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I followed a suggestion from the artist and author, Betsy Dillard Stroud.  She wrote a book titled The Artist’s Muse in 2006. The book comes complete with decks of cards that have creative art exercises listed on them. I tried one of them for the above self portrait. The instructions were to choose one color to represent your spiritual self; one to represent your physical self and a third to represent your mental self.  Then you are to take those three colors and create a self portrait. I chose quinachridone orange (copper kettle) for physical self, quinachridone gold for spiritual self, and phthlocyanine blue (arctic ice) for mental self.


These three colors are the three you see on the top row of the image above. The other blobs are example mixtures of those three colors.

I was very skeptical as I began to work on this, but was presently surprised by the results very early on in the painting. It was relaxing to be concerned with only three colors (not as daunting as I supposed).  More than any other exercise I’ve done, I quickly began to realise the importance of value as compared to the small role that color plays. I  also learned a great deal about how I could stretch these three colors and what they looked like combined with each other. I also learned how they behaved and looked when applied dark, applied light and when I used them to glaze, one over the other. I will try more of these three color paintings in the future. Maybe I will choose my colors for other reasons for other subjects. Colors that I think look angry or colors that may reflect the colors of a rainy day. There’s no end to how I could assign three colors to a painting!

I rate this exercise worth trying!



  1. Funny that you have headed in this direction at the same time as….moi! Have recently purchased two colour books and have now added “The Artist’s Muse” to my list “to purchase”. My last two finished watercolour posts were based primarily on three colours. Working on one now…three colours again. It is quite fun to not only reduce the complexity of the image but to reduce the colour into a family colour palette. I find it quite exciting….
    Absolutely am taken with your portrait…and of course your colour choices. You continue to inspire….

    • Jumped over to your site and took in your recent posts! That boat is full of energy and the red chair piece is a fun study done from primary colors. I like them both. You are so creative!
      I am going to try more of these with three colors. I even want to try colors that would be a little strange used together. I, generally just follow the two triads and analogous and monochromatic color schemes. Everything else usually just falls into place without too much worry. But these three colors aren’t really a true primary color triad, but they workedtogether like one! That amazed me. Thank you for your confidence boosting comments, Jots! Made my day!

      • And…your post of black/white watercolour! I’m going to try that as well. So here’s back at you….you made MY day! Thanks for your words of encouragement, Leslie. Always, Raye

  2. Beautiful! Wow, those hands! And the colors are terrific. It’s so cool to find a new challenge that really teaches you something, so hooray for that! 🙂

    • You don’t know how important your comment on the hands are, Cindy. I thank you for that, so much! I really liked this challenge and will do it again. I so want to try something with some colors that are “quirky” and try and make them work in some way. 🙂

  3. oh yeah, what a great exercise. I like how it came out too. very informal, puts a smile on my face.

  4. The results of your experiment definitely turned out a success

  5. Yes, indeed. When the value is right, one can be both creative and expressive with color. Limited palettes are my favorite! It’s amazing what one can do with only three pigments. Great self-portrait!

    • Thank you, Chris! I had quite lost contact with you, not seeing you post on Three Times Around. Clicked on your tag, I did, and was pleasantly surprised to see you had a blog running on your own website. Love it! …and I need to catch up on your work, now!

  6. Great exercise Leslie and great result.

  7. Da Bears?! Love this self-portrait, Leslie. You always amaze me with your work and this piece is no exception. Can’t believe you only used three colors and I can definitely see how this exercise would teach you an important lesson in value.

    • Ha! Yes, “Da Bears”! My son is the “REAL” fan. The rest of us have acquired an interest because he’s convinced us. After this season I am wondering why, but then I guess they just followed the old addage; “You win some and you lose some”.
      Thankyou, Sherry for this comment regarding my self portrait. It was freeing, after awhile, just using three colors. Really was.

  8. Loving your tri colour self portrait Leslie, all three combine to make a hit for me. the portrait almost moves, so full of life and somehow I feel as if I know you. Your hair, movement of the arm, marvellous structure and form. (My partner follows t’Stealers) 🙂 xPenx

    • I watch the Steelers, too! They are the AFC, so we have to keep our eye on them in the event we are Super Bowl bound, but rarely do we meet, otherwise. Two close friends of mine are Steeler fans. Both teams were equally baffling this year and we wait for another season to shine. Thankyou, Pen for your visit and comment! 🙂

  9. What a lovely way to do a self portrait, including colors that represent the physical, mental and spiritual self, that probably gave you scope to introspect yourself deep enough to decide on the colors. It is very beautiful and makes me awe struck because it has only three colors and doesnt seem that way! I love the details on the hands and the action filled composition.

