"ART is a word which summarizes THE QUALITY OF COMMUNICATION. "
L. Ron Hubbard

Monday, December 26, 2011

Why I recommend a 6 primary-color palette

I have a lot of half-used paint tubes in my studio, but some years ago, when I started teaching, I limited my palette to 6 primary colors and burnt sienna (and large tube of titanium white, of course.)  Why?

Well, a primary reason is that paints are expensive, and a certain percentage of my students were approaching painting for the first time. I didn’t want their first venture to be ugly because of the cost.

In addition, I had just read Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green by Michael Wilcox.

If you limit your paints to one each of red, yellow and blue, this limited palette may disappoint you. In theory, the “primary” colors should easily make all the colors on the palette by mixing. But commercial paints aren’t exact primary colors. Looking at the exercise shown at the right, notice that the purple and the green (secondary colors) aren't very bright. You will get better results if you have two of each primary color. 
The basic theory is that the color wheel as a whole has a warm and a cool side and each color has an inclination to be warm or cool. For instance, lemon yellow is cooler than cadmium yellow.

Since I need to replenish my oil paints in my personal kit anyway, I began looking at my choices to see if I could identify a more optimum selection of colors than I had been using.

The palette I had been using included: zinc yellow, cadmium yellow, cadmium red, alizarin crimson permanent, ultramarine blue, Phthalocyanine (Thalo) blue, and burnt sienna. Zinc yellow, while it is a very cool yellow, I found to be a very weak color, easily overpowered in mixing with any other color. The cadmiums are getting outrageously expensive. Thalo blue (or Prussian, which is essentially the same) is a very strong and staining color and easily overpowers other colors on mixing. But I haven’t found a good substitute for Thalo or Prussian yet.

I am changing my basic palette to: Hanza yellow light, Hanza yellow medium, Napthol red, Quinacridone red, ultramarine blue, and either Prussian or Thalo blue (because I can’t find a good substitute for this color.)Hanza is a substitute for Cadmium yellow. Cadmiums are opaque. Hanza has some translucency and is said to mix well to form secondary colors and tints.  Burnt Sienna stays on the palette because it’s essentially a shade of orange, but darker, so it’s easy to mix it with ultramarine blue to make a rich dark.

I did some comparison because I’ve been trying to get alizarin off the palette for many years without success. I learned long ago that alizarin is a “fugitive” color. (That means that it tends to fade.) On the other hand, it’s a very transparent color and is good for glazing. It also mixes well with thalo green to create a rich black. However, some years ago, manufacturers came out with Permanent Alizarin Crimson and I thought they had it handled. But NoooOOOooo. The result was sort of dull and dirty. I wasn’t happy but I didn’t think that I had a choice. Recently, a representative from Golden Acrylics mentioned that Quinacridone Red (in acrylics) is a good substitute for alizarin. Well, I’m switching to Quinacridone Red in both my oil and acrylics palettes.

I did a little experiment (shown at left) to determine the differences between some of the reds in my oil kit. I suggest that you try such comparisons at home. And if you can pick up old tubes of paint rather than buying every color off the shelf, you’ll find that oil lasts quite long in the tube. (Acrylics last somewhat less long, but their shelf life seems to be improving. 
Now, to come back to the question: why do I recommend a 6-color palette?  Well, I know of one artist who says he puts every color in his kit on the palette every time he paints. He says he uses 72 colors.That’s a lot of preparation. In addition, it uses up a lot of space on the palette that could be used for blending. And, as you can mix any color with the right primaries, putting more seems like overkill.

But some people just like to buy paint, and if that’s you, why go ahead. You’re obviously not alone. Manufacturers keep putting out new colors.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What is composition?

Every once in a while, a student asks me: "What is composition?" Or, "How can I know if I have a good composition?"

Composition, as it applies to the visual arts, most closely means combining the elements of art to produce the effect you want. Basically, art is a communication. And the basics of art include line, form, value, color, and ways of representing depth. So the student needs to develop proficiency in the basics, and to the degree that he has that and knows what he wants to communicate, he will have proficincy in composition.

The work of art is a communication, so it will have a different impact on each viewer. You, as artist, never totally control the effect. But you can put together the elements of art so that the communication received by the viewer approaches what you wished to say.

You will find there are many "rules" of composition. Just do a search on the internet and you will find lots of advice. Take notice, but don't allow yourself to be limited by any of the rules. Remember, these are not "physical universe" rules, like the law of gravity. They can be broken.

Your goal in painting is to combine the elements of art so they form a unique and satisfactory composition.

I've been attending a weekly drawing group and wanted to share with you two recent drawings, one being what I would call a "study" and one being a "composition." The study could be complete enough to call it a composition, but you can see that, in the composition, I was more conscious of how the figure interacted with the space, so that the space itself becomes more of an active part of the composition.

