Creative exercises for every month

Exploring Colour

Experiment with colour, and new ideas. On our Facebook group in February we will play with colour in short exercises. The aim is to build on your knowledge of how colour works through experience. These will be for all skill levels you do not need any experience at all. We will look to master paintings for inspiration.


  • Upgrade your sensitivity to what colour can do
  • Understand how master painters used colour
  • Experiment with a limited palette


  • Canvas paper or scrap canvas, watercolour paper.
  • Oil paints, watercolours, pastels (you can make do with what you have)

Join our Facebook group to take part and receive feedback. Don't worry if you're late starting we welcome all new members who want to take part.

Exercise 1

Objective: Upgrade your sensitivity to what colour can do

This first exercise is fundamental and very important. When we are representing the world around us in some form we need to understand the way that we see the world. When we begin a painting or drawing we are often tempted to believe that the clearer we see the better we will represent an object.

However in reality much of our seeing is creative and intuitive, so that with very little visual information we generate figures and animals in trees in our minds.

Learning to use these kinds of hint and clues to make a gesture in paint forms a strong and lively foundation for your work.


  • On a small piece of canvas paper, card (whatever you have to hand). Half a piece of standard paper, reproduce the image below.
  • It’s important to do this exercise quickly as you do not want to get distracted by adding detail.
  • Painting people in the distance allows you to summarise the colour and get it generally right. You are less likely to get confused by the colour if it is done on a small scale.
  • Your work needs to be vertical or propped up, you need to see it standing away from it.
  • Every brush stroke you make, walk away from it 3 or 4 steps, this will give you a better idea on how you’re going with it.
  • Do not use a fine brush, you do not want to get trapped with detail. It’s really important to spend very little time on this exercise. 

**Work from a very small image, do not zoom in, do not look at it closely.**

Below is the image and an example:


Exercise 2

Objective: Upgrade your sensitivity to what colour can do

This exercise will help you see that the reflection of colours happens frequently when observing the world around us. The grass isn’t just green, it can have blue reflected from the sky, or red from a parked car in it. Adding these colours to your painting will give it life.

Create a still life. Place a light coloured or white non-glossy object on top of a very bright coloured cloth or paper. Choose an object that is simple in shape as you do not want to get distracted by the detail. Make sure you are set up in a well lit area so you can see the bright cloth reflected on the pale object. Use an artificial light if necessary. Paint the still life quickly, focusing on the colour created in the reflection, it should be a mixture of the colours of the white object and the cloth or card it is sitting on. Don’t worry about accuracy of the drawing, you’re focusing on the colour.

The size of the painting should be fairly small as with the last exercise. You may want to attempt this more than once.

Exercise 3

Objective: Upgrade your sensitivity to what colour can do, Understand how master painters used colour.

The painting below, Reflection of his Glory by Bob Booth, is a good example of how to see the principle behind exercise 2. The strong orange glow on the left side of the painting is reflected not only in the arm closest to the strong colour but also in the clothing. It’s important to note that the orange glow is subtle, it is mixed with the colour of the clothing. See if you can find other artists work that show this principle, a good place to start is, which shows art from galleries all over the world, post to the group.

Exercise 4

Objective: Upgrade your sensitivity to what colour can do, experiment with a limited palette.

This exercise is a bit of a brain teaser but can have a really big impact on your work. The idea is to mix gradients of four colours to highlight the variety of shades in a limited palette. Draw a 5 x 5 grid of 1cm (half an inch) squares, bigger is also fine. Choose two colours, as well as black and white. Paint the black in a corner square and the white in the corner square opposite. Put the two colours in the other corners. Mix equal amounts of white and black and paint them into the middle square between them. Repeat this on all sides, see the example below. The blank squares on each line will be a mixture of colours surrounding it. This mean the centre square will be an even mix of all the colours.

Exercise 5

Objectives: Upgrade your sensitivity to what colour can do, understand how master painters used colour, experiment with a limited palette

  • Look at this painting by Velazquez, King Philip IV. Look at the face, look at the form of the face. We have selected four different colours from the brow and highlighted them in the boxes below. These are the colours that create the shadows and the highlights of the face.
  • What is your reaction to the distinction between these colours and the way it works on the painting? Post your comments on our Facebook group.


We will use this same tonal range to paint the image of the bowl below. Choose a colour you’d like to use, but you must stay within this tonal range, you cannot go darker or lighter. Keep your painting small, you may need to paint a few.

Exercise 6

Objectives: Upgrade your sensitivity to what colour can do, understand how master painters used colour

You are going to learn to read colour by small hints. This painting seems full of colour however when you look closely you will notice that the artist's palette is mostly neutral. 

  • Look at this pastel Portrait of Matilde Bonaparte by Paul-Albert Besnard (1883/1883). If you visit the link you will be able to zoom in and look in detail.
  • Answer the following question: How has the artist used blue in the painting?


Exercise 7


Upgrade your sensitivity to what colour can do

The colour of the line matters, not just that it is a line. If you’ve got a red form and you’ve got a red line it has a different result to if you use a blue or green line. One becomes part of the form and one doesn’t. It’s easy to dismiss the significance of the colour of the line.

  • Choose a colourful still-life as your subject
  • You are using a line to define the edges, what will it need to be?
  • During the work use some line to define some part of the still life.
  • Consider if some line will help the composition.
  • Draw lines with a colour that you feel helps the painting. On the bananas Bob used a green line where the part of the banana was green. And a burnt umber to go around the darker areas of the banana.

pastel of bananas

Exercise 8

Objectives: Upgrade your sensitivity to what colour can do, understand how master painters used colour, experiment with a limited palette

    This exercise will use all the skills learnt from the previous exercises. You will focus on:

    *Summarising colour by looking at your subject from far away.

    *Looking for the reflection of colour in objects

    *Little changes in tone

    *The importance of the colour of line.

    For this exercise choose a still life that excites you and you want to paint. Choose objects that are colourful and will create reflections. Stand at a good distance away from your still life so you don’t get distracted by details. It’s important to have your work upright as you’re working and to keep stepping back from it. This helps you to see your work more objectively and fix elements that are not working. Keep your painting small, this is an exercise not a finished piece. Pastels or oil paints will be easier to create subtle changes in tone.

    Artist Bob Booth's notes on this painting:
    I tried to summarise the colours from a distance. I blocked them in so that I could see the relationship between them and get that balance right. The reflection of one colour into another is seen where the blue of the pot meets the brown of the surface on which it standing. The blue and the brown make a neutral: almost Black. A subtle change in colour and tone is seen on the lid of the little pot indicating it's domed shaped. Minimum lines have been used and those that I used are a dark version of the surface on which the pot is standing.