because we are not attracted to a certain color, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a place in our paintings.

I hope this mini-lesson helps you make braver color choices!

With Warmest Regards,


Painting Minilessons
with Marla Baggetta

These “mini-lessons” grew out of my blog. I love sharing my experience behind the easel, so these are free. I write a new one every two or three weeks, so please feel free to share with artist friends.

​These lessons are mostly written text with graphics…short but useful tidbits from the foundations of painting that touch on subjects such as aerial perspective, simultaneous contrast or using negative spaces. I guide you through different aspects of painting and art that will get you comfortable with using pastels. You’ll gain confidence to attempt work that you might have otherwise been timid about.

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