Harmony Through Limited Color

Workshops, friendly suggestions, something that caught my eye at the art supply store; all of these contribute to an overextended, bloated palette of colors. It can be a waste of time working this way. Like weeding through a stuffed closet of clothes in the morning, making too many choices is tiring.

At times like these I go back to the limited palette, like a breath of fresh air it clears my head so I can focus on the important aspects of creating a painting.

The Zorn Palette, made famous by the Swedish 19th century artist Anders Zorn is one of my favorites. ZornPalette-lr

Yellow Ochre, Scarlet Lake (he used Vermillion), White, Ivory Black. Here I’ve separated the warms from the cools with white. This selection leans toward the warm side, having two warms and only one cool, which is useful because most paintings need warmth to give them life. But they do look a little lonely…ZornPalette-blog2

By mixing neighboring colors together, warms with cools and white, the palette is beginning to open up. These are not all the possibilities by any means, but it gives me a jumping off point.IMG_0659

I set this subject up in my studio, experimented with the lightly and elements until they worked together. The things I look for when putting something like this together are:

  1. Focusing on a “star”, one item that the painting is about.
  2. Other elements that visually or physically flow to the star, and around the picture plane, (the composition)
  3. A variety of angles and curves
  4. A variety of values; dark, medium and light
  5. A variety of textures, smooth, rough, etc.
  6. A dominant color, (usually the “star”)

Notice how color is the last consideration? Sometimes we get sidetracked into thinking that “it’s all about the color”, but if the first five on the list aren’t there, no amount of color will save a painting with a weak design.

Now that the preliminaries are ironed out, the next step is the actual painting which I’ll talk about in my next blog.

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Painting Blue Light

Lately I’ve been setting up random objects that have a commonality. It crossed my mind that colored light might bring several items together in a different way.

Shopping around, I found Ace Hardware had a blue LED that would work perfectly.IMG_0608

Reflection and blue light were the ideas I wanted to pull together. The white flower and silver canister made a good vehicle to showcase the blue light, while the patterned cloth showcased the reflective metal.

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This photo really exaggerates the blue, it wasn’t this intense. That’s why painting from life is so important, your eye can’t be fooled like the camera.

Because the values of light to dark are so close in this scene, a value sketch to get things organized was the first step.

Value-sketch

The goal here was to divide up all the areas, assigning either dark, medium or light value to each.

The flower “could” be the most difficult area to paint since it appears to have dark, medium and light in it. And it does, but those darks, mediums and lights must hold together as a light shape so that it doesn’t get fragmented.

Another area, the pattern, could be trouble, but I’m going to push it into mid value.

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At this point, the initial lay-in is holding together the way I had envisioned. This is where it really gets fun because I can go in with different temperatures, play with edges, do whatever I want as long as I don’t step out of the value boundaries I set for myself.

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The blue light was very deceptive, the areas it hit most seemed to be much lighter, but in reality these areas were a different color not value. This was a great exercise in observation.

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And the final-

 

 

How to Paint Nothing

Something, is a big vase of colorful flowers on a patterned table-cloth. A hand full of fruit and a cup of tea thrown in for good measure.

Nothing, is a smooth white surface with a clear jar of water, a transparent shot glass and a silver bucket.

If you want to hone you skills at seeing value better, this is the subject for you. Creating cardboard grey value scales can be tedious, so why not paint a setup that tricks you into training your eye?

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I painted this from life, which is the only way to see the nuances of what really light does. I chose these three object because they had visual characteristics in common.

  • All are tallish cylinders
  • All lack saturated color, except the bit of orange inside the bucket, it’s always good to throw off consistency a little.
  • All have reflective surfaces.

My goal : to showcase the commonalities between them while giving each a distinct personality.

I started on a Baltic birch wood panel primed with toned gesso, I spent plenty of time on the drawing, no details, just making sure things were placed and sized correctly.

The painting started with getting the value of the darkest dark in the bucket. Than the orangish tone, along with the background behind it. There is no way to know how dull or bright to make this without the background tone. Too often these areas are left until late in the painting. The background and foreground set the whole key for what’s placed on them.

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Moving around  I make my best guess as to what the color shapes are. When everything is basically roughed in I go back for another pass, slowing down, making refinements (corrections), to my original guesses. When a few things get nailed down, the rest comes much easier.NothingBlog2.jpg

At this point I look long and hard to see what needs to go away and what needs to be added. The bucket on the right needs the handle, the top and bottom edges need some reworking. The wall behind the items needs more paint and a little more color.NothingBlog5.jpg

And here’s the finish-

Making an Entrance…

A sweeping staircase, a crystal lit foyer, open iron gates or a cobblestone walkway would be great, unfortunately many times we’re left standing on the curb with no path to the front door.

A painting can leave you with that same feeling, you want to get in but enthusiasm is lost trying to figure it out.

