February 2015

February 2015

In This Issue:

  • Journey to Excellence
  • Color Management
  • The Importance of Value
  • Passing Entries
  • Answers to the quiz from the last issue
  • Test Your Knowledge

Journey To Excellence - Time To Get Painting

by Sue Pruett MDA, Certification Chair

Happy New Year! Hopefully part of your New Year’s Resolution is to paint a Certification board for 2015. I remember every January I would spend the entire month getting myself organized so I could clear my slate and start my annual Certification board. February 1 was always my start date, and as much as I found so many ways to procrastinate, I knew if I didn’t start by this date I would be in a frenzy to complete by the deadline date. I have so many funny stories of getting to the post office up to one minute before they closed. One year I got stopped waiting for a train to go by and the post office was just a half mile away; I was so close to leaving my car in the middle of the street and running as fast as I could. Well I never missed the postmark date, but all the years I painted on my board, procrastination was an issue. If you haven’t yet ordered your test paperwork and surface you still have time but not much, so don’t procrastinate any longer.

The Certification ‘Journey to Excellence’ is not for everyone maybe because most are not sure what’s in it for them. Many ask: why should I take the time to do this, not pass and feel like a failure? Sure if you don’t pass it’s natural to be disappointed or blame the judges and the program. No one is a failure for completing a test of your skills; just getting it finished to the best of one’s ability is a big accomplishment. My first entry was a NFS, I was shocked beyond belief. I had already been painting for 11 years and teaching for 9 years so how could I get such a low score? I later found out I didn’t understand some very basic art principles like value, form, intensity, focal area, and color harmony. These principles are the basis of creating your own paintings, and passing the Certification test. One of the many benefits of taking this journey of self-study is to become an independent artist, and not rely on someone else to tell you where to shade, highlight or which color to put where and why.

The benefits of going through the program are many; the friendships you meet along the way will last a lifetime. My closest friends for the past 25 years are women who I started this journey with. Many say they weren’t able to go to college and this was the next best thing to getting a degree or huge accomplishment in their life. The quest for knowledge was big for me, the more I learned the more I realized I didn’t know. Like I mentioned earlier in this message, Certification is not for everyone but if it is something you are interested in do it for yourself and your growth as an artist.

In this e-zine you will find some basic concepts to get you thinking about basic art principles that are important to passing the Certification test. If you haven’t seen the videos we made on the judging process here are three links. One of the videos explains the paperwork and how we choose the standards; the other two videos explain the critiquing process. We actually go through the entire process as if we are in the judging room.
  • Introduction to the Judging Process
  • Still Life Critique Demonstration
  • Stroke Critique Demonstration

View the Certification Video Library»

 Sue Pruett MDA, Certification Chair

The Difference Between Color Management and Color Harmony

Sue Pruett MDA

Color Management
This section of the Certification Critique Form focuses on the use of color and how the chosen colors work together in the painting. Some applicants who read their critiques can get confused with the judges’ comments and often think the statements are contradictory. Because the questions within this section of the critique form are targeting a variety of color concepts, the statements can be misunderstood or read in a conflicting manner. Color Balance can read as handled well, then in the same section it can say; then Color Harmony has not been handled well.

Color is a large part of an artist’s decision when planning a painting. Color adds emotion, mood, sensation, excitement, and expression which are some of the ways color has impact on the overall effect of a painting. The ‘Color Management’ section of the critique form is located underneath ‘Overall Effect’. The use of color is one of the most important components in determining the overall effect of the painting, and is a crucial part of the test.

Let us explore the areas of a painting that would be under the umbrella of Color Management.
  • Color Balance/Color Repetition – Do all the colors used within the painting flow from one color to another? Or is there any one color that is not repeated throughout the design which may cause the eye to jump from one to another. Isolation of any color will create an area where the eye stops which interrupts the flow of colors moving throughout the design.
  • Color Choices –Do the colors look appealing placed side by side within the painting? Or is there a color that stands out from the rest and distracting? Using a color scheme is one way to choose colors that look good when used together. One of my favorite color schemes is an Analogous. This color scheme uses colors that share a color in common i.e. Red Orange, Red, Red Violet, Violet, Blue Violet all have one color in common which is Red. These colors will look pleasing when placed side by side. However, remember that the intensity of each color also plays a major role as well.
  • Background Color – Does the background color relate to the colors of the painted elements? The background is the largest area of the painting and can take some time deciding on which color to use. Since the background color is part of the painting it should also be part of the color scheme used. Subtle colors work best to help the background stay in the background. Low intensity color will be quieter and allow the main objects to stand out. Bright (high intensity) backgrounds compete with the elements in the design.
  • Color Dominance – Every color used has its own unique importance in a painting. One color should be used the most, this may be the background color, or the overall color the viewer remembers most about the painting. For example when you have a blue background, at first glance the viewer sees blue because it is the dominant color in the painting and is what the viewer will remember most. This color will be the dominant color or Papa Bear of all the colors. Think about your color scheme as a family of colors, one recognized as the Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Baby Bear, and so on. If five colors are used then each color has their place of subordination within the family.
  • Color Harmony - Do the colors chosen have anything in common to each other? Red, Yellow and Blue colors have nothing in common, they cannot be mixed using any other colors, and these pigments are manufactured. Red and orange have red in common and therefore rest easily when laid side by side. Yellow, orange, and green all yellow in common and will relate to each other. When colors have nothing in common you can add tiny amounts of the background color to create some harmony. Using a common earth color to tone every color in the color scheme adds harmony to the colors. The more the colors have in common the more harmonious the color will be. For example if white is used to make a green for leaves add that same white to flower colors, both these colors have white in common. Limiting the amount of colors used and mixing these colors together are ways to create harmony within the palette.
Now that I’ve have your interest in Color Management, let’s analyze the paintings below pertaining to this subject.

