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Learning from Millard Sheets

Mosaic by Millard Sheets in the former Home Savings and Loan Tower in Pomona

I was extremely fortunate to study with Millard Sheets in his final two workshops. I kept copious notes and from them extracted tips and admonitions on color and value. These have been very helpful for me and I’m happy to pass them along.

  • Before you begin, determine where the light starts and stops.
  • Establish the lightest light and darkest dark early.
  • Worry about shadows on objects later – get the basic value down first.
  • Give it hell from the minute you start painting! There is no point covering up pale washes when the object is essentially dark.
  • You never get a color by looking at it alone, only by relationships. Don’t look at isolated items, look back and forth 4 times. Which is lightest? Darkest? Warmest? Coolest?
  • Always work from colors in the same family. Compare whites against whites, blues against blues, etc.
  • The greatest colorists in the world are the ones who know the most about muddy color. Mud can be a foil for brilliant color. 
  • Put the purest, brightest color in first. It’s too hard to get pure color later.
  • Warm colors always have more weight than cool colors.
  • Cool colors suggest atmosphere.
  • Generally speaking, the color will come in the half tones, not the lightest tones. 
  • Don’t be afraid of color, it makes a painting rich.
  • Anytime two colors are repeated in the same area, it becomes the same place. Don’t have a lazy brush. 
  • Color, to become a miracle, has to be felt. Take time to see it.


  1. Sketchbook Wandering
    October 29, 2012

    I didn't know this artist, but thanks for posting some of his lessons. They are similiar to some I heard from David Dewey this summer. One is unknown & a bit confusing to me: the one about 2 colors repeated in the same area.

  2. Judith Farnworth Art
    October 29, 2012

    Really helpful.. have also made a note of them, thank you for sharing!!

  3. Judy Schroeder
    November 20, 2012

    Regarding the question from "Sketchbook Wandering", the repetition of color in 2 different areas of a painting was something Millard Sheets addressed often. He would caution us to avoid a "lazy brush." By that he meant that we should alter the puddle of color as we reached for the palette. He said that if it was the same color in two different parts of the painting, it was the same place. When you think of atmospheric perspective it makes more sense.
    He recalled seeing a Braque painting in New York and counting over 156 different hues of paint. It affected his own approach to color and his teaching as well.

  4. Sketchbook Wandering
    November 26, 2012

    Thank you!


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