The Colour Courses

Understanding and Applying Colour (online, National Art School, Sydney)

Understanding and Applying Colour (in person, not currently available)

This course of illustrated lectures, practical exercises and painting studies provides a unique introduction to our current understanding of colour, tailored to meet the needs of art and design practitioners and teachers, but suitable for anyone interested in the subject. The course was originally developed over about twenty years as a five-day workshop, Colour, Light and Vision, at the Julian Ashton Art School in Sydney.

In 2018 the course moved to the National Art School, Sydney, as Understanding and Applying Colour, initially as a live class held over eight evenings or five days, and then beginning in June 2020 as a term of eight three-hour live online classes. NAS has kept the cost of this course very low at $AUS 445 (2022 price), with some early bird and concession discounts available; see their website for details and to enroll. NAS Public Programs courses are NESA registered for professional development of teachers in NSW. Classes are limited to 12 students.

Students receive a set of approximately 450 slides from the lecture course, as well as a mailout of a Munsell greyscale and hue circle. Students of the online course also get exclusive access to a new online Illustrated Glossary of Colour containing illustrated definitions of about 200 terms related to colour and painting.

Two sessions are offered each term to suit every time zone. Coming sessions:

  • National Art School, Sydney (online): Mondays from October 10, 2022, 10.00 am to 1.00 pm AEDT (bookings now open on NAS website)

  • National Art School, Sydney (online): Mondays from October 10, 2022, 6.00 pm to 9.00 pm AEDT (bookings now open on NAS website)

  • Please note that it's always important to book NAS Short Courses at least TWO WEEKS in advance of the starting date if possible. Short courses at NAS are sometimes sold out many weeks in advance, and conversely can be cancelled up to two weeks before the start date if they have not reached the minimum required enrollments at that time. Leaving bookings to the last minute can lead to disappointment for everyone!

  • If you'd like to be placed on a mailing list to be notified of future sessions as soon as they are offered on the NAS website, you can send me your email address using the form at the bottom of the page.


The course includes eight sections of illustrated lecture content. The lectures are conducted in real time in the virtual online studio with time for questions and discussion.

Topics covered include:

  1. What is a colour? What exactly are we seeing when we see a colour? Attributes of colour perceptions: explore how colours of objects can be described in terms of attributes such as hue, lightness (=value, tone) and chroma (colour strength). What scales are used to specify each of these attributes?

  2. Colours of objects and light. What different kinds of colour perceptions do we have when we view an illuminated scene. Colorimetry: how does our framework of colour perceptions relate to colorimetry (colour measurement) and the colour spaces used by digital artists?

  3. Biology and physiology of colour vision. Explore the widely misunderstood physical and biological basis of colour vision. Mixing processes: How does our knowledge of colour perception help us to understand additive, subtractive, and partitive mixing theory.

  4. Artists paints: compare artists’ pigments and their physical properties such as opacity, tinting strength, toxicity, and permanence. How does the mixing of actual paints relate to theoretical mixing processes.? Learn to fine tune the colour of a paint mixture by applying your knowledge of paint-mixing paths in colour space.

  5. Colour and light I. Understand the zones of light and shadow on an illuminated object. Explore how two further attributes of perceived colour, saturation and brilliance, can be employed to evoke appearances of illumination and luminosity in a painting.

  6. Colour and light II. What are the effects on the appearance of a scene of variations in the direction, size, distance, colour and number of the light source(s), and of the material properties of the objects and intervening atmosphere?

  7. Colour perception. Explore the many aspects of visual perception relevant to representational and abstract painters, including adaptation, colour constancy, and partial failures of colour constancy including contrast and assimilation.

  8. Theories of colour. We review and consolidate our understanding of colour from a historical perspective with a survey of the development of theories of colour from the Renaissance to the present. How do the tenets of traditional “artistic” (red-yellow-blue) colour theory relate to current knowledge?

Each session also includes descriptions of optional practical exercises that progress from basic exercises illustrating the theory to still life painting studies. See how the attributes of hue, lightness and chroma can be used to visualize colour relationships and paint mixing in a three-dimensional framework. Learn how to precisely and efficiently match a given colour in paint by applying this framework. Create a series of paint mixtures that will evoke the appearance of a coloured object passing between shadow and light. Translate your colour perceptions of a still life subject into colours of paints, at first in greyscale and then in full colour. These exercises are completed out of class hours and reviewed with feedback at the following session.

Backgound links for each session

Materials list for optional practical exercises

ZIP FILES OF SLIDES (password protected):

Click on the zip file link, then on the page that opens click on the download symbol at top right.


Selected slides from each of the eight theory sessions plus the practical exercises. Participants receive the full set of about 450 slides.


My other classes at NAS

Oil Painting with Colour and Light (on campus, Wednesday evenings and some Summer Schools)

This is my on-campus, practical oil painting class at NAS. It is often done by students who have previously done the Understanding and Applying Colour online course (or vice versa, the classes can be done in any order). New students work through a structured series of painting exercises progressing from tonal painting to full colour, but previous students (of either course) can choose among the exercises and work at their own pace.

Drawing and Painting the Life Model (on campus, Wednesday evenings)

Make sustained drawings and paintings from a life model holding the same pose over several sessions. This course provides a concise overview of approaches and techniques that will improve your life drawing and painting. Generally offered in Terms 1 and 4, alternating with Oil Painting with Colour and Light in Terms 2 and 3.

Drawing for Beginners (on campus, Saturdays)

In this course I cover the fundamentals of seeing and drawing your subject in an integrated way. We cover the use of different materials (pencil, chalk, and pen), proportions, perspective, composition, light and shade, and the expressive effects of the abstract visual elements of a drawing. Subjects include the still life, the life model and the historic NAS campus.

Anatomy for Life Drawing (Summer and Winter Schools)

Anatomy for Life Drawing is a five-day workshop held in the magnificent top floor studio in the Chapel at the National Art School in the Summer and Winter School for the last ten years. For beginning anatomists the focus is on the skeleton, but content is flexible for those with prior knowledge.

Finally, please feel free to follow/friend me on any of my social media accounts or use the form below to get in touch: