Thursday, November 27, 2008

Color Theory 12 - J.P. Miller, Painter of Warmth

J. P. Miller has a way of painting warm scenes. By "warm" I don't mean reddish as opposed to blueish; I mean it in an atmospheric way. His scenes are warm and cozy. They invite you into the stories.When talking about color theory, we usually call blueish colors "cool" and reddish tints "warm". Miller can paint blueish objects like the castle above and make them feel warm. His books are great for bedtime stories, because they make you feel it's night and raining hard outside while you are all snuggled up in a million blankets.

How does he achieve this?


The green on this cave is subdued by mixing it with gray. The flesh colors too...and the browns of the bear costumes.

WIDE AREAS OF NEUTRAL COLORSThis Camel painting is mostly made up of neural colors - in this case browns and tans. Even the green foliage is mixed with tan to subdue it, so that it doesn't compete for attention with the camel.

The one bright spot in the scene is the pink saddle. Even the pink is a soft pink.

SOFT GRADATIONS THAT CHANGE TINT SUBTLYIf you look closely at any area of Miller's colors you can see that where he uses shadows or darker areas, that he doesn't just use a darker version of the same color. He tints the darker area.

The overall fur color on this camel is a tan, but the fringe of fur has more red in it. The tint change is very subtle and it warms up the painting.

If he just used a darker version of the same tint as the tan fur, the effect would be monochromatic and dreary.


Overall picture is mostly neutral.

Accents in small areas of blue and pink.

Soft gradations of tints in the fur. Above has grayish brown as main color, but gradually blending into purplish-grayish-brown.

In another area of the moose, the tint changes to a slight greenish-brownish-gray.

Each area of color in the illustrations above have these subtle changes of tint and value. - Even the brighter color areas like the elephant's red coat.


When you use a lot of warm neutral colors in a picture you can make small areas pop out by using brighter colors that contrast against the neutrals. And you don't have to use an absolutely pure primary or secondary color to make it pop. It can be subdued too, but just much less subdued than the natural colors. It's the contrasts that makes the picture colorful.

Very gradual tint changes in the gray (neutral) skin of this hippo...

POP! The pinkish red mouth really invites us into the gaping maw because of the big contrast against the more subtle ever so slightly changing hues of the gray skin.

If you put bright colors right next to other bright colors, you create anarchy and break up the picture.


He loves yellow and pink.

Miller uses a lot of neutral colors in his paintings, but also seems to like pure yellow and pink and uses them in almost all his paintings.


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You can buy "flesh colored" markers, crayons and paint at the art store. It's not really anything as subtle as actual flesh It's basically a light orange and the ease of buying pre-mixed flesh color entices us to be lazy and never observe how many varieties and shadings of flesh color exist even on one single person of any race or complexion.

I've always been attracted to artists who use odd tints for skin, and J. P. Miller is one of them.


To avoid the jarring effects of putting bright colors (primaries and secondaries and pinks) right next to each other, Miller separates the bright colors with neutrals between them.

Grey, purple, brown. The brightest color-the purple is framed by the neutral colors.

He uses this checkerboard pattern a lot.

Go visit Barbie's great Golden Book site for lots more color thrills!


oppo said...

In contrast to this "warm", colors, I'd say that Mary Blair was fluorescent.

Oh, and Happy Thankgiving, John K!

Frank said...

Happy Thanksgivings !
Gobble, Gobble ...

JohnK said...

Actually Mary Blair uses a lot of the same techniques.

oppo said...

Yes, she did, but the prodection art for Alice in Wonderland doesn't seem as inviting as what I see here. Seems like city neon lights or something.

But I like it, too.

Bob Flynn said...

Great observations on color. It's definitely good practice to balance intense colors with neutrals. Some of the most colorful images need browns and grays to ground them...and provide contrast so the colors you pick pop. These illustrations are great!

ari said...

guess this is a stupid question. any body got an idea of what kind of brushes he was specifically using? and how he layered it and such? technique looks like a big part of getting the colours to read

Sherm said...

Thanks so much for sharing these paintings and for sharing your thoughts. Really wonderfull stuff here -- I think I'll be spending a lot of time poring over these images.

Freckled Derelict said...

Wow this is such a great analysis, I wish you would do this for all the artist you like listed on the blog. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on Art Seiden, Aurelius Battaglia and especially Vernon Grant.

JohnK said...

Hi Barbie

you made it easy for me!

Happy Thanksgiving

I did one on Art Seiden...

I don't like him as much, but he has some skill all right.

I'll do the others too now that I found all your scans!

Barbara said...

Hey John, do you know anything about dry brush technique, and if you do would you mind doing a post about it sometime--I suck at it and trying to get useful information from my teachers is like pulling teeth

Freckled Derelict said...

Happy Thanksgiving to you, hope you ate a ton of meat!!
Thanks for the post link I forgot about that one.

Let me know if you want me to scan any vintage kids books not listed on the blog already.
I've got almost everything and I'm slowly trying to get them all on the site.

Anything to help, you do so much for all of us with this blog!

JohnK said...

Thanks Barbie,

there are so many good illustrators, I don't know where to start...

How about Dick Kelsey? - Disney painter, he did a lot of great Golden books- Grandpa Bunny for one

Freckled Derelict said...

Sure I have that one, I can post it by Sat night.
Let me know anytime if you want me to scan and post a book.

Tony said...

Hi John,
loving this blog, keep it on!


pumml said...

Thank you John and Barbie for this post. It's really great to see such brilliant examples and analysis to help put into words why I like these paintings so much... and how Miller achieved the inviting look through smart color usage.

I'm no expert but I'd like to take a shot at a couple questions if I may?

Ari - Miller appears to use very limited layering techniques. Usually a flat color with one layer of shading applied. My guess is gouache or watercolor and likely with a good quality watercolor brush.

Barbara - Drybrushing is best done with a soft watercolor brush on paper or board with some texture (cold press for example). You simply need to use little or no water in your brush, blot off most of the paint and then pull the brush across your surface in a controlled motion. Brush angle is as important as paint consistency. The brush should not be perpendicular but more parallel to the surface. A light touch is required.

Hope that helps!

I would also enjoy reading any paint tutorials you might offer, John.

Masked Stinker said...

Yeah, another color post.
I've just started doing watercolor
so these kind of post are very helpful.

You're theory post are always very
clear to understand.
Not like some of the art & design
teachers I've had!

Elana Pritchard said...

I just got my first cartoonist job and I just had to stop by and say thanks!

You rule! Hooray!