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Josef Albers "Interaction of Color"

- Katy Kirbach
(Artist-instructor for Color: Practice and Theory,  6 February - 13 March, 2019)

I first encountered Albers' Interaction of Color as an undergraduate student at the Slade School of Fine Art, in London, U.K. The Slade had one of the original sets of screen prints that accompanied the first edition, so I spent hours poring over the prints and marveling at the mutability of color. Years later, when I was asked to teach a Color class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I knew that I wanted to build the course around the exercises in the Interaction of Color. These exercises demand precision and patience, but also teach us how to see, and how to make color do things. Previous students have described my color course as invaluable; rigorous but also rewarding; and something every artist should learn.

I have planned the workshop Color: Practice and Theory for the Berlin Drawing Room, starting February 6, 2019,  based on a series of exercises developed by Josef Albers in the Interaction of Color. Originally published in 1963, Albers’ approach to color theory still feels relevant today because he places the importance of practice before theory. In doing this, he created one of the best manuals for any visual artist hoping to better understand the role that color plays within their work.

In his introduction to Interaction of Color, Albers writes:

“In order to use color effectively it is necessary to recognize
that color deceives continually.
To this end, the beginning is not a study of color systems.

First it should be learned that one and the same color evokes
innumerable readings.
Instead of mechanically applying or merely implying laws and rules
of color harmony, distinct color effects are produced
- through recognition of the interaction of color -
by making, for instance,
2 very different colors look alike, or nearly alike.

The aim of such study is to develop - through experience
-  by trial and error - an eye for color.
This means, specifically, seeing color action
as well as feeling color relatedness.

As a general training it means development of observation and articulation.

This book, therefore, does not follow an academic conception
of “theory and practice.”
It reverses this order and places practice before theory,
which, after all, is the conclusion of practice.”[i]

                                           An example of student work, based on an exercise on color quantity 
Albers began as a student at the Bauhaus in 1920, and became a professor at Bauhaus Dessau in 1925. Consisting of workshops including weaving, glass and mural painting, metal, building theory, plastic arts, fine arts, ceramics and more, the Bauhaus is often looked at as a model for contemporary art and design schools, and its ethos is still felt today. While at the Bauhaus, Albers taught the Vorkurs (preliminary course) and worked with stained glass and furniture design. After emigrating to the U.S. in 1933 with his wife and fellow artist Anni Albers, Josef taught at Black Mountain College and then became the head of the department of design at Yale, where he developed the Interaction of Color with the help of his students.

                                                     Josef Albers, Homage to the Square: With Rays, 1959. 
                                                     Collection of the Metropolitan Museum, New York.

His body of work Homage to the Square was begun in 1949, and continued until his death in 1976. In these rigorous and stunning paintings, we can see Albers putting into action many of the principles of color and vision laid out in the Interaction of Color. That these paintings started before his book was created, and continued long after, indicates the complexity of color and the infinite possibilities that can unfold within strict parameters.

                                                             Katy Kirbach, Daylight, acrylic and oil on woven 
                                                             canvas, 152cm x 122cm, 2017

Details for upcoming 'Color: Practice and Theory' workshops on the Berlin Drawing Room website.

[i] Albers, Josef. “Introduction”. Interaction of Color. Yale University. 2013 (reissued from 1963). Print, p. 1.


Gift Certificates available

We have so many exciting workshops already scheduled for 2019! Instead of accumulating more stuff, give the gift of creativity in the new year! 

Write to to order a customized gift certificate.

Making Image Transfer Collages

Image transfers have a beautiful, ethereal quality and are extremely versatile in their application. Source images can be combinations of anything from photos, magazines and other collected materials to drawings or basically anything you can print from the internet. Explore the materials and methods used to make successful image transfers, combining collage, painting and drawing to create layered images. Learn several photo transfer techniques (including solvent, acrylic and transparency alcohol transfers) and how they work with different surface materials, such as paper, wood, canvas, etc. Seamlessly combine your source images into a painting or collage by knowing which image transfer technique is right for any composition.
As a class we will consider the process of image replication in relation to memory, through discussion and looking at the work of contemporary and historical artists. Participants will leave with the knowledge to continue experimenting with image transfers as well as a conceptual framework to explore artistic notions of memory. 
January 22 - February 12, 2019 at the Berlin Drawing Room

Keegan Luttrell performing at Display, Berlin

Keegan Luttrell, artist-instructor

Message from Founder: Pricing Change in 2019

Dear BDR Community,

Our goal at the Berlin Drawing Room is to offer you high quality workshops led by professional artists at an accessible price. We have been overwhelmed by the positive feedback, with the majority of our workshops in 2018 being completely SOLD OUT. This success has also led to some growing pains.

You might not have realized it, but the workshop prices have not included the usual 19% VAT (value added tax - sales tax), or in German MwSt. We have now grown to a size that we meet the requirement to add VAT.

