Technique Tuesday: Color Theory

Color. One of the first aspects you notice about an artwork – the abundance and even lack of it. But, how much do you know about color? In this week’s “Technique Tuesday,” we will discuss color theory. Due to the complexities of the subject, we have decided to write two posts about color theory. In this post, we will introduce color theory, touch on some scientific facts, and then apply it to the works Principle Gallery displays.


What is it?

In the simplest of terms, color theory is the method of classifying colors based upon their interactions with one another and how we visually perceive them. Generally, colors are classified into “primary,” “secondary,” and  “tertiary.” Primary colors are those that cannot be made through any combination, whereas secondary and tertiary refer to the number of colors combined from the primary colors. For example, secondary colors are defined by the mixture of two primary colors and tertiary colors are the combination of three colors (primary or secondary).

However, the colors placed in these classifications differ depending upon the means in which they are used — either through digital print media or more classical media, like painting. As a general consensus and what classical media typically follows, the primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. These three colors, or rather pigments, are the only ones that cannot be recreated using other colors. On the other hand, the primary colors for digital print media are cyan, magenta, and yellow. Since our gallery mainly carries paintings, we’re going to stick with red, yellow, and blue as our primary colors. But before we get into the artistic side of color theory, I wanted to touch on the scientific side.

Did you notice that the primary colors, no matter the media, are comprised of three colors? Well, it’s because humans are considered to be trichromats, meaning we can only perceive three colors and their combinations. Located behind our eye’s retina, we have these mechanisms called photoreceptors that absorb light in different intensities. To sum it all up, rods help us see in the dark and don’t really absorb light, while cones absorb most of the light and aid us in seeing our color system. For you animal lovers, the reason why certain animals can see in the dark is because they have more rods than humans (there’s a fun trivia fact).

It’s actually pretty interesting how the human brain functions in order to process light. Our eyes only have three cones that absorb the light of three specific colors – red, green, and blue (the reason why all electronic screens use red, green, and blue light rays to emit color). When two of these cones are stimulated, we are then able to see even more colors. And when all three cones are stimulated at equal rates, we are able to see white. Of course, when none of them are stimulated or there is no light, we see black.

But enough about science, let’s get back to art!!

All of these colors can be paired together to create a fluid, coherent circle displaying the transition of one color to the next, which everyone knows as the color wheel. By analyzing the color wheel, we can see how colors complement one another and harmonize, or what is called color harmony. The epitome of color harmony is complementary colors – colors that pair well together and lie across from each other on the color wheel. For example, yellow is a complementary color of purple. For more information on color harmony and the different variations of color schemes on the color wheel, I highly suggest following this link – it goes into defining analogous, triadic, split-complementary, and many more color schemes! (Great to use for home decor, I would say!)

complementary colors

Illustration of complementary colors

Using the color wheel below, we can also classify colors in a number of ways. If we were to split the wheel directly down the center, we are left with warm colors on the right and cool colors on the left. Warm colors tend to cause intense, energetic emotions and propel from space, while cool colors recede into space and evoke a somber feeling.


Illustration of the color wheel


With this wide spectrum of colors also comes some terminology. The purest form of a color, meaning the color is derived from any category between primary and tertiary, is called a hue. Though white, black, and grey are not considered a color or hue, they are considered to be neutral because they are defined by the lack or presence of light. As soon as white is added to the hue, the color is a tint. When black is added, the color becomes a shade. And when both white and black (grey) are added, the color is considered a tone. All three of these techniques can be displayed within a scale, beginning with a hue and ending in the additive neutral color.


Illustration of a shade, tone, and tint scale for purple


Examples at Principle Gallery

Though there are many Principle Gallery artists who utilize color in their works, Jeff Erickson‘s paintings exemplify the different aspects we have touched upon in this post. Without the distraction of a defined subject matter, Erickson’s abstract pieces are perfect examples illustrating the fundamentals of color theory.



As an example, “Glimmering Light” displays a selection of cool greens and blues with strokes of warmer yellows. The cooler colors, as discussed before, seem to recede or lay flat in comparison to the yellows that advance in the space. Though not mentioned above, Erickson also illustrates an analogous color scheme, which is defined by the grouping of three adjacent colors on the color wheel. In this case, Erickson primarily uses the three dominant colors: yellow, green, and blue. Another instance where Erickson uses color theory as the basis to his works is “Whitecap.” Again, the artist demonstrates his understanding of analogous color schemes along with his comprehension of a hue’s tone scale, such as blue.

