Monday Motivator: Heading into Murky Territory When Colour Mixing

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote

“By adding two primaries together we end up with the secondary colours: red and blue make purple, blue and yellow make green, yellow and red create orange. The addition of more colours creates tertiary colours, but every time more colours are added, the purity of colour drops until eventually we end up with browns and greys.

David Coles, “Chromatopia”, page 1

I added the bold to the quote. Purity isn’t a word I use when thinking about colour mixing, but it is key.

Keeping the number of pigments in a mixed colour to the minimum. keeps the result further away from an unintentional murky mess. This includes ‘hidden’ pigments in tube colours that are a mixture, such as an orange that is a red and yellow mix rather than a single orange pigment. The name won’t tell you; it’s in the small print on the side of the tube label or a manufacturer’s colour chart (and on the product info of some art materials shop websites).

For instance, looking at Golden Heavy Body Acrylics, the Cobalt Teal might be the colour you’re after but when you look at the price you realise it’s a Series 7 colour, gulp, so you might decide to go with the Teal instead or perhaps the Light Turquoise (Phthalo), because they’re fairly close in colour . But whereas Cobalt Teal contains contains only PG50 (a green pigment), these contain PW6, PB15:4, PG7 (white, blue and green) and PB15:4, PW6, PG7 respectively (blue, white, green).

Mixed tube colours aren’t inferior, they’re just mixtures. This becomes relevant when you’re then mixing colours using these as you’re mixing with mixtures and so have more ingredients (pigments) than you might realise. Knowing what’s in the tube when you’re colour mixing is one of the keys to not inadvertently end up at greys and browns.

Exploring Colour Mixing

Monday Motivator: Our Sense of Curiosity

In teaching creativity, I often have to remind students to play, or at least give them the permission to do so. This is why I ask students to make 100 sketches on one idea. This process forces them to plow through all of the logical, usual answers to get to the good stuff. It frees them up to make mistakes … helps students become adept at generating ideas faster and unlocks a wealth of possibilities. … New and innovative work comes from the unexpected places, not the “right” answer, and it’s our childlike sense of wonder, curiosity, and play that makes it possible.

James Victore, “Feck Perfuction”, Chapter One:07

Stop worrying about ‘wasting’ your art supplies by doing lots of painting without intending for it to be a perfect piece, doing it merely to see where it takes you. Art supplies are not helping your painting develop if they’re sitting on the shelf being saved for a special painting. Be generous towards yourself. Those paints we bought two, three, five, 10 years ago? Time we used them. Sure, replacing them will be more expensive than when you bought them, but hoarding them doesn’t benefit your creativity. Paint with them, play with them, mix and explore to see which colours you enjoy the most. Replace your favourites.

Got a colour you no longer use? It might be a friend’s favourite. Swap it for something. The colours no-one wants, mix them all together and spend some time playing in the colour world of browns and greys.

Painting of a paint tube by Marion Boddy-Evans

Monday Motivator: The Creative Process is Not Linear

“When teaching the creative process, it’s important to stress that the process is ongoing … Students often think once they have completed … it’s time to toss it to the side and move on to the next.

“Instead … the process is cyclical as it continues by thinking about how we will apply what we have learned from the previous artwork to the planning and creating of our next artwork. … the steps are not linear

“… sketching is only one way to plan. Artists plan by sketching, documenting, collecting, researching, thinking, journaling, listening, experimenting, and so on.”

Janet Taylor, “How to Use the Creative Process to Support Online Learning


I don’t sit in front of my paintings and write notes about every millimetre, every brushstroke, every hard or soft edge, every colour mixture. I think about what works for me and what doesn’t, what I’d like to do again, what I might change, what I could have still done, and what annoys me.

I like to stick a newly finished painting or plein-air piece up somewhere and let it live there for a while so I see it in various lights and moods. I’ve learnt that what I like/dislike doesn’t always remain the same. Some paintings grow on me, and sometimes I fall out of love with a painting.

Below is a pleinair seascape painting that has grown on me over the past few weeks, as I’ve forgotten the irritation of leaving my brushes behind and really wanting a rigger brush to add some white to the edge of the sea. I had a one-inch silicone paint spreader and a plastic pipette.

Mixed media (coloured pencil and acrylics) on A3-size sheet of 360gsm watercolour paper

I got a surprisingly decent result with the white acrylic ink using a grassy seadhead, but it wasn’t as I’d envisaged (i.e. a technique I’ve used before with pleasing results).