Master Floral 1994, by Sue Pruett MDA

The color scheme used is a Red Analogous with a discord of Green (reds complement). The common color used throughout the flowers is red. Notice the variety of green from Yellow-Green to Blue-Green to show the warm and cool areas of the painting. The yellow used is actually a Yellow-Orange which has red added to it. The background is a soft very light grey with white as the main component. The common toner is white, notice how white is used to make every color. Raw Sienna is the secondary toner which is also used throughout the painting. Color temperature (warm and cool) is used to indicate a warm light source, warmer colors in the focal area moving forward on the cool background and cooler colors in the background to recede on the cool background. Always use the background color and temperature to create depth and space in the painting. Cool colors recede on cool backgrounds and warm colors advance, and vice versa.

Master Still Life 1996, by Sue Pruett MDA

The color scheme used is a Blue Analogous; all colors used have blue in them. The background is a soft blue, stained because that is a requirement in the MDA still life. The common toner is white, actually White + Raw Sienna to warm, and is used throughout the design and in the medium value mixes. Color temperature is used to create the feeling of depth and space. Cool colors recede on this cool background and warm colors advance. Blue is the dominate color since it is the background color and part of each color used. Notice how the blue, green and red-violet are carried throughout the painting for balance.

Master Stroke 1992, by Sue Pruett MDA

The color scheme for this stroke design is a Yellow-Green, Red-Violet compliment. The background is a dark green and the dominate color. Notice how the flowers, and Red-Violet, stand out from the background because of the opposite temperature from the background color. I would prefer if the green was a little more intense so the intensities were a bit more equal to each other but remember there is a 25% error margin in these tests. Color repetition/balance is huge in stroke designs, notice if you squint your eyes you always see both colors used, no color is isolated or standing alone. The common toner for this color scheme is the background color, green was mixed into the Red-Violet to tone and harmonize with the background color.

Importance of Value

By Susan Abdella MDA

It is the most important property of color that measures or describes the lightness or darkness of a color.

Sapphire – we know is a blue but how do we measure how dark or light it is. In the beginning there was no language to help us describe value.

Albert Henry Munsell (1855-1918) Professor of Art, and an artist, gave us a way to describe colors, how light or dark they are. In 1905 he wrote his theories in A Color Notation about color and how colors interact with one another. Munsell used a theory called Perceived Equidistance. This means we have a perceived difference between colors. He said that this difference could be established on a scale. He used a series of numbers separated with an equal distance to help us identify the darkness of lightness of a color.

1 – the Darkest – Black
10 – the Lightest – White

This was a means by which artists could talk to one another and describe how light or dark a color is. Looking at the value scale, imagine the light equaling 100%. Munsell divided the scale into 10 equal distances (10% times 10 = 100%)


Values are used to transform simple shapes into 3 dimensional forms with, e.g. a circle into an orange. Three values – light, medium, dark, will transform a shape into a simple form, which has mass and volume. Seven values are needed to transform this simple form into a realistic object that appears 3 dimensional. These values should be 2 values apart as illustrated on the diagram below. The more values used in an object the more realistic it will appear.

Contrast/ Flow
In a composition, contrast in value refers to the relationship between light and dark values. Low contrast refers to values that are closer together. When values are further apart we refer to them as being high contrast. Medium contrast is when the lightest and darkest values are absent from a painting and only mid values are used.

When establishing a focal point in a painting it is very important to use value contrast to lead the viewer’s eye to the focal point. As the eye moves through a painting, objects will appear to recede if they become closer in value to the background whether that is light or dark.

The background also plays an important role establishing contrast: light values come forward on dark backgrounds, and dark values come forward on light backgrounds. This contrast is needed to bring objects forward; less contrast is used when objects need to stay in the background. This is how you build planes/depth in a painting.

The background is the most important part of the painting. One way to establish good value flow is through the use of light and dark values. If you have a dark background for instance, the lightest value would be found in the focal area. As the objects move further back the values would become darker, closer to the background with less contrast or value change.

