“What I’m trying to do is to make a place that still looks like a landscape and at the same time doesn’t make you think of a particular place. It makes you think of a texture, or relation of colours. But I’m not willing to give up the idea that underneath all of that, there’s objects.”
— Wolf Khan (quoted in Wolf Kahn and Six Decades of Color by Scott Indrisek, Blouinartinfo, 28 April 2014)
I think with paintings that are more abstract than not, an anchor to reality gives us a way in, something familiar to help us make sense of and enjoy the unfamiliar or unexpected.
I thrive on the challenge of creating a painting that from a distance looks ‘real’ but up close dissolves into a myriad of small pieces of colour, that tells a different story depending on where you’re standing.
Four of my new (big) sheep paintings will be on display by Easter (next weekend). One will be at Inchmore Gallery near Inverness (along with Wodeland) and three at Skyeworks Gallery in Portree (along with Listening to Twigs Fall and Cross Currents). I have a hard time picking a favourite amongst these, and the choice of what went to Inchmore was made on size (it’s a slightly smaller canvas). Do post a comment and let me know which is your favourite, and why.
You know those beautifully laid out palettes with a rainbow of colours arranged equidistant from each other around the edges and a mixing area in the middle? Well, mine doesn’t look like that at all, because:
(a) I’m not using a stay-wet palette with acrylics so too much of such squeezed-out paint would dry before I’d used it all.
(b) I don’t decide on all the colours in advance (though I do have regulars).
(b) I don’t use all my regular colours in every painting.
(d) I work with one colour at a time (single or mixed), applying it across the whole composition before moving onto the next, working with the fast-drying of acrylics, not against. Any leftover gets used to build up coloured grounds on a small canvas, so it’s not wasted.
(e) I like colour-mixing through layering and glazing.
(f) I often squeeze paint (and medium) directly onto a canvas, particularly in the initial layers of a painting.
(g) There’s less wet paint for studio cat to jump onto.
My palette is a small mixing area that reflects the last colour I used, in the photo it looks like “sheep black” over Prussian blue over cobalt teal. I wipe the space if the next colour doesn’t want any traces of the last in it. It’s not a pretty, photogenic palette, but it works for me.
“…when it comes to painting, I think the most important thing is learning to see shapes instead of objects. …one color next to another, in order to create the illusion of three dimensional objects and space. Shapes of color are the only tool we have.
“…In ordinary life our brains mostly bypass the mechanism of ?seeing? and take us directly to the conclusion. That means we think we see objects…
“…a painter must learn to see the world before naming; to see the abstract world of color and shape.”
Easier said than done, certainly. But small steps and plenty of practice will get you there. The painting equivalent of learning musical scales. You start with C-major and gradually add another and another — and never stop practicing. Some will always be easier than others, but what you enjoy most is what you should explore.
This short video shows me adding white onto still-wet purple to create white roses. Working wet-into-wet lets colours mix together in the painting in interesting ways. It helps to keep your brush dry (wipe it clean rather than rinse) so the paint doesn’t become too slippy and end up sliding across the surface rather than sticking and mixing.
Two photos from the very first layer in a new roses painting started on Sunday, in answer to a question about how I use texture paste to create a coloured, textured ground. The first photo was taken moments before I spread it, the second when I’d finished and stopped to let it all dry.
Step One: Loosely pencil in composition. A few guidelines only, it’s going to get hidden completely soon. (These spirally squiggles are roses, in my mind’s eye.)
Step Two: Scoop out paste from jar with palette knife and place in strategic spots directly onto canvas. How much comes from practice. (Can easily add more; I use a knife so I don’t contaminate the jar with colour from my brush.)
Step Three: Squeeze out some paint next to texture paste, directly onto canvas. (Again, experience tells me how much, but rather less than more.) Different colours to help me differentiate the roses when I start the next layer.
Step Four: Spread with big bristle brush (at least an inch wide). Occasionally I use the palette knife to scrape texture paste out of bristles, but I clean brush once only, when finished.
Step Five: Check composition, now in texture/colour rather than pencil. Adjust if needed. Leave to dry overnight.
There are all sorts of texture mediums available. My favourite is Golden’s Light Molding Paste. This doesn’t shrink too much when it dries, holds its shape, is remarkably light (as the name says) so using it on a big canvas doesn’t make it horribly heavy, and dries to a matte, slightly absorbent surface.
Q: I paint with acrylics and have found reds in my paintings most difficult to photograph. Blues and greens are less problematic. My lasted painting has a lot of red in it. The coverage was not great and photographing was a challenge. Tubes and jars of paint do not list transparency vs opaque and for the purposes of my painting style I only want opaque.
I was reading through what you wrote about paints and titanium white was noted to make paints opaque. Hence, when mixing any colour would you suggest that any colour mixed, other than black, which I use as outlines, include titanium white as part of the basic mixture? and I add other colours to get what I am wanting?
A: Adding titanium white will certainly make colours opaque, but it’ll also lighten colours, and turn reds to pink. You could then paint over it again, to intensify the colour, but it’d be easier in the long run to figure out which of the colours in the brand(s) you’re using are most opaque and stick to these.
Create a chart by painting or drawing a strong black line down a page, then paint a strip of each colour over this. You’ll soon see which colours hide the most black. I’d use these to paint and for mixes where possible. Cadmium red is possibly the most opaque red; if it’s not quite the right red, overpaint it with another red.
Some artist’s quality brands of paint have an stripe of paint on the tube/jar over printed black bars. Others have a little symbol such as a black/white square. Colour charts on the manufacturers’ websites should have the info, e.g. on Golden’s colour chart if you click on the individual colours it gives the transparency rating plus an image.
I don’t have a title for it yet (do post a comment if you’ve suggestions, other than “mutton dressed as lamb”), and it still needs to be varnished, but I’ve declared the first of the four big (100x100cm) sheep paintings I’m working on finished.
No wonder people get to believe colour theory is hard. I came across an article describing secondary and tertiary colours as colours mixed “in equal concentrations“. How would you measure it? Is it equal in volume or tinting strength? What fearful disaster is going to happen if the mix is not perfectly equal?
Keep it simple and straightforward. There are three primaries: yellow, blue, and red*. You mix two primaries together to get a secondary: blue+yellow=green; red+yellow=orange, red+blue=purple. When you’ve enough mixed blue into a yellow that it looks more green than yellow, then you’ve successfully mixed a secondary. The shades of this secondary will vary on the proportions of the two primaries. It will also vary depending on what particular blue and yellow you mix.
The word “tertiary” comes from Latin tertiarius/tertius meaning “third”. Mix three (or more) colours together and you’ve a tertiary colour. Those browns and greys that are ‘interesting’ colours when you do it deliberately and ‘mud’ colours when you do it inadvertently. (Remembering that a secondary colour is two, and what’s in a tube colour may be a mixture of pigments.)
Quit fussing with blue-green and yellow-green or red-orange and yellow-orange, giving names to variations of primaries and secondaries. Forget the colour theory that insists you quantify these variations. Keep the theory simple. The colour-mixing journey is a lifetime’s; we’ve so many pigments available to us, giving so many possible combinations. Working with fewer colours and internalizing how these mix, and practice, is how you mix the same colour again and again.
(*For CMYK followers, cyan counts as blue, and magenta as red.)
Happiness is … paint and colour, and a somehat tidier studio! I sorted out up my studio a bit when unpacking the crate of supplies I took to last week’s workshop, and finally got my High Flow acrylics off the floor and onto a shelf within arm’s reach of my palette.