Color: #8 Simple Harmony

Today we work with a simple harmony. We use the cast  shadow color as a guide to determine the harmony. The shadow appears cool compared to the orangey gourds.  After some deliberation we choose blue for shadow because the harmony attached to this choice yields most versatility especially in mixing greens.

First build a grid to show color mixing potential: A simple  harmony is a complementary combo with 2 analogous attached to one of the comps. In this case blue is complementary to orange. The two analogous attached to orange are yellow-orange and yellow.  The grid follows the same orientation as the color wheel.

Grid developed vertically and diagonally.


Grid developed horizontally with each color clockwise-it’s subtle but changes slightly.



Once the grid is developed, make a measured line drawing of the still life subject showing the boundaries of shapes, light/value, and color changes.  Block in large areas of color first. Use a very light touch. Incorporate tints and shades of the 4 hues as well as warm and cool grays.

and finally.

Give yourself as much time as you need. We worked for 1 1/2 hours on just the drawing and felt we could’ve used more time.

Driving home I see this simple harmony in the sunset…pretty cool.

Thanks everyone for a great class!

In the meantime repeat our lessons again.

Plan on taking Color: Part II in January. We’ll continue to explore the effects of colored light on material color, reflective properties ,colors’ relationship to mood, earth tones and luminosity. We’ll be using pastel in addition to colored pencil. Pastel better prepares you for the loose gestural techniques used in painting.

Supply list for Color: Part II includes a set of 30 Rembrandt (or equivalent) soft half sticks, a box of 12 hard nu-pastels, a large sheet of 1-ply Strathmore acid free rag museum board to cut into different sizes, and at least two pastel pencils: yellow ochre and gray.

Excursions: Gates Pass and Tucson Mountain Park

Despite quirky cloud cover, threatening wind and even rain, today’s Excursion turns out to be an excellent plein air experience.

We begin at Gates Pass, with its ample parking area and many plein air opps. Today we focus on simplifying content to three divergent shapes, three values, three colors, three major differences in scale. This helps in terms of composition, limited time, and identifying a theme or area of focus.

The demo turns out to be mostly about measuring; using one unit of measure to determine proportional relationships and placement of most important /dominant features in relation to everything else.

My three things/shapes: Mountain, building, sky.

Siting proportions, finding angles, placing values, color palette :


Thumbnail produced with scale and color palette considerations:

Working on the Pass in a variety of media:

Peggy-pencil, Margaret-ink wash, Cora-watercolor, Sara-graphite and Genevieve-chalk pastel.

Gates Pass has something for everyone; tourist, painter and hiker alike. Trails lead to scenic views, vertical outcroppings and rock shelters. The sites’ steady activity and great setting bring networking, friendship and business opportunity to the plein airist.

The second part of the  morning takes us down to the west base of the Pass, otherwise known as “scenic view ” pullout.

Here is a thumbnail view east. Value is built up with three different mark-making techniques and a colored pencil “glaze” over top.

Margaret works with water soluble graphite, an excellent sketching medium.

It is overcast, but the “teddy bear” Cholla still glow. Cora aims to catch this in watercolor.

Karen’s view to the west with measured study in line. Nice portable sketchbook-perfect for on-the-go.

Natural World meets Civilization…yee-haw.

Our lunch at Ironwood Picnic Area under the old Ironwood tree.

Thanks to Karen for the choco-hazelnut dessert, Margaret for Clementines and Peggy for grapes. Lunch is always a good time-best part…almost.

Afternoon location is close by. Our focus is space.


These shots show strong scale differences. Changes in scale are visually interesting and give the  illusion of depth. (click on any image to enlarge)

Peggy in the field. Her composition is more about deep space than plant diversity so we crop it to accentuate the depth. Cropping can help to simplify.


Genevieve works on two compositions. She solves the problems of the first one in the second. A warm-up is necessary at times.

Sara captures the changing light in pastel.

Nancy’s drawing is visually interesting with a variety of shapes, marks and scale differences.

Karen makes two afternoon sketches in different media. Careful measuring and tracking pays off.

Cora’s watercolor shows attention to scale, value and gesture.

Margaret’s small but grand mountain with Cholla. A parking lot is the classroom where our final feedback session takes place.

I’m working with colored pencil using a secondary triad.

We made it and came out on top during this boot-campy Excursion. Keep up the practice. New Excursion sites and dates coming this Spring are:

Plein Air Excursions: Time, Space & Light
Four Fridays 8 AM-5 PM
Section C: March 29, Happy Valley, Rincon Mountain Wilderness
Section D:  April 19, Brown Canyon, Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge
Section E:  May 3, Ruby, Ghost Town
Section F: May 17, Top of Mt. Lemmon, Coronado National Forest

Each Excursion is slightly different and comes with as much individual attention as possible. Any media and skill level  welcome. Sign up for each one separately or all together. Follow us for a Pre-Excursion survey of each site.

