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: 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: 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.

A Summer of Colour

I may have only painted sporadically in the five months since we moved (not counting all the metres of interior wall) but have had a colourful summer thanks to the wondrous flower garden. There are still new plants emerging, new flowers opening. One of the latest is this (an echinacea the PlantFinder app tells me):

I think it’s almost impossible to look at without tracking along the squirls and spirals in the centre, then out along the petals which seem determined not to touch one another.

In the photo below my camera blew out (overexposed) the colour in the petals. For me it’s become one of those “abstracts from nature” images, with the oranges and greens of the centre feeling as if they’re reaching out towards me, whilst the petals have become a gentle background rather than part of the flower.

Another flower that’s strongly grabbing my imagination with its lanky stems and blobby ends is Japanese anemome. I’ve had a go at painting the pink flowers (see this blogpost) but I also think that there’s something to be explored in the curves and lines without the flowers.

This could be minimalist, as lines against white paper, or a dominant layer of pattern/line/shape against a background of broken colour (like the out-of-focus colours in the photo below).

It’s not all about bright colour either. There are plants with grey foliage and flowers that have gone to seed where the colours are more muted, inviting explorations of “interesting greys and browns” along with line and pattern.

I’ve spent time watching various pollinators too. This globe thistle is such a favourite I’ve been able to get up close without them flying off.

Three of the apple trees we planted are “unknown apples”, ones at half price because the labels had blown off during a storm. Looking at the apples, they’re all different varieties of reds. Which creates possibilities for a “still life with red apples” investigation of reds. If they survive that long before being turned into apple crumble.

Giving the white tables and chairs that were in the garden a fresh coat of paint is on my to-do list, but they won’t rust to bits over another winter if I don’t manage before it’s too cold. The in-house art critic and I have enjoyed many a coffee sitting there.

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: Elements You Can’t Give a Name

“Start a picture using only elements to which you cannot give a name … pictures are usually begun by drawing the most identifiable, most obvious things in the field of vision: a sailboat, a church spire, the horizon, a road, a tree”

Wolf Kahn, in “Wolf Khan’s America, An Arrist’s Travels”, page 46

What can’t you name in a landscape led me to wondering what I name and what I describe. Which led me to thinking about how things that could be named would be nouns and things that can’t be named might be adjectives. Which led me to wondering about where the verbs would be in a landscape, and creating a painting using mark making that reflected the verbs. Or painting a series: the nouns, the adjectives, and the verbs. Or painting each as separate layers in a painting. Or stop overthinking it as if I were back in Semantics 101!

Monday Motivator: Embrace Influence

“All artists’ work, if it ever sees the light of public day, enters that public domain to invite the response of a public among which artists themselves are numbered. And all artists are creatures of their time and place, and the art alike of past and present is not to be banished. Bound by no oath of creative isolation, they are entirely free to take from the work of others just what they find useful, or stimulating, or necessary to the work of the moment. The artist who admits no influence, betrays no curiosity, claims the uniqueness of his vision, is hardly an artist at all.”

William Packer, “Tain-Shan Schierenberg”, 2005, page 14

Whether we hate a painting (“what were they thinking?”) or love it (“wish I’d painted that”) or are intimidated by it (“I could never do that”), looking at other people’s art expands our own in ways that are unpredictable. It’s like trying different mediums; the outcome is rarely what you think beforehand and delights can come from unexpected directions.

Creating a copy of a painting has a long tradition in Western art. Besides the technical aspects of paint manipulation, it makes you spend more time looking at a painting that we typically do. If you’re working from a postcard you bought in the gallery shop, you’ll have to extrapolate to create a larger painting because the information isn’t there. If you’re working from a zoomable photo on a museum website, you could stress far too much time trying to replicate every single brushstroke. Be like Goldilocks and find a middle point that sees you painting your own version informed and inspired by the original but not trying to be an art forger.

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

My Attempts at the Furrow Patterns Painting Project

The patterns of the ploughed fields that are the inspiration for this month’s painting project (details here) have continued to capture my attention even as in real life they’ve become a different pattern with the greens of crops growing and present all sorts of other possible paintings. I’ve had a few attempts, feel that I’m getting closer each time to a result that pleases me as a whole not only in parts, but aren’t there yet.

For my first attempt, I absolutely had to use black lava paste to convey the sculptural and textural sense, but neglected the perspective in my, urm, let’s call it enthusiasm. After applying the texture paste, and without waiting for it to dry, I dropped acrylic ink onto the surface and sprayed this with water to get it to spread, then left it overnight to dry.

