Friday, August 27, 2010

Urban Color Games

I was assigned to lead two sessions of "Urban Color" for the Symposium. No problem, I love color! But I was keen to come up with something more challenging and enriching than "let's all go out and sketch with some colors." Luckily, the folks in my sessions were up for playing along with my games.

The first exercise we did was to draw with a non-black line. When you use a colored line, a few magical things happen, including: the line is no longer necessarily the darkest part of the sketch; objects that are the same color as the line take on a special power (as in the blue streetcar below); the mood and light of the scene shifts to be warmer or cooler, etc. Here's two views looking in opposite directions on 11th Avenue, one with a sanguine line, one with a blue line:
View in each direction, different colored lines

And here's a pink line. (I borrowed what I thought was a colored pencil for this one. Turned out to be a watercolor pencil, so my line dissolved as I colored. I did my best to work with it.):
Pink dissolving line

Next, we tried drawing the same scene twice, but coloring the two sketches differently. The first sketch was colored in a literal or realistic fashion, really trying to match the existing colors as seen. The second one was colored with an impressionistic or fantasy scheme. It was great to see people having fun with this exercise. In many cases, the sketch with the "wrong" colors was more successful. I suspect this is because you can convey more of the light and feel of a scene when you are not tied into trying to communicate color information.

Two sketches, different colors

Two sketches, different colors

The final exercise was the really awesome one. Find a friend and try this yourself! We each did a line drawing, then handed it off to another sketcher, who did the colors. It was wonderful to see how someone else would color your drawing, and also wonderful to color a drawing you didn't have to do yourself. I was lucky enough to get paired with Kumi Matsukawa. Coloring in her sketch, I forgot it wasn't my own (except for a scary moment when I realized I'd painted a sculpture as if it was a tree--saved by some panicked blotting and scrubbing). And looking at Kumi's colors on my sketch, I find it hard to believe it's really my drawing.

Here we are, hard at work (Photo by Don McNulty:
Kumi and Me

Here's Kumi's sketch, as colored by me:
collaboration (Jason's coloring on my line work)

And here's my sketch as colored by Kumi (and so much better than if I'd colored it myself!):
Kumi's colors, my lines

Cool stuff, right?

These exercises are all worth repeating and also work outside of the Urban Sketching context. I encourage you to try them out. Whether or not you love all the results as stand-alone pieces, it'll be fun and provide some new perspectives and insights.

Kumi and Pete Scully both did posts about their experiences in my color workshop--go check those out. (I suspect some other folks also blogged about this; drop a link in the comments and I'll add you!)


  1. These series of exercises helped broaden my horizon and fun and love to do some more with my sketch friends in Japan. Plus forcing yourself to draw in thirty minutes each was also a good training.

  2. Thanks for this post! I didn't get to attend your Urban Colour session but had heard a little bit about the assignments and I thought they sounded like fun. Now I can try them out!

  3. I was at that session and it was great, thanks again, glad you like my photo.

  4. great post Jason I had heard about your color sessions but its great you posted all the exercises and photos

  5. Thanks, everyone. Glad I was able to document these, however briefly. I really hope to do them again with more groups.

  6. Thanks for posting this Jason - it's fun to see what good things went on in the other sessions!

  7. Interesting exercises. I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to join each of the instructors during the Symposium. I'll try some of these on our next sketchcrawl. Thanks for sharing.

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