We hope you have the chance to view his works in person and apply what you’ve learned today during your next gallery visit! Please don’t hesitate to contact the gallery if you would like more information concerning Erickson‘s works or those by other Principle Gallery artists. And don’t forget, we will continue our discussion on color theory for our next “Technique Tuesday” – so stay tuned!


Written by: Haley Clouser, Gallery Assistant


Filed under: Fine Art

Technique Tuesday: Bokeh


What is it?

“Bokeh” is a Japanese word that refers to the way that a lens renders points of light that are out of focus. In Japanese, the word means “blur” or “haze.” You’ve probably seen a lot of images with bokeh in them, even if you weren’t familiar with the term! Any image that includes a lot of relatively small points of light and highlight can be photographed in a way that features the bokeh– the blurred areas, particularly the circles of light.


An image of Boston by night featuring multiple areas of bokeh — photographer unknown

Examples from art history:

This is a tricky one! Giving examples from art history is pretty difficult, as photography itself is a relatively recent development in the span of history, and more advanced lenses that allow photographers to manipulate and take advantage of the pleasing effects of bokeh have come around even more recently. The term didn’t even show up in photography books until the 1990’s!

There were, however, some early 20th century pioneers of nighttime street photography who were beginning to capture the charming, multi-dimensional, glittering effect of blurred lights, as you can see in these two examples below:


(left) Brassaï, “Les Amoureux sur un Banc”; (right) Alfred Stieglitz, “A Venetian Canal”

“But Pam,” you must be thinking, “Principle Gallery doesn’t carry photography. Why write a Technique Tuesday post about something that isn’t going to be featured in Principle Gallery artwork too?”

First of all, I’m impressed that you knew it was Pam writing this post; well done. Secondly, that’s what is so cool about art– as time progresses as the world changes and technology moves forward, artists find amazing ways to incorporate brand new concepts into their age-old practice of painting! The act of applying colored pigment to a surface to create art may be ancient, but the creativity of artists and our changing world makes sure it never ever gets “old”! Let’s take a look.

Examples from Principle Gallery:

Bokeh is an effect that works really well with images of city lights. In fact, three artists instantly came to mind who have used a bokeh-type effect of blurred lights and highlights to give a glittering effect to their work:


(left) Nobuhito Tanaka, “Taipei Night”; (middle) Jonathan Gleed, “Night Lights; (right) Jeremy Mann, “After the Storm”

Another visually pleasing way to take advantage of bokeh is in macro photography, when images featuring a super-close-up of something also have points of selective focus to add to the texture, depth, and atmosphere of the work. It’s a bit difficult to just describe this photographic effect, so here’s an example of this in action, in a macro photo by photography Dimitar Lazarov:


Take a little of the city lights effect, a little of the macro-photography aspect, and add in a fresh and uniquely modern subject matter, and you have the magic of Glen Kessler’s circuitscapes.

Glen’s circuitscapes focus on close-up images of computer circuitboards and depicts them in a way that seems to transform them into something else: a city scene, a seascape, or something else familiar! Check out some of the amazing examples below (including one actually titled “Bokeh!”), which are all part of our Local Art, Local Eats exhibition, hanging now!


Glen Kessler Circuitscapes (top left) Circuitscape 15: Midnight in the Valley; (top right) Circuitscape 73: Fire and Water; (lower left) Circuitscape 25: Downtown Stadium; (lower right) Circuitscape 72: Bokeh

Filed under: Fine Art Tagged: Alfred Stieglitz, bokeh, Brassai, circuitboard, circuitscapes, digital photography, Glen Kessler, Jeremy Mann, Jonathan Gleed, light, Nobuhito Tanaka, photo, photography, technique, Technique Tuesday

Technique Tuesday on a Thursday: Sgraffito

Apologies! Due to a technical error, this post is up a couple days late, but please enjoy!


What is it?

The term “sgraffito” comes from the Italian word meaning “scratched.” It’s a technique that is usually applied to either wall decor, both interior and exterior, or to pottery. Essentially, the basic idea is that multiple layers of plaster or glaze are applied, and the top layer is methodically scratched through to reveal the contrasting layer beneath. This scratching is usually done in such a way as to form a pattern or an image using the two contrasting layers.