Acrylic on board, 30x30cm

This is what the painting looked like when I conceded defeat, and lectured myself about why a bit of planning and thumbnailing can go a long way. I won’t repeat what the in-house art critic nor the peanut gallery had to say.

I like the effect the black lava paste gives, but need to have the patience to scratch in the perspective lines more carefully. Once it’s dry it’s not an easy thing to change. To help myself with this, I created a photo collage with various other reference photos, ready for the day I slow down with my sketchbook and make a considered study of the shapes, angles, and perspective. At the moment I’m procrastinating by calling it a project for winter.

My second attempt was mixed media on paper, trying to get a sense of the broken-up section adjacent to the furrows. The weather in my painting turned rather stormy, perhaps a reflection of my mood as things didn’t come quite come together for me.

Mixed media on A3 watercolour paper (watercolour, acrylic ink, acrylic paint, coloured pencil)

My third attempt was also mixed media on watercolour paper, but I started by applying some gesso to paper to help create texture. This is a technique I tend to forget about, maybe because my bottle of gesso isn’t next to my paint tubes, but can be very effective. I decided to make more of the hedgerow on the left so the composition had more colour in the lower area.

Watercolour and acrylic on A3 watercolour paper

Much of it was worked wet into wet, spraying acrylic ink to encourage it to spread, but also trying not to obscure all of the already dried Payne’s grey ink lines of where the hedge separates the two fields. I was pleased with where I got to with this painting, and stopped to let it dry overnight with the thought of adding a small farmhouse in the distance the next day. That hasn’t happened yet; I’m procrastinating by telling myself I need to practice some farmhouses first to ensure I don’t ruin this painting. Or maybe I’ll decide it doesn’t need it.

Painting Project: Furrow Patterns

It’s time for a new painting project and this month it’s a subject that’s got strong pattern plus the added challenge of making a colour not known for its vibrancy into something visually intriguing. That is, to mix “interesting browns”.

Here’s the reference photo that is the starting point (click on photo to enlarge). I took it on one of the numerous small roads between Cuminestown and Gardenstown in Aberdeenshire. The dominant element is the stripes of the ploughed field. But there’s also the splash of green fields, the yellow of gorse bushes along the edge, dots of sheep, and part of a farmhouse towards the right. Plus the march of fence posts, electricity poles, and in the distance a wind turbine.

Pattern of ploughed furrows in brown soil Scotland

COLOUR: How to make a large area of one colour, albeit varying tones, visually interesting? You might do it with variations of brown, all those earth colours, plus strong dark such as a sepia. You might exaggerate colour, using purple or deep reds for the darker tones. Vary the mark making as well as colours, to suggest texture. Maybe use some texture paste?

PERSPECTIVE: There’s the challenge of getting the perspective on the furrows working, with them narrowing into the distance and changing direction with the curves of the hillside. The pattern of light and dark on the furrows, as well as one of texture with them being smooth on the top and rough in the bottom.


COMPOSITION:

  • Maybe crop the photo top and bottom, eliminating some of the sky and foreground. Consider a square format as well as a vertical.
  • Might you leave out the poles and/or the wind turbine as these might distract the eye too much from the pattern of the furrows?
  • Give the green field on the left more space in the overall composition, letting it be a larger element to increase its colour dominance to balance out the browns

If you’d like your painting to be included in the project photo gallery, email me a photo with a few sentences about your painting or share it via social media by the end of the month.

For individual help with these painting projects, and feedback on your final painting, sign up on my Patreon page here.

Photos: Banff Beach at Low Tide

It was six minutes off low tide when I got to Banff. I can be this precise because I checked the tide times before walking along the stretch of white sand that’s hidden at high tide.

First I had to resist some pebbles to get onto the sand.

The sand stretches almost all the way to the harbour, along with a robust wall that suggests the sea can get wild at times.

There’s a set of concrete stairs towards the other end of the sand, and a few precarious-looking vertical metal ladders up the wall further on.

A section of the harbour is being rebuilt, and the water pumped over the wall.

Parts of the harbour are the very old vertical block construction I first saw at Portsoy, which is a bit further north. It’s a pattern that so wants to be painted!

But then so do many other bits. This morning’s walk was just about looking, enjoying, absorbing. I did meet one of the two people I knew in Aberdeenshire before we moved here, walking his dog on the beach, so there was some chatting too.

Back along the road, sandy beach, over the pebbles, and home.