April 6, 2021
Over the next four weeks we’ll consider painting rather more of the clothed figure than just the head and shoulders. Choosing reference photo is the first challenge. You may have one of a complete stranger or you may have or can take a picture of a family member reading a book or even asleep. At least they won’t be giving you a great big beaming smile. For this week include the whole figure either seated or standing in your reference. The aim will be to get really used to looking at the various elements of the figure because understanding figure itself will help us understand how clothing drapes across the body. Usually there are a lot of clues especially with more tailored and tight fitting garments but the particular pose that presents itself can also give invaluable clues that will help you make a believable portrait.
In subsequent weeks we’ll look at suitable cropping points so that successful compositions can be made of to the waist and also three quarter length studies. We’ll also consider figures wearing uniform, formal regalia or traditional costume less familiar to us, but for all of these a general understanding of the figure, its proportions and the way it moves will inform all the work done.
Look at the standing reference first; in an adult the head is about one seventh of the total height but in a child this ratio is considerably more. In the photo above it is between one sixth and one fifth.
Follow an imaginary line from the top of the head down the spine to the pelvis and think about what happens when you get to the legs. With a standing figure the neck will be directly above the foot bearing most of the weight and if the weight is being evenly shared between both feet will be directly above a point between the feet. If your figure is leaning against a wall notice if this changes anything.
Look at how far the arms extend down the body if they are down and how far again if they are folded or the angles made if they are on the hips or if one arm is on the hip what is happening with the other arm.
Look at the tilt of the shoulders and the hips if these can be identified. Thinking about how the body moves will help. Look at the knee in relation to the direction in which the foot points. If you stand fairly upright with your feet together and then turn one foot out a bit the knee follows it and so the knee points in the same direction as the foot. When sitting this is also the most relaxed position for the foot, but of course if you cross your legs you will find the foot has far more freedom but still feels more comfortable when pointing the same way as the knee.
Try to find out how your own joints limbs and back behave, then look at your reference again and think through what is going on.
With the sitting reference, look at the relation of the sitter’s form to the form of what they are sitting on whether it’s flat ground, a grassy slope as for the Afhan girl heading this post, or some kind of seat. It can be useful to make a sketch of the chair, bench or stool, but remembering that the soft parts of some chairs will be altered by the sitter as above. The appearance of the figure, especially the fore-shortening of the upper leg will be very different depending on whether you are viewing the person from the side or the front. The height of the chair in relation to the person’s leg length will also result in a very different posture for the sitter. If a tall person sits on a low bench they will either stretch their legs out or bend their knees up bringing the feet closer to the chair. Just think about things like this when looking.
You may like to look at how other artists have portrayed standing and sitting figures so do have a look at the following Pinterest boards.
For the seated figure:
and for the standing figure:
Then it’s high time to have a go!
Choose to work either from a standing or a seated figure and make a few thumbnail sketches first, before launching into your first painting. Work so that you make note of the tones in the composition as well as the shapes of the forms. Try to imagine you are in the presence of the sitter and that the figure actually exists in three dimensions rather than the two dimensional image you are referring to.
After that decide how much space your figure will occupy in your painting. Look at the overall height and width of the figure and how much of the background and what of its features you wish to include or exclude. Sometimes an indication of the space around the figure and the objects within that space helps the composition while at other times there are things in the background which are irrelevant and may detract from the main focus: the figure being portrayed.
The medium is up to you; pastel and acrylic are possibly more forgiving than watercolour but whichever medium you choose once you have established the main shapes, take note of the tonal balance as well as the colour. If you choose to work in watercolour you may like to Google the portrait watercolours of Charles Reid, and Hans Schwarz, and of course Singer Sargent also produced some wonderful watercolour portraits.
March 17, 2021
This is the last of the head and shoulders portrait challenges and this week it would be great to try a portrait that is different from any attempted so far. If you haven’t yet tried to paint a very elderly person or a hatted person perhaps try that. Alternatively you could try a profile or near profile view or someone with amazing hair.
