Color Master: Dick Nelson

Dick Nelson deconstructed my sense of color. After his 8 week course I was for the first time able to look at colors and begin to understand how much of the three primaries each contained. I was able to understand how luminosity was created by combining colors of similar families. He taught me about halation.

Dick Nelson VIMEO channel : Dick Nelson website

He is also the creator of the color matrix.

Dick Nelson grew up in Hawai‘i, and after graduating from Yale University, returned home to become Chairman of the Art Department at Punahou High School in Honolulu. For 22 years, he taught everything from life drawing to art history, and of course, his passion, watercolor.

“It’s the quality of luminosity which intrigues me, and my love of seeing through one color to another, ” explains Nelson.

He is creator of the now famous Tri-Hue watercolor technique, wherein all the colors on the finished painting emerge by mixing only three colors on the palette. Since his retirement over 25 years ago, he has made Maui his home and continued his passion for education, becoming both teacher and mentor to a generation of Maui artists. [more]

Some words on Dick Nelson:

…one of Maui’s most respected artists
… a brilliant colour guru who pontificates from a high volcano on Maui.
…opened up my mind to new ways of looking at the world …one of Hawaii’s greatest painters and teachers

He recently taught a workshop in Hilo. His greatest claim to fame may however be that he is the second most senior alumni to share honors with Barack Obama as a distinguished alumn of Punahou High School where he taught art.

The following video about “Eye Fatigue” is from his talk at the SOURCE ARTstorm at the Hui in Maui in 2009:

The following video about “The True Primary Colors” is also from SOURCE ARTstorm:

7 Replies to “Color Master: Dick Nelson”

  1. Hi Dick,

    I’m so glad to find you. Good ol’ Google! I am still treasuring your paintings and I have a daughter-in-law who is lusting after one of them.

    I’ve been spending most of my years as a quilt artist, but in the last 3 0r 4 years I’ve been painting plein air watercolors and it is a beloved medium for me. This year I’ve actually been selling some although they were priced really well. I live in Mendocino now. My husband and I built our house (a post & beam kit house) starting in 1978. We added a wing for my studio when we moved here full time in 1998.
    It’s so beautiful here, we live in a redwood forest a mile from the ocean.

    I would love to take a workshop with you if you are still teaching.

    Do you know what happened to Margaret Neerhout? I saw her once after Bob died but I’ve completely lost touch since then.

    Eric Holmes is living in Portland Oregon now and has had a couple of strokes. He had two more kids after he remarried and just had his first grandchild from his daughter. I saw him 2 years ago in Boise, ID when our only grandson graduated high school.

    I married an electrical engineer 35 years ago who had 4 kids and I see them a lot more than my own as they are all still in CA. My oldest son will be 50 next month and he lives in Ashville,NC and is a science professor in a small liberal arts college. My “artist son” has been employed by the Laguna Playhouse for many years as a scenic painter. Not a bad gig for an artist-he has benefits and a pension plan.

    I hope to hear from you and trust that you and Ellie are doing well.


  2. Hello Dick,

    I purchased one of your beautiful paintings whilst visiting Maui approximately 25 years ago. You had donated the work to a fundraising auction in Lahaina. The vista is looking at the hills and landscape of Maui from the sea. I lived in Lahaina 33 years ago and enjoy your painting on many levels.

    I am wondering about the value of the painting, and whether if I sent you a photograph of the work, you could give me an idea of value.

    Do you remember Ian and Deb Tremewen? Deb, her sister and I all travelled together through New Zealand and Australia. Sadly Deb died 10 years ago. Ian, Marilyn and I all stay in touch and I caught up with Ian earlier this year when visiting the Gold Coast, Australia. I live in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.

    Wishing you health and luminosity,

    Louise Valpied

  3. Aloha Louise and Babs:

    How terrific that you as well are fans of Dick Nelson and his work. However, I am sorry to inform you that this is not his site. He does have a website at however, I don’t know that his contact info is there. I am lucky enough to be in Maui and do see Dick (though not as often as I’d like) and I will pass on the message that the two of you are on the lookout for him.


  4. I met Dick and his wife on cruise to Japan this past September/October. I planned to have a good time and do my family root searching, instead I got the chance to learn “the color theory” from the best just because I was on the same dinner table with him. He is such a delightful person, and great teacher. I think I am the most blessed person!! He shared his view about art, painting, eventually everything. I will log on his web site and learn the rest of his courses when my time allow.

    I hope he sees this. Then he knows how thankful I am.

  5. Hi Dick,

    I’m so very sorry to hear about Elly, I heard about it on Facebook and I was in shock!!! Sure know what you are going through, still think of Johnny daily.
    My thoughts and prayers are with your healing my friend.


  6. I have a painting by Margaret Neerhout and I was wondering if the artist is still alive and if my painting has any value it is titled Coast color it would be fun to see some of her other work thank you

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