Loved & Learned from Kolbie Blume’s Intermediate Landscapes Module 2: Color

I’m working my way through Kolbie Blume’s Intermediate Landscapes course; last time, I discussed module one, on light. In this post, I’ll share my paintings from the color theory section.

The Paintings

Complementary Snowy Mountain


  • Sumi ink quality of the Prussian Blue shadow layer
  • Glowing quality of the orange tone on the mountain
  • Orange-to-blue blend


  • While I like my painting, it really doesn’t look like the reference; that’s not inherently problem, except that I’d like to have been able to do the reference. I think it has to do with paying more attention to where the shadows are and the actual shape of the pictured mountain instead of what I expect a mountain to look like.
  • Would have liked to capture the pinker colors in the reference. It’s really more of a pink to blue than an orange to blue (orange to blue was the assignment… but I think it would help me to get out of the rut of thinking of colors as “red, orange, yellow” etc and embrace in-between colors. Grapefruit to azure is still a complementary pair.

Split-Complementary River Sunset

I consciously chose to differ from Kolbie’s color choices and make mine more like the reference, though I think this makes it more of a straight up complementary (coral and teal) rather than split-complementary (Kolbie did orange-yellow, blue, and violet).


  • The colorblock nature of the reference and the resulting photo. Very simple and cool – liek video game art.
  • Subtle variations in the tealness of the background and foreground mountains, trees, and water.
  • Bold color combos.
  • I simplified the foreground, which I think was necessary for my own sanity and still retained what I love about the composition.


  • One of the keys of this painting is the abrupt change from teal to a similar-value orange, and my painting shows some ugly overlap there which results in an awkward grey-brown line on the edge of the mountain. This was simply a challenging situation for watercolor, though, and I don’t know how I could have done it differently (except to be slightly neater).
  • I missed a trick by omitting the mist.

Tetradic Night Sky

The addition of the little red house was from the tutorial; this is what makes it tetradic (blue + orange, green + red).


  • My commitment to noticing where the light was coming from, including doing color-changes on all the green (bluer-green and darker on the left, yellower-green and lighter on the right) and putting the lighter face of the house on the right.
  • Glowing colors.


  • Another challenging watercolor situation, but the transition from orange to blue is pretty abrupt here.
  • I forgot to put windows on the house and had to quickly lift red and drop in yellow, which makes them less crisp and intentional than they could have been.
  • The reference has a darker sky and a galaxy which would have been nice to put in (though this may have detracted from the focus on the house).

Limited Palette Cabin

I’m going to admit that I really phoned this one in. You can see that nearly two weeks went by between this painting and the last one (whereas I had tended to do the others on successive days). I simply wasn’t looking forward to it. I didn’t like the reference, and didn’t relish the idea of the challenge, which was to render a muted painting in a primary triad. I get that the idea of the learn how to mix, but I just found it slow going.

Part of the problem is also that didn’t re-review the tutorial before going for it, and a lot of time had passed, so I forgot basics like:

  1. Kolbie used a primary trio and a dark. Wow, adding Payne’s Gray really would have helped.
  2. Basic order of operations. I tried to do it all on one layer. Why??

The primary triad I chose was Alizarin Crimson Quinacridone, Nickel Azo Yellow, and Cobalt Blue. I sort of knew this would be bad, but I thought that if I picked colors that I did not see in the painting at all, it would enhance the lesson that you can do anything from a limited palette. You can… but some limited palettes are more suited to some subjects than others. My primary challenge was that Cobalt Blue doesn’t get very dark, so it was difficult to mix up all the darks I needed (adding the Payne’s Gray or using a darker/more transparent blue would have helped). Also, I found it difficult to tame the glow of Nickel Azo Yellow – a quality I usually like in this color, but that was not suited for this subject. A more straightforward yellow would have been better for this particular case.


  • If you can’t see what I was going for, there is something interesting about the idea of a cabin in a golden field.
  • The browns I made for the cabin aren’t horrible and it has decent value contrast considering the colors I was working with.


  • Re-review the tutorial right before the painting.
  • Remember the order of operations. All paintings start with a background layer.
  • “You can do anything from a limited palette” doesn’t mean it will necessarily be easy or fun to use any limited palette. More thoughtful matches of my limited palette colors to my subject would probably have made my job less frustrating. If I were to do it again, I think better choices would have been Raw Sienna and Prussian Blue. (The Alizarin Crimson was fine.)
  • If you’re not excited about a prompt, it’s probably better to skip it or change it, rather than force yourself. What is this for, except for your own fun?


I wasn’t quite as happy with these paintings as I was with the ones on light. I’m not sure if it’s because the topic of color theory doesn’t interest me as much, or if I wasn’t as into the reference photos, or I had more stress going on in my life in general. Maybe all three!

You would think that I would enjoy color theory since I love color, but I tend to prefer a more intuitive approach rather than the systematic nature of choosing a tetradic palette or whatever. I think I also get too nitpicky about the way it is taught; I feel like I have never had a color theory lesson where I didn’t disagree with the teacher or feel talked-down-to (except maybe the intro to The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair, which got into the science of light and visual perception, and which I found very informative.) For example, the language of warm and cool colors sets my teeth on edge, though I appreciate that Kolbie made an effort to redirect to color bias rather than purely using warm/cool terminology.

With that said, I did enjoy painting most of these (all but the last one) because I simply enjoy painting colorful scenes! I think that I would have also enjoyed the last one more if I had either ignored the lesson or followed the lesson with a reference I enjoyed more – I think this is a good reminder that I get out of this what I put into it, and I am allowed to customize.