Color in Contemporary Painting: Why and How it Matters

Wednesday-Friday | 6/5-6/7 | 9:30 A.M.-4:30 P.M.

Charles Emerson is a Pacific Northwest painter who creates richly hued abstract paintings that describe ethereal and atmospheric spaces. Embracing color as the foundation of his work, Emerson builds his compositions by applying layers of subtly varied tones that shift with light. His paintings contain terrestrial forms, celestial shapes, and painterly marks, each depicting an emotive microcosm with every varying palette. His paintings are reflections on personal experiences and an engagement with the concept that “nothing ever stays the same.” Emerson uses painting both as a visual diary– recording places, significant moments, and interpersonal interactions- -as well as a part of a spiritual search where one can transcend the here and now. Charles Emerson, originally from Los Angeles, received his Master of Fine Arts from Yale University and his Bachelor of Fine Arts from University of Southern California. He was the recipient of the Fulbright Grant, and he completed his fellowship in Venice, Italy in 1961. Emerson has shown nationally and internationally, including exhibitions in Venice, Italy and Los Angeles, CA. He was the artist-in-residence at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art (Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego) in La Jolla, CA, and at Reed College in Portland, OR. Emerson has resided in the Northwest for more than 30 years, and he teaches color theory and painting at Gage Academy of Art in Seattle, WA.
9:30 A.M.- 4:30 P.M.
Live Model
Gage Capitol Hill

Thank you for taking this class; I am sure you have expectations as do I. It is necessary that you be an experienced painter interested in the interaction of color most particularly in the periods of both New York Abstract Expressionism and Bay Area Abstract Painting. Abstract because it allows more freedom of action, expression. intuition and experimentation. A finished painting is rarely a goal in my classes as I am more concerned with you learning new ideas, being unafraid to make mistakes as we learn more through mistakes than you showing me how well you paint. It is important that you be able to try new concepts and develop your individual self. There are no real answers and single solutions. You must be a self-starter willing to find your own way within given boundaries, experienced in either oil or acrylic painting. Oil is preferred as it was used by the people we study, but acrylic can be used to good effect as well.

The first day will be mainly lecture and explanation of the how and whys of methods, goals and materials of select Coloristic Painters. Coloristic means the artists were using color, rather than tone as in classical painting, as the main medium of expression. Dark and light shading is not a goal, nor is classical drawing. The images come out more through paint and color rather than referential pictures. Different ways and means how this is achieved is the subject matter. Invention on your part is necessary for the painting to emerge, not how much or well it resembles something. Again, Personal Expression is a goal in a logical, consistent and convincing manner. We will work towards this goal in different manners through many exercises with specific goals mainly through brush and other techniques, supportive color using Modernism as our model and aesthetic. Modernism is most major painting’s concerns since Cezanne who will also be explained how and why, as well as basic Impressionism as the beginning of color painting. A basic small Modernist aesthetic painting will be painted with referential subject matter you concoct. Be able to imagine.

To be a Colorist means using color for modeling, structure, space and light source ( black can be the brightest color as often shown by Matisse, Still, Motherwell and many others ) and over-all compositions; no subject with a background but every thing equal and participating to the paintings success.

Day Two will be basic mark making; marks with shape, space placement, various speeds, expression, emotional and psychological presence. Variety and implied expressiveness of lines, basic varieties of brushes and oil mediums for effects. A larger painting or paintings will be painted using these effects. Always a morning lecture.

Day three will be basic color field painting as expressed by painters such as Rothko and Diebenkorn’s final series, “Ocean Park”, with transparent, translucent and opaque devices along with linear effects. Again many exercises along with a final well thought out Modernist format of your invention. Another morning lecture.

This is the basic plan. It is subject to change as is everything in life.

A $25.00 fee will be collected in class for necessary reproductions and other things.


You have a choice of subject matter; Landscape, Still Life, or Totally Abstract. A FIGURE IS NOT SUITABLE FOR THE FIRST EXERCISE. This composition must be same size and dimensions as your final surface choice, sketched on with a LIGHT drawing. The ENTIRE SURFACE must be activated, side to side and top to bottom.

1. In a LANDSCAPE show at least THREE or MORE zones. Close bottom zone, middle zone, distant/far zone. There should be at least SIX major shapes-forms-figures such as distinct cloud shapes in the sky. a distinct tree or trees, mountains, rocks, figure in the foreground, animal, etc. large and obvious with little background around them. Example: Selected Georgia O’Keefe with little sky showing, Ansel Adams photographs, late Renoir landscapes, Cezanne studies of trees and rocks, etc. A full canvas surface.

2. A STILL LIFE loaded with subject matter, bottles reaching near the top, drapery, fruit, whatever six or more main items all in a logical construction at least three deep with little space showing around them. Example; Cezanne, Dutch 15th century still life,MANY contemporary painters. Natural or mannered, all filling the surface.