Examples from art history:

Sgraffito has been around quite a while, in all parts of the world. Check out some examples of it on pottery below– including Navajo pottery, ancient Greek ceramics, and African pottery.


The technique also experienced popularity as wall decor or part of a building facade in Europe, since classical times. As with many artistic techniques, it saw an increase in popularity in the 15th and 16th century in Italy, particularly in Italy, Germany, Austria, and Transylvania, and later experienced a revival during the Art Nouveau movement of the early 20th century. Below are some examples, including an Italian Renaissance-era sgraffito building, a hammer-and-sickle sgraffito design on a Czech building, and an Art Nouveau facade on a building in Barcelona.


Examples from Principle Gallery:

The sgraffito examples we’re going to showcase today from Principle Gallery are in fact neither pottery nor wall decor, but rather paintings! Jeff Erickson‘s unique, highly abstracted paintings are eye-catching and full of texture, depth, and visual interest, and part of this is due to his creative use of sgraffito!


Jeff Erickson, (left) Approaching Storm; (middle) Thin Ice; (right) Wine Country

Oil paint straight from the tube is extremely thick and not terribly “workable,” so most artists use some kind of solvent to help thin the paint and make it more spreadable on the painting surface, in addition to helping it dry a bit faster. This substance added to the paint is called the “medium” (this can be confusing, because “medium” has multiple meanings when talking about art, but think of it as synonymous with “additive”) and while most artists use linseed oil, turpentine, poppy oil, or similar mediums, some artists, like Jeff Erickson, use something called a cold wax medium.

The cold wax medium is pretty much what it sounds like– it is an additive containing beeswax that can be used cold (as opposed to encaustic, a different technique in which the wax is heated– but we’ll save that for another Tuesday!) and in addition to aiding in workability and drying time, cold wax medium gives the artist a few different options for building unique textures and layers as well! In Jeff’s case, it allows for some really cool sgraffito. You can see some examples of Jeff’s unique paintings below, but trust us– they are best viewed in person, so come on by the gallery and see them, and many more in this month’s Local Art, Local Eats exhibition, on display now!


Jeff Erickson, (left) Glimmering Light; (right) Whitecap

Filed under: Fine Art Tagged: African Art, Ancient Greek Art, architecture, Art, Art Nouveau, ceramics, cold wax medium, Czech Republic, design, Events, exhibitions, fine art, Italian Art, Jeff Erickson, Navajo Art, oil painting, Painting, pottery, Renaissance, sgraffito, Spain, technique, Technique Tuesday, texture

Technique Tuesday: Silverpoint

technique-tuesday-silverpoint What is it?

Welcome back to Technique Tuesdays! After high demand, we decided to revive the blog series with new discussions on techniques, genres, and art history. With that said, we would love for our readers to participate in this series, as well. If you are yearning to learn more about a topic or have a burning question on the process behind a work, feel free to comment below and we will be sure to get on it!

Alright, back to the topic of the day – silverpoint! Compared to other metal drawing methods, like those of lead and tin, silver is capable of rendering fine lines and does not create a blunt mark like the other metals. Drawn upon a surface prepared with gesso, gouache, or primer, a silver rod can produce very smooth stroke marks. How this happens is that the tooth of the surface’s preparation mix takes away from the actual silver rod, thus producing a mark! If the surface is unprepared – which was more typical in the past -the silverpoint evokes a lighter color.

Though these qualities make silver a great medium for detailed work, it is however less forgiving. The way that silver digs into surfaces and the inability to erase it calls for intense artistic training for perfecting the medium. Also, when silver oxidizes or is exposed to air, it tends to tarnish and change to a reddish brown – you may have seen this reaction happen with outdoor sculptures, too. However, the intensity of its tarnish depends on how much copper the silverpoint contains. More copper equals more tarnishing.

So next time you run into a silverpoint piece, you can be an expert on the silver’s components and whether the surface was coated or not!

Examples in art history:

Silverpoint was popularized around the early Renaissance era in the Flemish and Italian regions – of course, where Renaissance art reigned! It was heavily used by goldsmiths for their design sketches and served as the primary method for artists’ sketches as well. Some of the most well-known Old Masters of silverpoint include Albrecht Durer, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Leonardo da Vinci.

