Southampton Art School Workshop — September 2019

The September sun sets in violet and orange brilliance over Lake Huron in Southampton.

My next two-day workshop at Southampton Art School & Gallery on September 21 & 22 teaches the fundamentals of colour theory and how students can appy the principles of this theory to art and design.


The town of Southampton is located at the mouth of the Saugeen River on the shores of Lake Huron, in Bruce County (Ontario), and is one of my favourite places to visit during the summer months. It is a popular tourist and retirement destination and known for its magnificent sunsets.

Above: Striking orange with a subtle hint of blue, blue grey: Altered complimentary colour scheme.

Above: Southampton Art School

Southampton Art School & Gallery

Southampton Art School and Gallery can be found in the heart of downtown Southampton and a short walk to pristine, sandy beaches. The facility provides a wonderful teaching environment and also a gallery showcasing regional and local talent. The building has been around since 1957 and is an integral part of the art community of Bruce County. The original community was known as Saugeen by the early settlers but was later named Southampton after the English seaport, when the town was incorporated as a village in 1858. It was later incorporated as a town in 1904. Southampton was also  one of the last communities in Ontario to use the Gaelic language in everyday speech; the language could still be heard by local fishermen as late as the 1930s. Just off the Southampton shore, the Chantry Island Lighthouse is a popular visiting spot for tourists. Boat tours to the island run throughout the summer months. As well as Chantry island, the town is close to Sauble Beach, Port Elgin and Saugeen First Nation.

Below: Southampton Art School back entrance.

The Workshop

The Basics of Colour Theory

I designed the workshop to help students understand the basics of colour theory. Through a series of exercises and written notes, students develop a study book to serve as a future reference source for use in colour mixing, colour application and painting. Topics covered in the workshop included the following: wavelengths and the illusion of colour, tints, tones and shades, hue and value, colour schemes and how colour can often represent emotion or have symbolic meaning.


Colour theory as a subject can be very complex, but there are some basics that with a little bit of study and understanding will greatly benefit the artist. Firstly, colour is a property of light wavelengths; white light passed through a prism splits into the colours of the rainbow. As light changes, so does colour. Painting is the science of “seeing.” To think in terms of colour – for example, Impressionism – you have to learn to see the world as a mosaic of colour changes.

This property of light was illustrated by Sir Isaac Newton in the seventeenth century when he put white light through a prism. The prism broke up white light into the familiar colours of the rainbow.

Objects have no colour of their own but merely the ability to reflect certain rays of white light, which contain all the colours.

Above: An abstract painting by Wassily Kandinsky in black and white.
The exercise involved using the above design to translate the values from light to dark into colour. Black can be added to the darkest value or white to the lightest value to increase contrast in the design.

The colour scheme is based on the colour wheel:
Primary colours first, then secondary colours, then tertiary colours.

Translating values into colour.

Lightness or darkness of the colour or hue.
It is important to know how to translate colour into value, and value into colour. Learn to see and analyze colour in terms of value, whether what is seen is lighter or darker in terms of what colours are next to it, not just a different colour.
Although individual perception varies, most people can distinguish at least forty tints and shades of any colour. Value can be altered by adding white or black paint to the colour.

Hue refers to the colour name e.g. red, blue etc. Spectrum intensity refers to the hue on the colour wheel in its purest, brightest form. Even though there are relatively few hues, there can be an almost unlimited number of colours.
Ex: The hue can be red – pink, rose, scarlet, crimson etc are all colours.
The same hue or colour can have many different commercial names.
The most common arrangement of basic colours is called a Colour Wheel. The wheel system dates back to the early 18th century and uses 12 hues, which are divided into three categories.

Two other colour systems are: the Munsell Colour Organization & Ostwald Colour Wheel System

Exercise completed: Colour scheme based on the colour wheel:
Primary, secondary and tertiary colours.

Kandinsky painting translated to colour.

Below: Exercises to create value scales: Tint / Shade

Value can be altered by adding white or black paint to the colour.
Adding white lightens the colour and produces a tint, or high-value colour.
Adding black darkens the colour and produces a shade, or low-value colour.

Intensity / Complimentary Colours: Red /green; blue/orange.

Below: Exercise to explore and understand pure & altered complimentary colours systems.


1) Image transferred onto watercolour paper.

2) Paint one version in pure hue complimentary colours – yellow/violet.

Or: use two sets of complimentary colours Ex: yellow/violet

3) Paint another version in dulled, altered complimentary colours – yellow/violet – mixed.

Or: use two sets of dulled, altered complimentary colours.

Ex: yellow/violet; blue/orange.

Complimentary colour schemes

Below: Colour temperature and emphasis

Areas of emphasis in a drawing or painting create visual interest. Colour is very often the means chosen to provide this emphasis.

Colour is so strong a visual element that it will dominate other devices to establish emphasis (such as larger sizes, changing a shape or isolating one element).

Cool colours recede; warm colours advance.
A sense of depth can be created by a progression of warm to cool colours.

Below: Colour Schemes:

Triadic (3)
Split Complimentary
Tetradic (4)

Above: Analogous colour scheme
An analogous colour scheme combines several hues that are next to each other on the colour wheel. Again, the hues may vary in value.
3-hue analogous scheme e.g. orange, yellow/orange and red/orange.
The range can be extended from 2 to 6 colours.
The visual effect is peacful and harmonious.

Above: Complimentary and monochromatic (one) colour schemes.

Complimentary: As the term implies, this colour scheme joins colours opposite each other on the colour wheel. This combination will produce a lively, exciting colour scheme, especially with the colours at full intensity.

Below: Four colour schemes perfectly understood and painted in gouache.

In painting colour is often used intuitively, and not so much by formula. But knowing these colour schemes and harmonies can help artists/designers to consciously plan the visual effects they want a finished painting to have. Also, colour can easily provide a visual unity that might not be obvious in the initial pattern of shapes or composition.

Abstraction in Design

Based on Georges Seurat’s painting – A Sunday Afternoon
on the Grande Fatte – 1884-1886.

Symbolic meaning: Cooler blues and greens are associated with less outgoing feelings and can express melancholy or depression. These are generalities, of course, and reactions can be influenced in many ways, including colour combinations, systems and value changes.

Below: Frantisek Kupka – Planes by Colour
Large Nude 1909 –1910. Oil on canvas
The colours in Kupka’s painting were chosen for their spatial and decorative qualities, not for any objective reference to the natural colours of a nude woman (Arbitrary Colour).

Below: Colours widely separated on the colour wheel (but not compliments) are generally seen as discordant combinations. For example: Red and blue-purple; orange and yellow-green; blue green and blue-purple; pink and orange.

With all the exercises completed, students gained a deep understanding on colour theory, colour systems and how to apply this knowledge to their painting.

My next workshop, titled Abstracting Fall Leaves in Watercolour will be on October 26 & 27, at the Toronto Botanical Garden

(777 Lawrence Ave. E. North York, Toronto).

To register contact Michael Spillane at 905-891-8422


Or: contact the Toronto Botanical Garden at 416-397-1340

Hope to see you all soon!

Michael Spillane




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