Art Journeys: Tetrads, Trees, and Really Basic Color Theory

Dear Artists, This series will be the ramblings of an incredibly amateur artist, fair warning. If my fumblings offend or bore you, please consider them but the ramblings of a mad-women and sidle off accordingly. If, however, you wish to come along on my journey, please read on.

I am not a landscape painter. I am not really a paint painter. But I would like to be. I’m taking a color theory class, in which the teacher’s pet painting scheme is to make an entire painting by blending together only the colors of a tetrad, which is a color scheme that you drag out of a color wheel while it lectures you on color harmony.

This is a color wheel. It is full of schemes. Color schemes. They are scheming.

It’s a (really horrible) color wheel. I mean, really, what’s up with you blue violet and yellow? Slackers.

The most basic color scheme is a color complement, which are just any two colors that are opposites on the color wheel. It’s like when you’re a kid on a field trip and they pair you up into safety buddies. Color complements are the safety buddies of the color world. You’re safe with them. They go great together but they resent each other for it.

Years later, they meet in a pub in Sussex, although neither of them is British. Even though she’s now a blonde with a nose job and a tedious but well-paying job with great insurance and he’s an astoundingly good-looking carpenter with two adorable kids, they both instantly remember the days when they were safety buddies in kindergarten. They fall hopelessly in love. They have an incredibly romantic week together. But then there’s a stupid misunderstanding. They part in a huff. They lose track of each other for two years, until they coincidentally meet again in that pub in Sussex and live happily ever after. Safety Buddies for Life.

A tetrad is two pairs of complements. For this teacher’s purpose, it’s two pairs that are at least a color or two away from each other.

Double the resentment. Double the fun.

You choose your tetrad. You then mix all your colors from this tetrad. To mix a color you don’t have, you take the colors closest to it in the tetrad. For instance, you’re painting something with yellow in it. In the case of the tetrad above, you don’t start with any yellow, so you’d have to mix your orange and your green together until you get the best yellow you can get from those colors.

Hey. It’s not it’s best and brightest self. But don’t kick it when it’s down.

In real life, you’ll blend the wet stuff with whatever you blend your wet stuff with. I’m using photoshop, so I put down my two colors and then used the mixer tool until I got something resembling yellow. I then sampled that to get the pure goopy goodness of baby food rot.

But yellow baby food rot.

Basically, what this method does is give you almost a fool-proof way to keep your color harmonious and happy, like quartet of bright little gospel singers, crooning away on your painting.

I’ve been using this method with real life watercolors in my class, but I really want to get better at digital painting, so I decided to do a quick practice paint.

I used this photo:

This was a mistake. I took this photo, btw. I didn’t steal it. You can steal it though, if you want some practice. It will be a bad idea. Just warning you.

The tetrad I chose was this:

I thought maybe the tiny colors needed some love. They’re probably always picked on at school. Always chosen last for color ball.

I actually didn’t blend using the mixer tool. Since I wasn’t really looking for a particular color to start with, I set my brush to multiply to see what I would get.

And here’s my horrible, awful BUT HARMONIOUS trees:

I was really just going for the feel of trees. Like, the essence of tree, right? Like what do you feel in your soul when you look at trees?

But really, they’re like stick figure trees.

Notice, though, that my blue isn’t the same blue as in the picture. And the trunks are that middle dark blue-violet I blended instead of the dark-dark-grey of the photo. Together they look niiiice. Color harmony is pretty.

What I’ll Do Differently Next Time

  • Less complicated photo — Them bare-naked trees are hard, man. Not beginner stuff. I am a beginner. I must remember this.
  • More colorful picture — This would have been a much better demonstration with more colors to mix.

What I Like

  • The colors.
  • The idea of trees

Paint on peeps,