The most notable, I would say, is Albrecht Durer who is famous for his mastery of etchings and line drawings. Unlike Rembrandt who used silverpoint for more of a sketching gesture, Durer drew disciplined, hard lines to create his pieces. It goes without saying that silverpoint was thus a top choice for Durer!

Albrecht Durer, "Self-Portrait" Rembrandt van Rijn, silverpoint drawing

As with any art movement, the use of silver soon became outdated. The silverpoint technique was surpassed by the more accessible, more forgiving medium of graphite. The hassle of preparing surfaces mixed with its permanency and rarity quickly led to the technique’s impopularity in the 1500s. Its revival later came about during the modern era, around the 1900s, for the purpose of drawn portraiture. Artists, unlike the past, now have newer resources and more flexibility in creating surfaces easier for silverpoint. They experiment with mixed media, from crayon to casein-coated parchment, to produce such beautiful work.

Examples at Principle Gallery:

Typically, the gallery carries oil and acrylic paintings or works that incorporate wet mediums. It is on the rare, yet delightful occasion that we receive great drawings by our artists. One such instance came about when Susan O’Neill brought in “Woman in Silver” for our upcoming show, “Local Art, Local Eats.” In this particular work, remnants of Rembrandt’s silverpoint style are apparent in O’Neill’s gestural, sketch-like technique.


Another great artist who often practices silverpoint is Robert Liberace. His works are also reminiscent to the Old Masters’ technique, as seen with his work “Serpentine.”


Come see these magnificent works in person whenever you stop by the gallery or at our opening reception for “Local Art, Local Eats” on Friday, February 17th at 6:30PM! And if you are specifically interested in silverpoint, contact the gallery and we can notify you when we receive such works!

Filed under: Fine Art Tagged: Art, draw, drawing, durer, Events, exhibitions, fine art, Local Art Local Eats, Rembrandt, Robert Liberace, silver, silverpoint, sketch, Susan O'Neill, technique, Technique Tuesdays

Local Art, Local Eats

It is often over looked how this prominent region hosts the best of the best, so we want to make sure no one forgets it!  To celebrate the incredible talents and unqiue offerings of the Northern Virginian and Maryland areas, we are hosting a show that will represent local artists and provide local gourmet food. “Local Art, Local Eats” is both a welcome to those unfamiliar with this area’s bountiful contributions as well as a thankful tribute to those who make our community stand out from the rest.


With help from the neighboring restaurants, The Wharf and The Warehouse, this exhibition will be an all inclusive event promoting the distinct qualities of this region. The culinary mastery prepared by these two wonderful restaurants is incomparable to other restaurants across the region. Their delicious food can be smelled from down the cobblestone roads of Old Town Alexandria and draws in everyone under the sun!


Similar to Principle Gallery, both restaurants’ locations also hold historic significance to the Old Town area. Each building possesses architecture reminiscent of the Revolutionary era and is part of the historical district plan developed by Old Town Surveryor, George Gilpin. As one of the last historic towns still in tact, Old Town Alexandria is definitely a distinguished neighborhood that we are all proud to be a part of!

As for the exhibition, “Local Art, Local Eats” will feature artsits of all subjects, ranging from Jorge Alberto‘s paintings of trompe-l’oiel to Jeff Erickson‘s mixed media abstraction. This small group of artists were carefully selected to represent the show based upon their craftsmanship and pure talent – the best of the best! Other featured artists include: Ben Barker, Bethanne Kinsella Cople, Elizabeth Floyd, Gavin Glakas, Palden Hamilton, Glen Kessler, Robert Liberace, Teresa Oaxaca, Susan O’Neill, and Sara Linda Poly.

barker-new-york-ave-1 hamilton-seated-nude Kessler_140104#1, 1/4/14, 12:16 PM,  8C, 9000x12000 (0+0), 150%, Custom,  1/30 s, R77.4, G52.3, B70.6


We are more than excited to share with you the great offerings of the area and welcome you to our community. “Local Art, Local Eats” is open on Friday, February 17th at 6:30PM and is free to the public. To receive more information regarding the show or Principle Gallery’s collection and artists, click this link!



Filed under: Fine Art