Sheila - Study
Lize - Composition

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What is a study?

Recently a student asked me "What is a study?" North Light Dictionary of Art Terms defines a study as "a drawing or painting  of a section or of a whole composition, usually detailed more carefully than a sketch." Charles Sovak in his book Oil Painting, Develop your Natural Ability (recommended)  says, "remember, no matter how beautifully you paint an object, it remains a mere study until it is artfully incorporated into a composition."

Study of a box by Pam Coulter
I think the distinction between "study" and "finished composition" has been somewhat blurred. Consider the fact that Monet painted "Impression, Sunrise" very quickly, generating the name of a whole artistic movement: Impressionism. It was hardly a finished composition in the sense that the "Old Masters" thought of it, so it was a study. Plein air painters today often follow the impressionist lead in the matter, finishing a painting in one session and on site. A study can be so attractive that it rivals or surpasses a finished work. Because of it's freshness and immediacy, it has charm. 

But, ok, what is a composition? (Is it unfair to end with a question?)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ego and the Artist

I’ve sometimes heard it said that the artist has too much ego.

What is ego? Well, it’s a word that originally — in Latin — simply meant “I”. But it was borrowed by Sigmund Freud to represent a concept of self, and is often used in a derogatory sense as egotism, which "characterizes an exaggerated estimate of one's intellect, ability, importance, appearance, wit, or other valued personal characteristics." In other words, ego became identified with selfishness or the failure to take others’ interests and well-being into account.

Looking back over my long career, when I was young, I had a lot of “ego,”a strong sense of personal worth. I say that now, because at the time I had little to show in terms of finished art, simply a sense of greatness. And so I may well have been seen as having an ego, in the bad sense.

 But I would encourage my students and artist friends to develop a strong sense of self-worth. First, it’s a bulwark against those who are so afraid of surviving that they would put down anyone with creative ability. Secondly, you probably ARE great; you just need the time to develop a body of work. Third, how are you going to make your work known to others if you, yourself, have been persuaded not to promote your self-worth? 

Life can be discouraging. Art is fun. Fill the world with art and encourage others to do so.

Here’s a painting I completed recently:
Floral with brown pitcher

Thursday, August 04, 2011

An alternate grey

I follow the blog of Qiang Huang, who paints little jewel-like paintings. In a recent post, he remarked: "I have found that "transparent brown oxide" (Winsor and Newton) and ultramarine blue makes a wonderful gray." Both are transparent colors. This would be an interesting combination to try. Here is the post where he shows the use of this grey.

On a subsequent day, he tried a different combination of colors to make the grey warmer. Here's his comment:

"I felt the gray I used yesterday is a little too cool. So today I tried a new combination: transparent oxide yellow + ultramarine blue. I like this one better. It made the background warmer." You can see his painting on his blog.

I find the use of complementary colors (or near complements) rather than "tube" black for mixing greys fascinating. There's a painter, William Wray, who uses greys and neutrals to maximum effect. I love his cityscapes.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Great news, had to share it!

I've been accepted as one of 47 artists to be included in the McLean Project for the Arts Artfest, to be held Sunday, October 2, 2011 from 10 AM to 5 PM. I'm very happy as i haven't done any outdoor shows in a while. This will be fun. Put a note on your calendar if you like my art.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Use of Green in Landscapes

This is a very GREEN planet, green and blue. And green can be an overwhelming color, particularly when used by an art student out of the tube. Tube greens tend to be very pure and high hue, often very minty. It's a dominant color. There are some greens that work well in landscapes, such as Chromium Oxide Green or Sap Green. Chrome Oxide is a somewhat dull green. Sap green is sharp and yellowish but transparent so good for glazes. It mixes with other paints but doesn't cover underpainting completely. See more on green in my free art lesson.

But I've simply eliminated green from my basic palette. Partly this came about because, when I started teaching painting, I wanted a limited palette that would allow students to mix all colors but wouldn't cost an arm and a leg.

Here's a painting I just finished (Suburban Spring) that contains a lot of green but was painted using my limited palette. Notice that the parts hit directly by the sun are yellow green and the darker areas are more of a blue green. In mixing most of the greens, I've mixed either thalo green and cadmium yellow and added a tiny bit of either cadmium red or alizarin crimson, or, for a duller green, ultramarine blue (which is cooler than thalo) and cadmium yellow or nickle titanate yellow (a cool yellow) with a little bit of red. To relieve the green-ness of the painting, I've included a significant amount of neutral greys  and accents of red (the complement of green.) I hope you enjoy the result.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Painting from photos - The Controversy

A recent potential student asked me if I would be teaching from photos or still life. I replied that it wasn't feasible for me to attempt to lug the components of a still life with me for a 3-hour session a week but that she was free to bring her own still life if she wanted. She replied that she didn't want to paint from photos. This is really a bit of a non sequitur. (I didn't say that she couldn't paint from a still life.) However, it raises the question: is it invalid to paint from photos?

