Notes from a “Colour and the Figure” Workshop

After four days’ life painting in Edinburgh in a workshop by Alan McGowan I found myself repeating “build a bridge between the orange and the blue, build a bridge between the orange and the blue“. Or more fully, create a colour link across the figure between the orange-warms bits and blue-colds parts through desaturated mixes of these.

Life Painting Workshop
“Build a bridge between the warm and cool…”

It had been a rewarding follow-up to last November’s Life Drawing into Painting Workshop. As always on a workshop, I learnt a lot and met interesting people who I wish I’d talked to more (my head is often so full during a workshop I find it hard to chat). My thanks to Alan, who is a generous, patient, encouraging, and understanding tutor. Thanks also to models Topaz, Nicky, and Alistair.

I feel I’ve made progress mixing “interesting greys”, and (finally!) created a figure painting where I didn’t inadvertently put a “warm” mixed colour onto a “cool” part of the figure (and vice versa).

A few of the notes to myself*:

  • Saturation as purity rather than intensity of a colour.
  • Create light by darkening other areas; dim the lights elsewhere.
  • Strongly found vs lost edges.
  • Don’t start dark and definite. Work from the middle outwards.
  • Avoid using white in shadow colour mixes. Don’t block in with white (or mix with white) early on.
  • Relate shadow to shadow to judge the tone, not shadow to light (e.g. shadow beneath arm to shadow beneath chin not to light on top of arm).
  • Don’t paint reflective light as bright as direct light; if it’s equally bright it’ll flatten the figure.
  • A small colour shift has great impact amidst desaturated colours.
  • Add white to a background colour to make it opaque; it’ll demand less attention than transparent colour.
  • The face colours on Whistler’s Mother are cold; it’s the rest of the painting’s greys that make it seem warm.
  • Coolness of Ken Currie’s The Three Oncologists
  • Used caput mortem (very opaque oxide violet red) for drawing into a work in progress; sits strongly on top of wet oils paint. Isolate it on palette so don’t accidentally include it in other mixes.
  • Colours I used: Prussian blue, cerulean blue, Payne’s grey (Sennelier’s, which is very blue), vermillion, alizarin crimson, magenta, primary yellow, yellow ochre, burnt umber, raw and burnt sienna, titanium and zinc white. On Alan’s workshop colour list that I didn’t use: ultramarine, viridian.

*Written in a pocket sketchbook during the workshop, because I know I’ll forget too much otherwise.

3 Replies to “Notes from a “Colour and the Figure” Workshop”

  1. Thanks a million for posting these Marion. It was a great workshop wasn’t it??
    Hope all’s well with you.

    1. It was indeed! I’m finding I’m seeing warm/cool colour variations more readily, and mixing desaturated greys and complementaries combinations in my head as I’m looking at the landscape.

    2. It was indeed an inspiring workshop! I can’t stop mixing desaturated greys in my head, and find I’m seeing subtle warm/cool more readily.

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