Experimental Drawing with Color: CMYK Palette

acrylic on paper, palette = cerulean, magenta, cadmium yellow, black

acrylic on paper, palette = cerulean, magenta, cadmium yellow, black

I like to experiment with limited color palettes, I think there is a lot to be learned about mixing that can be done with limited color sketches. It’s much more interesting than making up color charts, a practice I personally find tedious and don’t use in the classroom. Over the next few days I’ll post a few of these types of sketches. In addition to building color mixing skills, they help to build gestural drawing skills and confidence. I’m using acrylic paints on an inexepensive cold press paper designed for use with acrylic. Bristol board works nicely as well.

CMYK Palette

The sketch above uses what I refer to as the CMYK palette. Anyone who works in graphic design or printing knows that CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and black (the K is for black)–the colors used in 4-color process printing. Nearly all printed materials, brochures, magazines, etc. are printed using this method of offset printing. A series of dots printed in these 4 colors are overlaid on top of one another in varying densities to create the illusion of a full color photograph. You can think of it as industrialized pointilism. Instead of dots, I use washes of color in varying degrees of transparency, but it’s the same principle. The dot density is what dictates the value and color of the printed layers when they are combined. The washes I use serve the same purpose.

I began this sketch with a very light wash of cerulean (my substitute for cyan) to lay in the composition and blue areas of the painting. Next, I moved in to magenta to create some darks, followed by a bit of yellow to define buildings and the taxi and red truck. Using this method, you are actually working with magenta and yellow to create the reds in the painting, so it seems a bit backward to making a primary color! But it works in printing so in theory it has to work with paint as well.

Last of all, I add in the black to create depth and coolness in the shadows. This feels really odd to me because I don’t normally use black when I paint (just a matter of preference).

This was a very interesting exercise for me to paint. I will definitely give this palette a try in oils or possibly acrylic on canvas (though I am so curious to see what it would do in oil where the color mixing properties are so different). I also plan to try this again starting with black as my first color and treating this more as a linear drawing with spot color.

Tomorrow: drawing in 2 colors


One Response to Experimental Drawing with Color: CMYK Palette

  1. I have also experimented in cmyk painting using a number of media. See my page at http://www.westhorndonartgroup.org.uk.
    Stephen Hillier

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