Here are some examples of welcoming  entrances –

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Miss Helen Duinham, John Singer Sargent

 

 

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Breezy Day, Zhaoming Wu
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John Asaro
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Home Fields, John Singer Sargent
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Vincent Van Gogh
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Drying Out, Lori Putnam

Usually the most effective way to enter a painting seems to be-

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I’ve found taking a photo of the subject with my phone, than making a quick cropping makes it easier to visualize the best place to cut off the bottom for a good design lead in,  especially helpful when working from life.

Here is a subject I recently painted, and how I decided to crop it.irenelr
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I began blocking this in from the bottom up. It’s tempting to start with the area of most interest, the head, and work down from there, but too many times I have been left with awkward shapes at the bottom, spending way too much time trying to “make it work”.

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Latin Influence, Diane Eugster

Summer, Revisited

Have you ever finished a painting you were happy with only to find that months, weeks or even days later there are some serious problem areas. Summer Breeze is such a painting.

This painting is a little larger than I usually work, 20″ x 30″, but after two weeks of planning and execution it was finished. There were many things that worked out well, OldSummerBreeze-lr

The gesture of the pose, the expression of her face, the sense of light, but as she sat on my fireplace mantle for several days I started to “feel” there were some areas that needed addressing. It was a “feeling” at first because I couldn’t pin it down enough to do something about it, and I will never go back to rework a painting unless I have a specific change in mind. Enough days had passed, it became crystal clear what was required.

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At #1, the strongest shape in the scene. It is very strong because it’s surrounded by dark, is large and is pointing to the left, drawing way to much attention to an area that is secondary,

The shape at #2 is bothersome because it appears to be the same value as the top plane of the skirt, which is the way the photo appeared because of the tendency for photos to blow out the lights. In reality this area would be darker than the upper plane which is receiving more light.

At #3 and 4#, these light shapes take away from the solid anchoring effect of the dark shadow along the bottom and add more attention to an area that shouldn’t receive any.

 

 

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At #5 I could add a little more information to follow the form of her body and make it more interesting.

All during the painting process I wrestled with that rectangle #6,  behind her head. Should I keep it or not. Now I can see, not, it adds a visual weight to the top of her head, which throws her a little off balance.

At #7, stream line her shoulder a little here to soft her.

The lower shadow area #8, could be working harder to stabilize the balance. I want it to create a more solid base for the figure. Even though there was not a supporting leg on the bench in the photo, it was needed to alleviate the floating sensation in this area.

Last but not least, the color needed adjusting. More warmth in the background wall, as well as in her skirt.

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I was happy with the changes and glad I made them. It’s never too late to go back and make things better!

Oil Painting, the best of both worlds

After many years of experimenting with different media, pastel, watercolor, acrylic, etc. why have I decided oil paint is the best choice for me? Because it has the personality traits of many other painting media all rolled into one.

“Unknown”, the painting I just completed last week was a perfect vehicle to take advance of one of my favorite properties of oil paint, transparency. walking1-lrThe finished scene would have a dominance of blue, so a transparent underpainting of warm orange reds, the opposite of blue, would be a good base to play those blues off of. I call this stage the “getting to know you, stage”. Moving around the image with washes helps to see what the flow is, how things move throughout the space.

walking2-lrHere’s an ode to watercolor, spattering the surface starts to liven things up, and give me something to work with, (or against), in the next layer. In order for the spatters to stay put and not run, the painting is placed flat on a table until dry.

walking3-lrThis stage reminds me of working with pastels. With a chunky squared off brush, laying in passages, weaving the strokes into each other. The goal here is solidifying the image, letting some under layers peek through while building up some heavier passages.

Using Gamblin Alkyd medium makes the layer dry faster, not as fast as acrylic, but enough so that I can work on top of a dry paint layer the next day.

UnknownFinalImagelrThe last stage is to refine and correct. Always correcting, it’s never to late to fix an area that just isn’t right. Refining areas that are important, and ignoring the rest.

Let There Be Light!

It has taken me eight months, since we moved to Phoenix, to get my studio in order.

It’s not s huge space as art studios go, but I have managed to divide the space into “zones” for easy work flow. An area to gesso and varnish, and area to work on my laptop and draw and the most important of all, the area to paint.

The last thing to tackle was my lighting. Up to this point I have been experimenting with different bulbs in the existing ceiling fan; too dull, not enough coverage, spot lights on tripods; too strong with excessive glare, and did I mention tripping over tripods?

I’ve finally came to the conclusion that I should steal John’s idea of using long LED lights in his wood shop.

These lights are available, special order from Rockler Woodworking, and they put out a wonderful stream of  5500 lumens of bright light with no shadowing.IMG_2668

John installed two, one on each side of the room. These lights are surface mount so John installed them as close as he could to the ceiling. IMG_2669

Because of previous remodels to this house, there was no way John could run any electrical inside the walls, so he tapped into an existing outlet, which the previous owner used for a wall mounted TV. Running the wires inside surface moulding, up to the ceiling than across to an electrical outlet he mounted on the ceiling. IMG_2671

Both light fixtures plugged into this outlet on the ceiling. Both lights can be turned on at the switch on the wall or turned on individually by the pull chains.

 

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Light over my easel area-
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Light over table area-

The whole project came in at under $250. (free labor), which was well worth it.