Some will say 'yes' because the photo is precomposed. In addition, the colors produced in the printing process are a lower gamut* than we see when working from life. Finally, a photo (often produced in a 4x6 format, contains much less information than the original scene. I don't disagree.

On the other hand, as a teacher who already lugs a complete setup for oils and a complete setup for acrylics to the teaching site, I don't have any inclination to additionally lug the pots, plants, fruit and other paraphernalia (such as a lamp for directional lighting and drapery) with me on a weekly basis.

We need to look at the use of a photo in a broader context. When I give students a reference photo, I want them to use it as a "reference" not something to be faithfully duplicated. Let's call it a "starting point" for creation. After all, why paint it exactly as shown in the photo. There is already a photo.

There is some use in duplicating a reference photo. If a student is just beginning and is shaky about the basics of art (line, form, composition, color) working from a photo is like having training wheels. Having a still life or model or — worst yet — all of nature in front of you can result in overwhelm. Even the old hand may want to continue to practice. I attend a weekly live model drawing group to improve my perception of what is there.Not only does it help me produce better paintings, but it helps me see the world better — a philosophic benefit.

*gamut: an entire range or series (gamut from praise to contempt)
(Editorial Note: in this case, the entire range of perceptible color.)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Regarding Usful and Useless

I remember once, when I was in college, a fellow seated across the table at the local college coffee shop asked me what I was majoring in. "Art," I answered. He reared back in his chair as if struck. "Art?" he said, "I heard you were smart."

The implication, of course, was that ART was a useless subject.

Of course, in one sense he was right. I graduated with a pretty "useless" degree. Fortunately, it was 1965, I had friends and family and a spirit of adventure, as resources . . . and the world was a more benign place than it is today. At least MY world. There were awful things going on in it, but they were distant.

And by 1967, I ran into the philosophy which was to define my direction for the rest of my life: Scientology.

Now this post is not about Scientology, per se, but about "Useful" and "Useless."

I have struggled with people's perceptions of the role of art and the artist many times. One guy remarked that he didn't understand why I would want to "just paint pretty pictures for the rest of my life." (Life seemed quite serious to him.)"

Another, met in an elevator in New York, asked me who my favorite artist was. On my reply "Rembrandt," he sneered as he got off the elevator and said, "Oh, you're a conservative."

These attitudes about "Useful" and "Useless" (or "Important" and "Unimportant") polarized people's attitudes about me. People pigeonholed me and categorized me and approached or receded according to their attitudes about how useful art was.

Art is useful because it decorates the world. It is useful because it is a communication about perception and truth and beauty. (Not just painting, now, but music, and poetry and dance etc.) It is useful because , in viewing art, or participating in art, we can step outside the too often weary mundane of our lives, the getting and spending.

And that's — to my mind — far more useful than making machines, fighting wars, pushing paper, participating in espionage, etc., etc., many of the  things that we consider "important" or "Useful."

As an individual, art lifts me above myself. As an artist, art presents problems enough for solving without having to invent problems. As a teacher, the joy my students find in the exploration of the process of art and in the development of their own communications makes me happy.

I invite you to read my husband's essay on Certainty and Opinion.

Is art useful? In my opinion it is, and I am quite certain of it. Tell me what you think?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Night Freight Painting and Song

Bill Davis, currently in my Reston Community Center Class, came up with the striking painting (below) and then revealed that it goes with his song "Night Freight" And I thought this was worth sharing. You can sample or purchase Bill's CD "Far Out" on CDBaby.com.

Night Freight

And you can play the MP3 file for Night Freight with an MP3 player.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Two new studies

Two new studies I'm excited about.

                          The "Fruit Bowl and Tiles" is an interpretation I did from a reference photo I took for a previous still life done in the Fall. The original was done in oil and was done from the actual still life.It adheres more strictly to "real life". In this one, I decided to play with color and form. I particularly like the way different colors that are the same value or tone can be overlaid, as in the purple shadow over the blue shadow, lower right.
The second one is a loose interpretation of a landscape. I particularly liked, in the original photo, the bright trees reflected in the water. They are the stars of the show.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Still Life

Sometimes a "demo" painting turns out unexpectedly good.

Demo of still life using acrylics done Jan 8, 2011

I did this painting of a still life for a small group gathered at the Great Falls School of Art on January 8, 2011. since it was to be a demo and rather quickly done (to give participants time to paint) I used a piece of unstretched canvas taped to a drawing board. Now, since it turned out so well, I wish that I had used a stretched canvas. Ah well!