Passing Entries

Here are a few examples of passing entries that you may view and study what is necessary to pass. The required score for a passing entry is 75 percent. This allows for a 25 percent margin for error. Along with the photos there is a brief description of what makes this painting a passing entry, but remember that there is a 25 percent margin for error.

Eriko Nakamura MDA, San Francisco, California, USA

This stunning floral has exceptional attention to detail. The center poinsettia and upper right rose draw the viewer into the painting with a strong focal area utilizing the lightest values and intensity in this area. Eriko has done an excellent job of leading the viewer’s eye through the painting by use of light and repetition of color. Notice how the outer elements are still interesting but have less detail than the focal area. Variety of light, dark, and temperature in the ribbon sections add interest, if the ribbon was the same throughout as is near the focal area the eye would jump from ribbon to ribbon. The background gold leaf treatment adds interest without taking away from the painting.

Master Still Life 2014 - Junko Tanaka MDA, San Diego, California, USA

The focal area is outstanding in this painting. The viewer is easily aware of where the artist wants them to look first. The eye is drawn into the front of painting by use of light, color, and intensity. The upper right light source is well established and obvious by placement and the use of shadows on the opposite side. The high contrast between the dark background, and very light foreground creates a great deal of depth from the front plane to back plane. The brown earth color has been used throughout this painting, and most likely as the toner color, to create harmony with all colors used. The viewer’s eye leads through the painting nicely with the light value diminishing into the back planes.

Master Stroke - Eriko Kaneko MDA, Higashi Chiba, Japan

This stroke tray has a wonderful overall effect due to color harmony, balance, and control of intensities. There is an obvious strong focal area even though that is not a requirement on any of the stroke tests. The use of the center radiating light source adds to the strength of the focal area but again a light source is not required in any of the stroke tests. The line work has a nice graceful flow without looking labored or stiff. The mandatory double-loaded strokes are well done and the requirement of ‘the majority of strokes need to be double-loaded’ has been accomplished. Eriko has done a beautiful job on the blending on all elements. Notice how the eye is carried around the design, and to the outer liner work, with touches of light values. The faux effect around the outer edges is well done and does not distract from the painting.

Fen Chen Liu CDA, Pingtung City, Taiwan

The complementary color scheme using Red-Violet/Yellow-Green is very striking on the dark green background. As you can see the color harmony has been handled very well both colors flow well together without one standing out from the other. Color repetition has been handled well. This applicant chose to have a subtle focal area in the center where the lighter values are in the center area and darker values towards the outer areas. Focal areas are not mandatory on a stroke design, and when the applicant chooses to use a focal area they will be judged on that concept. Strokes and line work flow gracefully into the line of design. Strokes are consistent with nice form i.e.: head, body, tail. Objects have nice form with a minimum of three values. Over-strokes on flowers and vase do follow the contour of the objects.

Noriko Owada CDA, Osaka, Japan

The strong points in this painting are overall effect, color harmony, repetition of color, value, form and intensity. Notice how the colors flow from one to another, its obvious common earth toners have been used throughout to create harmony. Noriko has created nice depth by utilizing the background color, value, and intensity to keep the background objects in the background. When setting up planes in a painting remember to keep background objects similar to the background in all concepts. The left side of the container and tomato are too light which flattens the object. Always remember to create form on rounded objects values on the edges need to be similar to the background to roll back and recede.

Answers to the Quiz from the Last Issue

1. What is the dominate color in your painting?
a. The dominate color is the overall color you see and remember most. This color will cover the largest amount of space on the surface.

2. How important is the background color?
a. The background color sets up the mood and tone of a painting. Light backgrounds are termed ‘high key’ overall a light painting, light value objects will recede and dark value objects will advance. Dark backgrounds are termed ‘low key’ overall dark painting, dark objects will recede and light values will advance.

3. On the Master Stroke Tray how many of the strokes need to be double-loaded?
a. At the Master Stroke level the majority of strokes need to be double-loaded. Majority means more than 50%.

4. Can I add embellishments to the stroke design?
a. Additions are acceptable and will add interest and character to the design. Flower and containers are usually drawn in a simple shape form to enable the applicant to embellish.

5. What does this statement mean on the stroke critique sheet? ‘Strokes are stiff and overworked?’
a. When strokes are thick with paint this indicates the strokes have been stroked many times. This thickness of the stroke whether it be ‘S’ strokes, Comma strokes, or Scrolls is not an indication of pulling the stroke with one continuous motion of the brush. Stiff strokes lack spontaneity, flow and movement. Brush strokes (ridges and translucency) is an indication of one continuous motion of the brush.

Test Your Knowledge

1. On the critique form what is meant by ‘negative space between strokes’?

2. On the critique form what is meant by ‘gradation of strokes’?

3. Is it a requirement to add a table line to the still life designs?

4. Can the applicant use a different surface than the one provided with the Certification kit?

5. Will a poor varnish application stop me from getting a passing score?