Starting in 2019, all workshop prices will be subject to 19% VAT. Unfortunately we have no choice in the matter. This means a price increase for our students, with no additional income for us. Not fun, yet inevitable.

However, if you pay for a workshop that takes place in 2019 and the payment is received BEFORE December 31, 2018, you can skip the VAT. That's right! You have an entire month to sign up for workshops at the old prices!

I've made an extra effort to plan all our workshops as far in advance as possible, through March, so that you can take advantage of this loophole. Sign up now for 2019 workshop and pay no VAT.

We've got some incredible NEW workshops coming up, such as Color: Practice and Theory and Creative Drawing, as well as some classic favorites such as Drawing from Observation and Winter Botanical Drawing. See details below and on our website.

To sign up for any workshop, just follow the link to the workshop page and fill out the registration form. I'll be following up with more details and excitement regarding the new workshops in upcoming newsletters.

all the best,
Mira O'Brien
Founding Director
Berlin Drawing Room

Supply List for Color: Theory and Practice

Available to purchase at first class:

  • mixed media paper block  (13 Euro from Boesner) - make sure to bring 13 Euro exact change to first class.

  • Scissors
  • glue stick

  • your own brushes
  • other optional materials will be discussed during the workshop, as things progress and individual interests develop
  • Clean palette or disposable palettes

Provided by Berlin Drawing Room:

  • acrylic paint
  • brushes (used)
  • paper towels
  • palettes (used)
  • jars for water

Alisa Margolis: Painting Exploded

Upon first encountering Alisa Margolis’ paintings online I was unsure whether I was looking at paint. The American artist's work ranges from technically rendered explosions and carefully constructed rubble to the Baroque meets deep space and the Athenians at a rock concert.

“There’s something primal about painting, the materiality, the color- it produces endorphins,” I caught up with Margolis outside the Spati in Mitte, her home for the last ten years. When asked to explain her own work she shrugs, ever the nonchalant New Yorker, “It’s between technical formalism and ‘let it fly’”.

Throughout Margolis’ career, beginning in New York at Columbia University for her BA, then attending de Ateliers in Amsterdam and finally settling in Berlin, she has created spaces for art traditions, ranging from the Baroque to Dutch 17th century flower painting to american pop culture, to interact. Typically beginning in a dark space, layers of oil and resin produce milky color plumes; a wonder of technical skill and a clear joy in the process of painting. Flowers, abstract designs and body parts dissolve and perforate- the lights go up onstage and Axl Rose melts.

Margolis, I'm Your Boyfriend Now, 2018. Oil and Resin on Canvas.

Margolis most recently exhibited in a group show at Galerie Judin in Berlin, which she also organized. This exhibition was an opportunity for Margolis to add classical figures to her abstract landscapes. The saturated, colorful spaces were rendered in pastel sunset hues rather than her usual dark cosmic fields and the figures, spilling, twisting, and appearing in smoke and in satin, belonged to antiquity. Easily recognized as figures between gods and men, Margolis' formalism and “gooey feel” technique is on dactylic display. Her abstract expressionist foundation entangles the measured lines of the classical figures, the ancient icons, their roman brows and laurel wreaths severed from chiseled abs hidden in a bubbling pink enamel veil.

Margolis, Eleven Times with Hercules, 2018. Oil Alkyd resin and India Ink on canvas. Galerie Judin, Berlin

Margolis, Fieldwork, 2018. Oil and Alkyd resin on canvas. Galerie Judin, Berlin

In Margolis’ highly anticipated Berlin Drawing Room Workshop, students will focus on learning strategies for figuration and creating space. Exploring gestures which happen between the formal and impulse, flatness and depth. The workshop is an opportunity to learn from a master of marrying extreme opposites. Margolis’ interest in “using paint the wrong way” encourages a freedom to explore material, sources and color over the short course for students of every technical skill level. Review of color theory and a viewing of Dario Argento’s Suspiria is recommended before the first class.

Margolis, Galan, 2014. Oil and Resin on canvas. Galerie Judin Berlin

Results from Hybrid Paper-Making Workshop

details from artwork by instructor Loren Britton

Paper-Making Workshop

Get your hands wet in paper pulp while exploring the process of papermaking! This workshop takes a fresh look at the everyday material of paper, using an approach that is tactile, colorful and playful. Take your paper scraps and transform them into a new ‘drawing’, ‘painting’ or hybrid sculpture.
Pulling from histories of collective making we will explore the materiality of paper together. Learning from artist, Loren Britton, who uses this process in their own work, we will process, pulp, practice, and produce pulp works that embed bits of our own and collective history into a new object.
October 4, 6, 7, 2018

by Hadass Gilboa

by Hadass Gilboa

by Hadass Gilboa

by Ronnie Hofmann

Collaboration with Natural History Museum Berlin

I am excited to officially announce a new collaboration with the Natural History Museum of Berlin; something that has been in the 'planning and development' phase for over a year now. In my pursuit to embody the spirit of the Naturalist, the Natural History Museum seemed like a perfect partner. When I reached out they were very enthusiastic about the workshop format I had already established with the Prinzessinengarten and they wanted to participate in this interdisciplinary dialogue grounded in the overlap between the natural sciences and drawing from observation.

