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A challenge: 21 color exercises

Each day a new exercise

A challenge to be carried out in your living room… or elsewhere. (V. Lacroix, ink and pastel)

The aim of the challenge

Propose and illustrate 21 exercises to develop a sense of color and harmony through practice.

Why 21 exercises? Applying for 21 days seems to me to be enough time to make a significant change. Therefore, when all the exercises will be available, a reader of this blog will be able to acquire a greater mastery of color in three weeks only. He or she will then be ready to apply it in many areas: clothing, decoration, creations, etc.

Why focus on color? It does not concern a particular technique, you can develop your sensitivity and therefore embellish your daily environment, even transfiguring your familiar space. It is a door to creation, a source of joy and satisfaction.

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Travel Sketch (V. Lacroix)

For my part, color is a passion; I would like to use it better in my artistic achievements, to transmit more effectively my knowledge and to analyze more closely the well-being that this research can bring to everyone. It’s like the intention of this blog, you might say, except that elsewhere in the blog, I don’t expose myself much.

I claim it develops your sense of harmony but how can you see your progress? Keep the results of these exercises in a file and after the complete challenges, have a look to the path undertaken. And can you only judge mine? Have a look at the illustrations below, and follow my progress at each challenge too.

What are the prerequisites?

There is no prerequisite if you take on this challenge. Whether you are a beginner, an amateur, or maybe even a professional, you will hopefully find interest in these exercises.

I undertake to illustrate them through my personal practice; my intention is above all to guide everyone and especially beginners, so don’t hesitate to give me feedback on the difficulty of carrying them out.


As soon as I see a “good” book on color, it’s stronger than me, I must have it. And if I buy it, I don’t always read it completely, even if it is very interesting. Bibliophile bulimia. I feed myself intellectually but I don’t put my knowledge into practice enough.

Today, rather than devouring all these sources: books, articles, websites, workshop syllabuses, etc., I could taste them, appreciate their full flavor, and start from their recommandations to create my own exercises. In a word: practice.

You would see my progress and if you decide to take up the challenge, you would see yours as well.

Where do I stand?

As a multidisciplinary artist – but more specifically as a photographer – I already have some practice. If you are embarking with me, I invite you to take stock: what have you done so far to tame color and develop your sense of harmony?

I have identified some important steps in this quest, namely: to get inspired, to observe, to reproduce, to create, which is summarized in the anagram “GORC”. In the rest of this article you will find some exercises that I have imposed on myself in these different stages. These examples will help you to think about the work you have already done, perhaps without knowing it. You will find other illustrations in my portfolio where the “creation” step is specifically highlighted.

Getting inspired

Artists are the best guides to introduce us to the world of color. Indeed, they have been led to transcribe by pictorial means their perception of the world, their ideas and their feelings ; they thus became experts in perception, often guided by their intuition.

By drawing inspiration from their work, we follow their trail, we will move faster through essential steps and find new paths that they may not have explored.


To develop one’s perception requires observation. For my part, I have naturally observed the works of great painters and photographers.

Observing light and shadow

For example, in photography exhibitions, I have made small sketches to note areas of light and shadow. They seem fundamental to me in the composition and therefore in the reading of an image.

The first contrast that jumps out at you is the so-called “chiaroscuro” contrast. Here I sketched the photo and identified the light and dark areas.

During an exhibition: a note of light and shade (V.Lacroix)

Note the remarkable colors

We are often surprised by the audacity of the great colorists; they do not hesitate to paint a face in green, a sky in yellow, trees in blue. Observing and noting it helped me to explore more expressive avenues. Here again I made sketches of the painting to note the composition and I noted the places where the colors seemed particular to me.

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At the Gauguin exhibition in Tahiti: sketch and note of remarkable colors (V. Lacroix)


Some will tell you not to copy. Yet if you read the biographies of the greatest artists, you will see that they all copied at some point in their careers, especially at the beginning or when they were in a desert crossing, caught up in the anguish of the blank page.

Reproduce the palette

Also, reproducing myself the colors that build a painting was one of my first quests. At one time, I even took acrylic paints to the museum to capture the palette of paintings that inspired me. Not sure they would allow it today.

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Produced at the Museum: sketch composition and colors (acrylic)
German Expressionism Exhibition (V. Lacroix

I have since discovered David Hockney’s work on iPad and, when I visit an exhibition, I use digital colors to quickly note the palette and composition of a painting that interests me.

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Morandi/Wayne Thibaud exhibition: colored sketches (V. Lacroix, iPad)

Reproduce by mixing 5 colors

In a first series of systematic experiments, I tried to do the same exercise, i.e. to capture the composition and the colors and to approach them by mixing five colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, black and white, the basic kit sold to beginners graphic designers.

After about fifteen reproductions, I added the sienna pigment (ocher) and the burnt umber (brown). These two colors are great to reduce color intensity. Producing them by mixing the five colors is possible but once you have done it, there is no point to repeat the process. The matching process is thus accelerated.

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Acrylic: sketch composition and color obtained by mixing three colors plus black and white from a painting by Luis Seoane.

Capture and create

In photography

Wherever I go, I try to capture the colorful harmonies. I love beach cabins, parasols and colorful deckchairs; I try to place them in interesting but not too fixed compositions.

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Harmony of colors on the beach

Creating atmospheres through color

Both linocut and screen printing are particularly suitable for color research: simply change the color of a plate or screen and the result will create a different atmosphere. For my North Sea linocuts, a few preparatory tests gave me some ideas to explore.

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Linocut: Harmony of sunshine under a leaded sky (V.Lacroix)
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Linocut: Harmony in the blue hour (V. Lacroix)

Simplifying is also creating

From my photos, I like to simplify the color palette while exploring different pigments of extra-fine gouache marks. You will find the original photos here.

Simplification of a photo taken in Cape Verde (V. Lacroix gouache)

Creating harmonies

Finally, I created harmonies from simple, repetitive shapes, which I emphasized with colored machine stitching, giving each gouache-painted shape an impression of colored leather.

Shall we go?

In this 21-exercises challenge, I plan to elaborate on these examples but also to propose others. The difficulty will be progressive and will not imply any learning on your side.

In each of them you will use the techniques that suit you best: text – yes, a simple notebook in which color observations can be recorded can be a starting point, photography, cut and paste, acrylic paint, gouache or watercolor and finally digital drawing.

If any of these techniques are of particular interest to you, please feel free to note it in the comments. I don’t master all of them, so this is also a challenge for me too.

Your involvement will depend on how much time you devote to it. I recommend the ORC (Observe, Reproduce, Create) method to get the most out of it, but the key is to get involved in at least one point, be it O (observe) or C (create).

You will be the judge of my progress. Accompany me in this adventure and share the results of your research and your achievements on Instagram and Pinterest, using the “hashtags” that I will indicate.

I am counting on you! Thank you for encouraging me.

In the meantime, don’t forget Claude Lévêque’s advice: color is also for dreaming!

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“Dream!” Neon by Claude Levêque (photo V. Lacroix)

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