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Detail image of a color study pastel on paper by Clyfford Still
Clyfford Still, PP-842, 1923 (detail). Pastel on paper, 7 x 10 in. Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, CO. © City and County of Denver / ARS, NY

CSM at Home Activities: Color Memoranda

Color Memoranda

“If the color is wrong, everything is wrong…do not let the thought of form hamper you in the least, when you begin to make colored memoranda. If you want the form of the subject, draw it in black and white. If you want its color, take its color, and be sure you have it, and not a spurious treacherous, half-measured piece of mutual concession, with the colors all wrong and the forms still anything but right.” -John Ruskin

In his early years, Clyfford Still experimented with making color memoranda as described above by John Ruskin. In these studies, Still’s goal was to achieve the correct color of his subject and nothing else.


  • Paper
  • Colored pencils, crayons, or other colored drawing supplies


  • Choose a subject.
  • Instead of focusing on the form or details, just look at the colors.
  • Experiment with different colors to match the tone of your subject.
  • Mix colors or materials if necessary.


  • How do the colors of your subject make you feel?
  • Are the colors different than you thought they would be?
  • Try making a more detailed drawing of your subject using the colors you sketched. Is your drawing more lifelike?
  • Look at some of Clyfford Still’s color memoranda from the exhibition The Early Years: Clyfford Still in Canada, 1920-33 like PPX-4, 1930; and PP-842, 1923 below.

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