Rather than fuss and struggle with it, I stopped painting after this layer of acrylic white ink, and sat in the sunshine watching the waves.

Looking at it now, I like the composition with rocks on one side only, which isn’t something I’ve done before though I’ve admired in other people’s paintings. And the white on the sea is okay really.

Monday Motivator: Do You Have Talent or Time?

“Skill is the ability to do something. Talent is the rate at which you can acquire the ability to do something.

“… The rate at which you can acquire the ability to do something doesn’t really matter. What really matters is the length of time you can do something.

“… Imagine you had the choice between having tons of talent for something but losing interest in it quickly, and, having less talent for something but never losing interest in it.”

Billy Oppenheimer, “Skill vs. Talent

The two reasons I get given most often for not learning to draw and paint, despite having an interest in art, are “I can’t even draw a straight line” and “I haven’t got any artistic talent”. The first is easily solved — if you want a straight line, you use a rule. The point being that there are art techniques we can all learn.

It takes time, and it’s this that we’re less willing to spend as adults. We forget it took us years to learn to read and write. It feels like something we could always do. We didn’t memorise the alphabet in a day. We did it bit by bit, day after day. We weren’t expected to know it all after our first attempt. Nor the second, nor the 50th. Give yourself permission to allocate time painting and drawing. Enjoy the challenge, the learning. Persist past the frustrations. Spend the time. You’re not “wasting” it. And even if you were, it’s yours to do so.

Clock with hands drawn in with a pen

Monday Motivator: Paint the Best You Can That Moment

“In my beginnings, I thought that in order for a work to be worthwhile I had to care for it, coddle it, obsess about it. I had to ‘get it right’ and push for perfection. …

“What I really needed to do was treat the work as if it was the best I could do in the moment, with an eye on improving in my very next attempt. That approach forces one to realize that the exercise of growth depends on failed and discarded attempts that achieve at least a little something to carry into the next piece.

“… Let it go. Start again. Fail. Again. And again. Again. Again. Again.”

10 Things…I Wish I Knew Starting Out“, Muddy Colors

As the saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. Or “fail better“.

Redaction Blackout Poem
This is interesting for many reasons. I feel that not oo much has changed the time had come. We shall not fail. Fear. Flinch. So be it then. A sleepless night.

Monday Motivator: Paint Intentional Ambiguity

“Think of your painting as being an example of peripheral vision, with some areas being seen more sharply than others. Deliberately throw some forms a bit out of focus, or treat several forms purely as color areas or shapes that have no specific meaning or reference.

“… If you sense that a painting needs a green smudge here or a bright red accent there, put it in, whether or not it has a logical counterpart in nature.

“… Consider the idea of making your viewers put forth a little more effort to get the most out of what your pictures have to offer.”

Edward Betts, “Creative Landscape Painting”, page 86

A painting that doesn’t stipulate every tiny detail encourages the viewer to engage, interpret, and possibly never know why something is like it is. A poem not an instruction manual.

Monday Motivator: Breaking the Conventions of Light and Dark

“Turner, really, was the one who made the first significant break with the conventions of light and dark. In his last period he bunched value intervals together at the light end of the color scale, to show how the sky’s light or any brilliant illumination tended to obliterate half tones and quarter tones of shading and shadow.

The picturesque effects Turner arrived at made his public forgive him relatively soon for the way he had dissolved sculptural form. Besides, clouds, steam, mist, water and atmosphere were not expected to have definite shapes, and so what we now take for a daring abstractness on Turner’s part was then accepted in the end as another feat of naturalism. The same applies to Monet’s close-valued late painting.

Clement Greenberg, ‘American-Type Painting’ in Partisan Review spring 1955

[Note: value = tone]

I came across the mention that Turner was “the first painter to break with the European tradition of value paintings” whilst reading “Monet and Abstraction” (which I used for last week’s Monday Motivator: Monet the Abstract Painter). A look at the footnote, then the bibliography, then a long-tail internet search (i.e. searching using a lot of keywords) and I found the essay Greenberg wrote. A printed copy is now in the book with the quote that started me on this.

I’d assumed that, being an art critic and notoriously opinionated, Greenberg would have had a bit more to say than the short quote, and indeed he did (as quoted above). I’ve never thought about how Turner’s contemporaries would have perceived what we now call abstraction, other than maybe considering his paintings unfinished. That it could be seen as part of Naturalism (which the Tate Gallery describes as “a broad movement in the nineteenth century which represented things closer to the way we see them”) is intriguing given paintings in this genre seem so realistic to my eyes compared to Turner’s. But if Naturalism were pushing the boundaries of painting, then either Turner was on the far edges of this or in a category of his own. From biographies about him, I have the impression he believed the latter.

