Arts & Activities  

      Color expert Dan Bartges is author of the book, "Color is Everything"
( Visit his website at
      Assignment 4 In A Series Of 10      

Paint someone's portrait? No way!

I know; the idea can make anyone's paintbrush tremble with trepidation. But this month, let's think a little differently about portrait painting. For starters, who says a portrait has to be of a person anyway? And remember: No matter who or what you paint, getting the colors right will win more than half the battle.

Color is the key to most any successful painting. So each month, we're exploring how painters like you can attain color harmony in any painting, regardless of medium or subject matter. All you'll need for these quick assignments is a standard color wheel, available at any art-supply store.

HOW IT WORKS Simply view the two featured paintings and figure out their color schemes. Next, click "Quiz Me," answer the three short questions, and print out your completed quiz sheet for your art teacher. The correct answers will be made available on next month's Student Page.

      For a quick review of color-scheme basics, click here for an informative article: The Magic Moment.      
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Elisabeth-Louise Vigee-Lebrun (French; 1755–1842). The Comte de Vaudreuil, 1784. Oil on canvas; 52" x 38.875". Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Gift of Mrs. A. D. Williams. Photo: Katherine Wetzel. ©Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

This masterful painting was created by one of history's most productive and successful portrait artists, but today, most people have never heard of her.

Beautiful and unconventional, Elizabeth-Louise Vigee-Lebrun (1755–1842) was born in Paris and was the daughter of a portrait painter. At age 23, her career shifted into high gear when she was summoned to paint a portrait of the ill-fated queen of France, Marie Antoinette. In the wake of Vigee-Lebrun's long and turbulent—yet highly creative—life, she left behind nearly 900 oil paintings, including 200 landscapes and 660 portraits, many of prominent Europeans and Russians.

When studying the composition, notice how your eyes naturally travel upwards from the subject's hands and baton, up to the richly colored sash and ribbon, and then to the sitter's face, bathed in light. It's a strong, pyramidal construction. (Tip: When figuring out this painting's color scheme, look closely at the chair.)



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      Dan Bartges. Green Frog. Oil study.

There's a small lily pond right next to my studio, and how this cute little frog discovered it I'll never know! But one day this past spring, there he was. The green frog's color and markings were so impressive that I took the time to paint him. (Or is it a her?) The frog was a welcome guest throughout the summer, then vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.

In the natural world, you'll find that almost all colorful plants and animals exhibit one of the basic color schemes—usually monochromatic, analogous or complementary.
      QUIZ ME!

Click here to download December Quiz Me! document

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