    • Yes. You are correct. I played with different colors for awhile. I knew what color for my physical self right off the bat. It had to be a warm earthy tone, so the copper kettle was a shoe in. The other two came to me more slowly. I played with the different blue hues for a long time, Padmaja. Thankyou for your comment regarding hands and the composition. Means a lot.

  10. Thank you so much, perfect timing, I am going to try this today as I am feeling a bit low and in need of uncomplicated art therapy 🙂 a real challenge with pastels, but will give it a go…. Thanks again

    • Oh, and the portrait is stunning, the hands, hair, even the blinds… Perfect

    • Hi cadpaint,
      I hope I found your art blog OK. Is it this one? Good that you use this thing we call art as therapy. I think we all do if truth were told. I read your about page and agree with your philosophy that creating can be a form of therapy. Do give this a go. I think this will work just fine with pastel. I think you could even do some interesting animal pastels with three colors you assign for their character. What’s to lose? There is always another sheet of paper waiting! 🙂 Thankyou for your comment regarding the self portrait, too!

  11. What a great portrait. This is a really good idea and I love what the colours represent. I can’t believe that while portrait is just 3 colours-it’s amazing how much they mix and blend into other shades and tones.
    Thank you so much for your reply on my blog yesterday. I really appreciate your input and advice as you so clearly know what you’re talking about! It’s good to know that it isn’t necessary to stretch the paper for every piece after all-i felt I was being lead than professional if I didn’t but if it isn’t really necessary then that’s one thing less to do before starting a new piece. I agree that sometimes professional framing is the way to go and I will do that for certain exhibitions. For local ones however unfortunately folk don’t really value the time and effort that goes into art and so for those exhibitions I’ll try to source less expensive frames to keep costs down. Thank you so much. I did try to reply by email but you’re a no reply comment thingie!

    • It is perfectly OK for you to respond, here. I understand your feelings about the framing. Glad to be of help about to stretch or not to stretch. You will probably run across others that say the same thing as me.
      Thankyou for your comment regarding my painting above.
      Your gouache paintings are super!!!!!!!

  12. Amazing! ❤️

  13. Awesome picture mom, looks just like you 🙂

    • Thankyou so much, Corey. That means a ton coming from someone who knows me! 🙂

  14. The word “awesome” comes to my mind also – love this picture Leslie…even thought I’m commenting (for once) I’m lost for words.

  15. Really nice… but what if you had not chosen three colours in the red/yellow/blue range and had gone for three in the same colour range – that would be interesting!

    • Yes! You are right. I think this is an opportunity to explore even more! Thankyou for your visit and comment!

  16. Very interesting experiment. I would never have guessed that the palette was so limited. And you know, you do have the best football team logo on your shirt.

    • Ha! You must be a Bear fan! Thank you for your comment! 🙂

      • I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago. White Sox and Bears!!!

  17. This is great! What you create with this three colors is hard to believe. I learn something every time I visit you, Leslie. I really like this.

    • Thankyou for this, Kate. It’s amazing how we, as a society, get caught in that trap of feeling more is better, don’t you think. I, too, was amazed at the tones and color variations I could get with these three colors.

  18. Leslie! I never got this post. (I subscribe to your blog so I usually get it in an email.) I was asleep at the wheel on this one. I just popped by and boy oh boy! What a nice surprise to see this amazing self portrait of you using only 3 colors. I like the description and the colors you selected. What an interesting idea. And I guess with only 3 colors you can keep the color more transparent. I really like this and will check out the book you mentioned.

    • I think, sometimes, there are glitches in notifications, perhaps? I enjoy your visits, here, anytime. The book is a good one. I have always liked Betsy Dillard Stroud. Thankyou for your comments!

  19. You come up with the cleverest of ideas! What fun! And what fantastic portrait! So full of energy and radiant with colors!

    • This, actually, was not my idea but I do search for ideas to stretch and learn. This one did not disappoint. I think I would have been so frustrated doing this when I first began, but, now, it is freeing. I’ve had time to study and explore value and to play with my palette. This was fun! Thankyou, Isabelle! 🙂

  20. What I respond to most is not necessarily the finished image…but rather the way you thought about yourself in terms of symbolic colors. This adds a nice layer reinforcing the idea of “self-portrait”.

  21. You pretty much summarized my thoughts on colors which I had just expressed on your other paintings…
    That’s a wonderful way to look at it, I never knew portraits could be approached that way so thanks for sharing…Also, your three self’s have really really worked great here, love the subtlety of the piece and tranquility of it!!

    • Thankyou, so much. This was a fun exercise and I will do it again. I like the idea of working in three colors and the thpought that went into creating it, Divya. Give it a try. I’ll bet you will enjoy it, also.

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. By Student Selfies!!!! | Leslie White on 22 Mar 2014 at 1:13 pm

    […] this exercise?  The above paintings are some of the tri-color selfies created by the artists in my Creative […]

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