10 Things You Should Know About Color

Zagotta Moving On

“To control color is to understand it. An enriching, creative experience in which the intellect merges with the intuition can only happen when a solid base of knowledge already exists.”  Patricia Lambert

Over the last five or so years, I’ve focused more and more on color in my work. I’ve done a lot of research and scholarship on color, but when all is said and done, putting together colors in a painting is an extremely complex activity that can’t be boiled down to systems, recipes, formulas, or rules. As David Friend points out in his book, Composition, “Finding colors and color relationships is a challenging habit of search and joyous discovery, one of the deepest satisfactions in the life of an artist.”

However, I’ve come to realize that there are certain “facts of life” concerning color that artists must be aware of. Here are ten of those “facts”:

  1. Everyone perceives color differently.
  2. A color’s identity can only be determined by comparing it with another color.
  3. It’s easier to reduce a color’s intensity than it is to brighten up a dull color.
  4. Whenever we work with color we are also working with color’s four properties of hue, value, intensity, and temperature – whether we’re of it or not.
  5. The color wheel represents the sequence of spectrum colors that are found in the rainbow.
  6. The closer hues are to each other on the color wheel, the closer their relationship. The farther apart hues are to each other on the color wheel, the stronger they contrast with each other.
  7. Color wheels are important studio tools for artists because they organize information for how to mix colors, for understanding how colors relate to each other, and for creating color schemes.
  8. The Munsell color wheel is important to the artist because it contains true visual complements – complementary pairings that are based on actual afterimage effects. However, the Munsell color wheel is not meant to be use as a guide for mixing colors.
  9. To paint an accurate version of a color wheel’s spectral hues requires the artist to have the right colors on his palette.
  10. The less factual an image becomes, the more options increase for personalized and creative color.

Happy Painting!

The Color Project

Image (679)

I’m excited to announce that I have an article in the current (April) issue of Watercolor Artist Magazine! In the article, I documented my Color Project, the project I’ve been working on for a few years now. I created the project with the goal of taking my passion for color to the next level and working more effectively with color in my paintings. I started the project with three intentions: to enrich and enlarge my color vocabulary, to develop a deeper sensitivity to color, and to find fresh new color combinations and color palettes for my paintings.  I also talk about the research I did on various color wheel theories and systems, the four properties of color, and I painted one subject in six different color schemes. I hope you’ll pick up a copy – I think you’ll like it!   

Happy Painting!

5 Tips for Combining Realism and Abstraction

scan                                                                                       Donna Zagotta, Cruisin’

 ”Any painter with a good eye and a thoroughly disciplined training in representation can learn to paint highly detailed realism, and any painter with a good eye and a thoroughly disciplined training in design can learn to paint handsome nonobjective compositions. But to reconcile these opposites in a way that successfully blends them on a single surface seems to be possibly the greatest achievement of all.”      Ed Betts

Random House Dictionary describes semi-abstraction as “a style of painting in which the subject remains recognizable although the forms are highly stylized in a manner derived from abstract art.”  In the semi-abstract approach the subject and design are integrated and balanced. I don’t know how important it is to attach labels of any kind to one’s work. No one wants to feel trapped, and we all want to be free to explore our world and our art on our own terms. However, when I find myself stalled or unhappy with my work, I know it’s time to search for new and fresh ways to see my subjects. With that in mind, here are 5 tips for combining subject matter with abstract thinking:

  1. Search out the natural abstraction in the subject
  2. Disregard detail, perspective, and the rendering of three-dimensional form
  3. Stylize shapes
  4. Use color to express a mood rather than describe objects
  5. Paint relationships and rhythms of shapes, values, colors, lines, textures, and patterns rather than things


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       Happy Painting!

A Place Between Realism and Abstraction


Donna Zagotta, She Walks Alone 19.5×19.5

I think it’s a good idea to periodically define where you currently are in you art journey, where you want to go next, and what skills and/or ideas you’ll need to acquire to get there.

All artists, whether realistic and abstract, use the same visual language to put together their paintings. The difference is that the realistic artist uses that visual language to describe his subject, whereas the abstract artist uses that visual language in conjunction with subject matter to express his feelings or ideas. 

If we understand the “style” of Realism to be a process of emphasizing subject matter and its descriptive qualities, and the “style” of Abstraction to be a process of emphasizing the formal elements of picture making and personal expression over explaining subject matter, then the “style” of Semi-abstraction would sit in right in the center – a perfect blend of Realism and Abstraction.

Exploring the area that lies between Realism and Abstraction, and finding that “perfect” blend that feels right for me has captivated my interest for a number of years. It’s exciting to observe how my ideas, approaches, and paintings have changed and evolved along the way. At one point I moved from Realism to Impressionism, but still felt “obligated” to faithfully render my subject and its environment. Slowly I’ve been able to let go of some of the details and explanation of my subject and its environment and move closer to the semi-abstract end of the scale. At this point, I’m focusing on adding more abstraction and personal expression to my work, and my “to do” list for getting there includes experimenting more thoughtfully and imaginatively with shape, line, color, value, texture, pattern, space, repetition, and rhythm.

Here is a good way to organize your thinking, determine your current painting “style”, and generate new ideas for where to go next and what it will take to get there:

  • Imagine a “Scale of Styles”, with Realism at one end, Abstraction at the opposite end, and Semi-abstraction half-way between them. Next, place Impressionism on the scale half-way between Realism and Semi-abstraction, and Abstract Expressionism half-way between Semi-abstraction and Abstraction. You can continue this process and place art history “styles” that you’re familiar with or that you’d like to explore on the proper place on the scale (for example, I would place Fauvism close to Abstract Expressionism on the scale). Next, gather new ideas to add to your work by researching those historical art styles that appeal to you. BTW – I don’t place the non-objective style on my imaginary “Scale of Styles” because it goes beyond abstraction and doesn’t use a subject as a starting point.

I hope this has been helpful – I’d love to hear what you think!

Happy Painting!

Happy New Year

                                                                                                                                                                                        Image courtesy techblogstop.com


“Commit to a process and see where it leads.”    Chuck Close

I want to wish all of my readers a very happy and productive new year! I hope all your creative dreams will come true in 2014.

2013 was a fun, exciting, and very busy year for me. I traveled to Alaska, Canada, California’s wine country, and many other locales to teach my workshop, “Adding the You Factor to Paintings.”  A number of you have requested my 2014 workshop schedule. It is (finally!) posted on the right. I hope to meet you this year in one of my workshops! I’m also hoping that this year will be a bit calmer as I have cut down on the number of workshops I will be teaching. I’m definitely looking forward to less travel and more time in my studio in 2014!

At the beginning of each new year, I like to choose a one-word intention that will create an instant focus for the new year’s body of work. The word I picked this year is EXPAND. For starters, I’d like to expand my use of the three “C’s”: content, color, and composition. I’m passionate about all three of the “C’s”, and I’d like to really open up and take each of them to the next level.

Do you have a one-word intention for 2014? One word that concisely defines your goals for your body of work this year? If so, please share it in a response below!

Happy Painting!



I am a watermedia painter and I teach painting workshops all around the country. As anyone who knows me or has taken one of my workshops can attest to, I love talking about art, thinking about art, reading about art, writing about art, looking at art, and practicing art - so grab a cup of coffee, join me in the studio and let's talk art!

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