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Richard Houston’s Practical Color & Light for Painters

This comprehensive course will address the fundamentals of working with color as an artist. In this course, we will focus on developing a skill set for seeing and mixing color and apply that skill set to understand how to think about and work with color. Although the exercises in this course were designed for the analog painter, digital artists will find these exercises equally useful.

APRIL 17th, 24th – MAY 1st, 8th, 15th & 22nd from 3:30 -5:30 est. Students may watch recordings of classes posted the evening of each class if they are not able to attend live on Zoom. HOMEWORK is due Thursday evenings by midnight PST. Zoom links are emailed the night before class.

Through a series of lectures, activities, and exercises students will learn how to:

  • understand and organize light and value
  • analyze color and quickly mix color through a conceptual, three-dimensional color space
  • understand the importance of color temperature and how light influences color perception
  • understand the value of working with different color palettes
  • apply color principles and “theory” for improving personal work and understanding the work of others

Richard Houston is a full-time professor at the famed art school, Art Center specializing in foundational education for Illustration, Fine Art, and Entertainment students. Mr. Houston is a regular lecturer and educator for both the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Norton Simon Museum. He has developed programs for major exhibitions addressing a variety of subjects including Rembrandt, Gustav Klimt, Gustave Courbet, Classicism, Italian Baroque Painting, British Watercolor, Andrea del Sarto, J. M. W. Turner, Jean -Honoré Fragonard Drawings, Picasso Lithographs, and Japanese Ukiyo-e. Richard Houston was the J. Paul Getty’s Artist in Residence for 2012 and has been teaching at ArtCenter since 2001. 

Students may participate in this course in any ONE of the following mediums: oil, acrylic, gouache, watercolor, tempera, etc. There may be some advantages for students studying color in oil, due to the deliberate nature of mixing color in oils, however, there are reasons that one may find other media preferable to oils. Again, students will derive benefits from these exercises working in any media. 

Oils and Acrylic

The following paints are the recommended colors needed for the exercises when working in oil or acrylic. Most of the colors listed below will be found in a traditional palette. Please note, there may be some newer, organic colors that are similar in appearance to the paints specified below and may be used if they are of high quality.

  1. Cadmium Yellow Lemon or primrose; this should be a very light yellow, slightly on the greenish side (PY 35 or 37)
  2. Cadmium Yellow Medium or dark (this should be on the orange side of yellow) (PY35 or 37)
  3. Cadmium Red Scarlet (or light) (PR108)
  4. Quinacridone Magenta (PR 122); not all manufacturers make paint with this pigment; however, Windsor Newton does
  5. Alizarin Crimson (PR 83)
  6. Ultramarine Blue (PB 29)
  7. Phthalo Turquoise (PB 16); a green shade of Phthalo Blue
  8. Yellow Orchre (PY 43) (please note; I do not recommend Windsor Newton Yellow Ochre)
  9. Raw Sienna (PBr 7)
  10. Transparent Red Oxide (this should be a transparent dark warm red/brown) (PR 101); it may also be listed as Burnt Sienna (if so the pigment number should be PR101 and not PB7), Transparent Maroon or Transparent Red Earth (Gamblin). If the paint is listed as PBr 7 it is incorrect. 
  11. Raw Umber (PBr 7)
  12. Titanium White (PW 6)
  13. Ivory Black (PBk 9)

Optional colors

  1. Dioxazine Purple (PV 23) or Ultramarine Violet (PV 15) 
  2. Phthalo Blue (PB 15) and Phthalo Green (PG 7) substituting for Phthalo Turquoise

Gouache and Watercolor

Gouache is simply opaque watercolor. Some pigments, such as yellow ochre, are naturally opaque while other pigments, such as Ultramarine Blue, are naturally transparent. White gouache can be added to transparent watercolors to make them opaque. Theoretically, one may work in watercolor for all exercises, with the addition of white gouache (either titanium or zinc white) to make them opaque, or one may work primarily in gouache. 

Unfortunately, because gouache is opaque, manufactures tend to utilize lesser quality pigment in addition to adding fillers, making for poor-quality paint. My recommendation is to buy gouache for some pigments and for the darker, transparent pigments, purchase tubes of watercolor (I have noted below which pigments are recommended as watercolor).