Happy Trails!

General Relativity: Opening Night

It was a great opening with excellent (and abundant) Thanksgiving themed tasty treats provided by the School of Culinary Arts.  The work looks better than ever with gallery lighting. If you didn’t get a chance to come last night make it a side-stop on your way to the great Phoenix. The gallery is just 4 miles off of 1-10 at exit 190, follow the signs to Central Arizona College (Signal Peak Campus), see the clock tower and…you’re there. For information, call 520-560-2452.

Many Thanks to Tom Belden, Gallery Director, for…everything, Ka Fisher for making the connection, and Jim K. (general relativity title concept instigator) and Nancy Stevens for their support.


…appologies for camera-phone quality.

Thanks to Amy Maddock for choosing our Postcard/Mailer image, “Gardens of Europa”.


Thanks to all the students who showed up with their curiosity and questions.

Can’t forget the beloved little scamp-avatar, el Jefe, who is witness to all.

Happy Holidays and Bon Voyages. MM

Excursion Reconnaissance: Gates Pass and Saguaro West

Gates Pass is a straight shot west on Speedway into Tucson Mountain Park. Pull out just before topping the pass.

View East to Tucson.

Interesting rock formations. The Tucson Mountains have volcanic origins. Gravel is slippery but climbing-boulders have so much texture the grip is good…don’t forget shoes with good traction, a hat, and maybe a walking stick.

Top of the parking lot shade cover resembles a….ruffles potato chip and would make an excellent perspective practice opportunity, anyone?


Cruising just a little way down the west side of the pass to our second vista spot.

This scenic view pullout has a wonderful crop of the infamous teddybear cholla cactus and other dramatic features.

And now,  a short haul to Brown Mountian picnic area where we’ll lunch. Turn right.

After lunch we’ll head over to Saguaro West Visitors center where we can spread out in a shaded comfortable spot, observe a major wash bed surrounded by a very dense saguaro forest, migratory birds and entertain tourists and park personnel with our magical plein airing.  Yes, we may see people. Take this opportunity to insert them into your landscape-this may make them go away quicker, which may be okay…too

Turn right onto Kinney road at Saguaro West.

View west from visitors center. Lets hope our day is not so overcast so we can catch a fab. sunset.

See you there!

Color: #7 Equidistant Triad

The equidistant triad is represented as a equilateral triangle on the color wheel. This means there  will be 3 colors in between each of your triad. Most notorious is the primary triad: Red,  Yellow, and Blue, then the Secondary triad: Orange, Green, Violet. Tertiary triads: Blue-Green, Yellow-Orange, Red-Violet and Blue-Violet, Yellow-Green, and Red-Orange.

In the following demo we utilize a primary triad. It has a broad value range and is dynamic.  Make a 6 pointed star to use as a diagram for harmonies. Shade the points with a black to white value scale , then glaze the corresponding color over. This demonstrates the power and potential of black (and its tendency to “flatten” space).

Blue is dominant in this still-life so blue determines the triadic combo: Blue, yellow and red.

I match a blue to the blue glass. I make a color star first, then map the still-life, then begin lightly layering in shades and highlights. Look closely to notice how the blue changes in intensity throughout the glass. Mix in gray or black for duller areas according to value.  Gray will dull the intensity/saturation but will not effect value like black.

Adding some black to the base of the glass and background.

I choose 4 gray pencils to try; a light and dark “warm” gray and a light and dark “cool” gray. ( there are many shades of gray).

Try this exercise with other triads. Use transparent, reflective objects for greatest intensity variation.

General Relativity: Meredith Milstead, Opens this Tuesday, November 13, 6-8 PM.

Come to my show at the Visual Arts Gallery, Central Arizona College, Coolidge, AZ (near Casa Grande just south of Phoenix).  See twenty totally new, large scale abstract paintings.

Opening night is November 13, from 6-8 pm. Catered by the School of Culinary Arts. Yum!

Directions: 1-10 to Exit 190, East to Overfield Rd., North to Campus to the clock tower. Drive from Tucson takes approx. 1  hour.

Address: Visual Arts Gallery, 8470 N. Overfield Road, Coolidge, AZ 85128

Show Duration/Times: November 14-December 21, 2012. 8 am-8pm, Monday-Thursday, 8 am-4:30 pm Friday.

Color: #6 Equidistant Tetrad

We are taking our color direction directly from our subject. Here we see red violet and blue . We decide blue will be dominant. We choose a tetrad containing these two colors and let the harmony dictate the other two colors. Colors equidistant apart on the color wheel are, clockwise: Blue, red-violet, orange and yellow-green; two complementary combinations.

Make a light line drawing mapping the dimensions of the silhouette and value changes.

In addition to the four pure hues, choose their tints and shades.  Use black sparingly. Look closely at the grid to see notations of all the pencils I’ve used next to each pure and  mixed square.