This esoteric bit of art history is of interest to me because it’s part of the tone vs colour approaches to painting. I get distracted by colour to the detriment of tone (cue: the in-house art critic and artist-friend Katie Lee quoting Margaret Livingstone on the number of rods and cones in the eyes of women and men in “Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing“) and have developed a workaround to compensate. On my wishlist is writing a book that focuses on colour as the foundation to painting not tone.

Self-Portrait c.1799 by Joseph Mallord William Turner. In Tate Britain.

Monday Motivator: Monet the Abstract Painter

Monday Motivator quote

Beginning around 1890, but particularly after 1910, Monet developed a type of painting dominated by repetitive subject matter and a loose, fluid technique that filled the entire surface of the canvas, turning it into a world unto itself … self-sufficiency of forms and colours …

Kandinsky was one of the first artists to interpret Monet as an abstract painter and remarked that seeing one painting from Monet’s haystack series in 1896 had opened his eyes to abstraction:

‘Suddenly, for the first time, I saw a picture. That it was a haystack, the catalogue informed me. I didn’t recognise it. I found this non-recognition painful, and thought that the painter had no right to paint so indistinctly. I had a dull feeling that the object was lacking in the picture. And I noticed with surprise and confusion that the picture not only gripped me, but impressed itself ineridicably upon my memory, always hovering quite unexpectedly before my eyes, down to the last detail.’

Source: “Monet and Abstraction”, Musée Marmottan Monet, page 14*

Art history has stuck a ginormous Impressionism sticker onto Monet, to the neglect of his role in the development of abstract art in the 20th century. Monet would paint for another 30 years after Kandinsky saw the painting which influenced him so. It’s easy to dismiss Monet’s abstracts as “late paintings”, somehow less important than his Impressionism paintings, something he did to keep himself occupied as he got older and his eyesight deteriorated. You’d think that if he were unhappy with the results he was getting, he’d have stopped painting altogether, not schemed to paint the enormous abstracts now in the Musée de l’Orangerie.


*Quote source: Footnotes/bibliography in “Monet and Abstraction” give the original source as Wassily Kandinsky “Reminiscences/Three Pictures” (1913), as quoted in Kenneth C. Lindsay and Peter Vergo (ed): “Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art” (1982)

Agence Rol (1904-1937), Claude Monet in his studio, 1926, gelatin silver print, 18 x 13 cm, Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), Paris

Monday Motivator: Nature is Rarely Still

“The artist finds waiting for [them], not the trees, not the flowers, not the landscape, but the waving of branches and the trembling of stems, the piling up or scudding of clouds, the rising and setting and waxing and waning of heavenly bodies, the creeping of spilled water on the floor, the repertory of the sea — from ripple and wavelet to tide and torrent”

Calvin Harlan, “Vision and Invention”, page 171

If nature weren’t full of inherent movement, would the category of still life painting have been called thus?

Still life painting typewriter: "You're My Type"
“You’re My Type” 50x50cm

Monday Motivator: A ‘Secret’ to Painting More Loosely

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote

“Monet’s [brush handling] sums up form in a brisk shorthand, whose variety brings out the distinctive characteristics of each element … he began to seek way of coordinating the whole paint surface more closely, both by variegating and breaking up every surface within the picture, and by introducing echoes and rhymes of touch and texture across the surface between different areas of the picture.

“… connections across the surface are made not from one separate element in the physical scene to the next, but from one coloured touch to the next.

“… The subject of the painting is now no longer the relationships between the separate ingredients of the view depicted, but rather its overall effect; its parts are subordinated to the light and weather that play across it, and the whole is woven together by brushwork and colour.”

John House, “Monet: Nature into Art“, pages 76 to 81

I think one of the ‘secrets’ of painting more loosely is to focus not on what we’re painting (the subject) but on how we’re wielding the brush and putting the paint onto the surface (brushwork or mark making). A brushstroke is like a jigsaw puzzle piece; individually they may not seem much but together they form the picture. It’s the artist’s job to create those pieces, by looking closely, analysing, deciding the colour and shape, and putting it down where you think it fits.

Claude Monet (1840-1926), Wisteria, 1917-1920, oil on canvas, 150,5 x 200,5 cm, Kunstmuseum Den Haag.