Watercolor comes in either tubes or dry pans and either of these will work well as watercolor. On the other hand, when working with gouache, and for the exercises in this course, the paint should be wet. I recommend all paints you purchase for this class come in the form of tubes. 

    1. White Gouache: Titanium White (PW 6) or Zinc White (PW 5) I would recommend a large tube of white.
    2. Black Gouache: Carbon Black (PBk 6) or Lamp Black (PBk 7)
    3. Cadmium Yellow Lemon (PY 35 or 37) or an organic equivalent (this color should be a very light yellow on the greenish side). 
    4. Cadmium Yellow Medium or Deep (PY 35 or 37) or an organic equivalent (this should be a yellow on the orange side). This can and probably should be watercolor as it is naturally opaque
    5. Cadmium Red Scarlet (or light) (PR108). This can and probably should be watercolor as it is naturally opaque
    6. A cool dark red such as Alizarin Crimson (PR 83), Permanent Rose (PV 19), or Perylene Maroon (PR 179). I recommend the Alizarin above the others. This should be watercolor.
  • Quinacridone Magenta (PR 122) or a very saturated red-violet. This probably should be watercolor.
  1. Ultramarine Blue (PB 29). This should be watercolor.
  2. Phthalo Blue (PB 15). This should be watercolor.
  3. Phthalo Green (PG 7). This should be watercolor.
  4. Raw Umber (PBr 7) (this should be a very dark brown, close in value to black. Some manufacturers are using lighter PBr 7 that are closer to a raw sienna and not suitable for our purposes)
  5. Transparent Red Oxide (PR 101) may also be titled Burnt Sienna Deep (Da Vinci) as well. This should be watercolor.
  6. Yellow Ochre (PY 43)

Optional Colors:

  1. Raw Sienna (PBr 7)
  2. Dioxazine Purple (PV 23) or Ultramarine Violet (PV 15) (watercolor)

Oils and Acrylic

I find that brushes are frequently a personal choice and if a student has some experience painting, they probably own a variety of brushes. 

For most of the color exercises, it will be easiest to practice these with palette knives (which may have a short learning curve). I would recommend one larger palette knife for mixing and a small, spade-style knife for applying color. 

Gouache and Watercolor

For working in gouache/watercolor please have a 1” (or ¾”) and a ½” flat sable (natural or synthetic) brush. 

Oils and Acrylic

For oils, sheets of canvas (as found on a canvas pad), canvas boards, or panels. These do not need to be of the highest quality. For acrylic paint one may use the same surfaces as oil or you may consider using matt board as well.

Gouache and Watercolor

I prefer watercolor paper for the exercises in this class, however, watercolor matt board or Bristol board will also work. For most exercises, the inexpensive watercolor paper will suffice. I would also recommend that you have available a sheet of high-quality watercolor paper, such as Arches cold-pressed 140# (it will spoil you) for the chart.


Oils and Acrylic

I personally prefer to work on a glass palette for these exercises because it is cleaned easily. A wooden palette or even palette paper will be satisfactory with proper palette management. If you are painting with acrylic paints you will need to have a means (such as a damp paper towel folded under the paint) to keep the paint wet.

Gouache and Watercolor

For gouache/watercolor one may use a variety of materials for a palette. I like the Mastersons Sta-Wet palette as it will save paint for days and even weeks In all honesty, one may use almost any waterproof surface (a plate, piece of plastic, a butcher’s tray). For these paints, one will also need to have a means (such as a damp paper towel folded under the paint) to keep the paint wet. 

I recommend high-value, professional-grade artist paints. Student grade paints are less expensive and do have their place, however, since this course stresses learning to see and work with color, it is unproductive to work with substandard pigments

Please note the number after the color is not always sufficient for identifying the correct color or paint (for example, Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, and Burnt Umber all have the same pigment designation PBr 7) and the name of the pigment alone is not sufficient.  Hence, the lists below contain both the common name and the pigment number designation

If a tube of paint specifies a color (for example, cadmium yellow medium) followed by the term ‘hue’ that means the oil paint inside that tube is made from less expensive pigments in an effort to imitate the specified color. Unfortunately, these ‘hue’ colors are student grades and unsatisfactory for our exercises.

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Course Includes

  • 7 Lessons