Whereas the workshops held in collaboration with the Prinzessinnengarten and Plant-Expert Matthias Wilkens have been botanical in their focus, the workshops at the Natural History Museum will look through the lens of a Wunderkammer, or Cabinet of Curiosity. The Wunderkammer is the predecessor to modern museums. Instead of following a scientific ordering principle, they were often organized by aesthetic principles, leading to curious combinations and surprising inclusions. 

During the workshop Wunderkammer Drawing we will explore the world renowned collections of the Museum, both on display and behind the scenes. We will have the unique opportunity to meet some of the researchers and learn directly from them about the their work within the museum.

Are some of these researchers modern day Naturalists? Or has the process of specialization progressed so far that there is no longer a place for interdisciplinary work within an institution? Let's find out together! 

Wunderkammer Drawing

with Mira O'Brien (BDR Founding Director) in collaboration with the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin (Natural History Museum)
Imagine you are seeing a scaly Pangolin or an iridescent Morpho didius butterfly for the first time. Is the timid Pangolin a pinecone come to life? Is the shimmering butterfly more than a mirage? It is this sense of wonder at the natural world that we will seek to reconnect with through the act of drawing.
As we explore the collections of the Natural History Museum, we will assume the role of the Naturalist who was both artist and scientist. Through the act of close observation, we will gain unique perceptual insights into our specimens.
During the first four weekly sessions we will focus on drawing techniques. During the following four weekly sessions we will focus on watercolor techniques. While our studies will be more closely aligned with field work than polished studio work, they will contain the vibrancy of wonder.
LocationMuseum für Naturkunde Berlin, Invalidenstr. 43 · 10115 Berlin
January 11 - March 1, 2019
Fridays 10:30am-1:30pm
Drawing: January 11, 18, 25, February 1
Watercolor: February 8, 15, 22, March 1
Cost: 124€ per 4 week module. 224€ for both modules.
(includes museum admission)

Maureen Jeram: traditional and contemporary painting techniques

I am fascinated with both traditional and contemporary painting techniques and
feel that the combination of the two can create a powerful image. 

Maureen Jeram

We are very lucky to have artist Maureen Jeram as the instructor for the Painting Workshop at the Berlin Drawing Room. Jeram is an artist both steeped in traditional painting technique, from oil painting to egg tempera and fresco, as well as actively exploring contemporary questions. She says, "I am fascinated with both traditional and contemporary painting techniques and feel that the combination of the two can create a powerful image." It is this blend of traditional and contemporary techniques that makes Jeram's approach to teaching painting so well suited for the Berlin Drawing Room.

Jeram's own work has been described as a "productive conflict with tradition," a balancing act which "requires that the authority of ones predecessors be taken seriously, but also be able to be overcome."

Jeram's impressive art education in the USA, Italy and Berlin prepared her for this way of working. As she explains:

"In Italy at Romano Stefanelli’s studio and at the Florence Academy I trained for seven years classical approaches to drawing and painting, specializing in the use of tempera, oil and fresco. Developing a composition, mixing colors and building a realistic scene based on light and shadow are classical techniques that I learned and teach.

As for contemporary painting techniques, I trained at the Rhode Island School of Design and at the Universität der Künste Berlin with Georg Baselitz. I learned about painting as process, how to develop and use brush strokes and mark making, as well as the graphic and conceptual quality of creating an interesting image.

While traditional technique lies at the foundation of Jeram's own practice, as well as her approach to teaching, she is careful to remind us that these skills are only tools. To art students she would say: 
"Think of your skills and techniques as a tool bag which will prepare you to find your own vocabulary and personal expression in paint." 
It is this moment of personal expression that she is ultimately seeking to prepare her students for, so that they have all the tools ready to use when that moment comes. When Jeram is in her studio at work, "she has to see with tradition, but during the actual painting process she must forget or at least temporarily repress it long enough in order to let her own picture come into existence."1

And what is Jeram tackling in her studio right now? "At the moment I am working on a series of paintings of portraits and figures in spaces which fuse the real with the_uncanny," she states. Check out a couple of images below of this in-progress series!

Learn more about the upcoming Painting Workshop starting August 7, 2018 with Maureen Jeram.

At the moment I am working on a series of paintings of  portraits and figures in spaces
which fuse the real with the
Maureen Jeram

explorations into "the_uncanny"
Maureen Jeram

A couple more images from Maureen Jeram's series "Teufelssea."

"Contemplation," oil on canvas 
"Encounter," oil on canvas

  Isabelle Moffat, 2008, "Maureen Jeram: The other side of sleep"