3. Totally abstract activating the ENTIRE surface with SIX OR MORE INTERLOCKING OR INTERTWINING DIFFERENT SHAPES OR FORMS, not very complex.

The list is big and varied, but as a continuing and serious painter i am certain you will find all items valuable in the future as well. You most likely already have many already. Come and bring what you usually do to class, but make sure the following items are included;



 Most items are the same as you bring to class. Oils or Acrylics. For oils make sure you have a Gage-Approved drier to add to the paint, along with an approved painting medium. For Acrylics make sure you have an extender to keep the paint wet longer along with a standard medium. Should you have other mediums you use you are welcome to bring them as well.


 For oll painters, one small jar of Dorland’s Wax Medium.  NO

 substitution unless it also has a dryer


 Be sure to bring clothing warm enough as all windows will be open for ventilation all three days. Be prepared to get paint on anything you wear, including shoes.


 Rags and paper towels. Rags will be a part of some painting process; rubbing, staining, removing, etc.


 CHEAP Q-Tip-like cotton swabs. Q-Tips  are too loose and fibers will

 separate easily and stick to paint


 Masking tape ( not blue, but a neutral beige ) and scissors


 Containers for medium and mixing flowing colors. Small, expendable plastic containers or glass jars. About six or more wit lid.


 Hard flat surface to tape your exercise surfaces onto.  See what size

 you are buying the exercise surfaces and make sure it is large enough. A sheet of 1/8th inch foam core, masonite, wood panel. drawing board, heavy cardboard etc. It must stand rigidly on an easel.


 One pad of EITHER


  1. A 16 X 24 canvas pad, white, at least 10 sheets.


  1. A 18 X 24 all-purpose pad, 40 sheets.


 Three surfaces for a finished painting painting 2 feet by 2 feet, give

 two or so inches. Day one is any of your choice,and may be a few inches smaller. YET STILL A SQUARE FORMAT.


 THE TWO OTHERS, ALSO SQUARE, must be rigid enough to survive scraping,

 rubbing; forceful brush strokes.  i suggest a canvas panel – canvas stretched over a strong cardboard. or any way you can have a strong support for the actual canvas surface if it is stretched.

 You may make your own by taping a prepared piece of canvas to a rigid surface. ( a square format is neutral –  suggesting  neither a landscape, portrait or still life ).

 You may put a smooth colored ground on the smaller card board surface

 if you wish in advance


 BE SURE THE FIRST AND SMALLER SURFACE has a pencil or paint ( lightly) applied sketch activating the ENTIRE format (surface) when you come to class.


 Palette and palette knives including at least ONE kite or diamond shaped blade, medium sized.



 BRUSHES: ALL YOU HAVE, including worn out, stiff, and unusual ones. be




 One medium cheap LINER brush, also known as a SABER brush or a RIGGER brush for exact fine lines easily applied.


 PAINTS:  ANY and ALL you have. BE SURE TO INCLUDE WHITE ( Titanium preferred ) and BURNT SIENNA as well as BURNT UMBER and YELLOW OCHRE. Your BLUES should have PERMANENT BLUE (warmer towards purple) COBALT, and THALO. The BRIGHTEST RED you can find (usually Cadmium) as well as ALIZARIN CRIMSON and a quinacridone CORAL, the birghtest pink for great mixing colors. THALO GREEN is deep and glowing and a wonderful mixer , also VIRIDIAN GREEN.

 (Terra Verde is easily and better mixed along with all the other

 greens). it is important to have BOTH LEMON YELLOW and CADMIUM YELLOW as one is greenish and the other orange-ish. IF you can find a TRUE YELLOW without the other color, it alone will be fine. BRIGHT ORANGE is often Cadmium Red Light, but not all brands. A hard to mix DIOXAZINE PURPLE is optional, but it is brightest and a great mixer as well. All BLACKS should be custom mixed as to warm or cool needed. Easy to do.


 If I have missed anything, please bring it as well. MOST IMPORTANTLY bring an open mind, open to new ideas and change. SEE rather than just look, and remember:


 COLOR IS COLOR ONLY AS TO AMOUNT, PLACEMENT and APPLICATION. We could easily add lighting as well….. see you soon.




In this workshop, we will investigate some of the important issues in using color in important recent art. Color is always interacting with other colors as to space, structure and emotional content, like it or not; something is happening in the reading of the painting that is either a help or a hindrance. Move beyond the usual art school charts, graphs, theories and formulas and begin to learn to see and understand what is really happening. This will not happen in three days – it takes much experience in looking and seeing – but it will get you started asking the right questions to head you toward your correct answers.

Your instructor will also give you simple ways to begin to see in painting exercises, relating to individual painters as much as possible, not tell you how you should paint, but honestly evaluate what you are doing. How you choose to proceed is up to you. This is a more advanced class for skilled painters wishing to move forward leaving art school rules behind in a logical, consistent and convincing manner.  Instructor will be present in the morning the first two days and all day the third day, during the afternoons of the first two days students will be working on their own painting projects.