If possible choose a reference where the subject is not smiling. No one could possibly sit and keep up a broad grin for forty minutes and portrait studies from photographic reference look far more natural if the subject has a pose that could realistically kept for a long period.
If you decide on using a grid make sure that you take only the information that is really necessary to get the large shapes right. If you draw freehand in charcoal either as an under drawing for pastel or acrylic try to work tonally just indicating all the main forms and observing closely how the light reveals their form. Observe whether the head is tilting back or forward Remember to measure the total width and height of the head and to position the eyes and ears correctly.
If painting someone in a hat look at how the hat shades the face and how soft edges are under the hat.
If you are going to attempt a profile you may like to look at a few examples on the Profile section of my Portraits Pinterest Board, link below:
There was also interest in attempting a portrait where colours represent tones. You can find several Fauve portraits and the work of the contemporary artist Jessica Miller who works in this way in the Fauve portrait section of my portraits Pinterest board, link below:
March 10, 2021
This week’s portrait challenge is to paint someone wearing a hat or headdress. All the illustrations for this have been made in pastel or by making a tonal under drawing in charcoal, fixing it really well then adding layers of colour.
For an adult face quite dense layers of charcoal may be laid down to describe the forms of the face and mass of hair. For a child’s face a more delicate approach may be needed and it would be better to start with a drawing in pastel or pastel pencil using similar colours to those that will be used to finish the work.
Some examples of portrait paintings where the model is wearing a hat, hood or other and fascinators definitely come into the class of other! can be found on the Pinterest board that can be accessed by the link below:
When making a tonal study it is essential that the drawing is accurate. If the photograph is a front view or slightly three quarter view try to observe the following. Not quite so possible if the model is wearing a wide brimmed hat or in profile!
Look at the general shape of the head. Note whether it is tilted sideways and how this affects the axis of symmetry. Perhaps drop a vertical down so that it crosses the head between the eyes. Then drop a line from the highest point of the head to the tip of the chin, you will be then be able to see how much the head is tilted and you will be able to either make the eyes level if the head is perfectly straight, or at the correct slant if not.
Although if someone is looking straight at you the middle of the eyes appear about half way between the tip of the chin and the top of the skull, this alters when the head is tilted upwards or downwards. When looking up there will be considerable foreshortening so the eyes will appear nearer the top of the head but the ears will appear lower and you will be able to see under the chin and up the nostrils.
When the head is looking down with the chin tucked in, obviously you will see more of the top of the head and all the facial features will be rather differently foreshortened. The eyes will appear lower, the ears higher and the nose may overhang the mouth. The lower lip may disappear and only a little of the chin may be visible.
Usually a photographic reference will not be as extreme as this but do note the position of the head in relation to the head and shoulders.
Also note the width of the head in relation to it’s height and the position of the ears in relation to the point where the lower jaw articulates with the rest of the skull. It’s a good idea to feel this on your own head and also to examine the rather fundamental fact that a head, although roughly rounded has a curved frontal plane and curved sides. It is possible to think of the sides starting where the temples and cheek bones make a rounded corner. Again feel your own head and it will be easier to think about the structure of the head when you are drawing.
Leaving you with a final thought; remember that the hair is on the head so be generous with it! And if the model has very little hair you have the perfect chance to get the head shape spot on!
March 3, 2021
During the next few days the portrait will be completed and published. A lot more work is needed to resolve the features and soften and blend the skin tones. Some information on working in pastel will also be published.
Palette of colours used was: Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Ultramarine Blue, Permanent Crimson Alizarin, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber.
Both cool and warm skin tones can be made with this very basic palette. It will also provide for some near blacks by mixing Ultramarine with Burnt Umber. Try adjusting Burnt Sienna with the other colours to provide for a very pale complexion, a mid toned complexion and a dark complexion.
Although the addition of a few more pigments would be useful for example a warmer red like Cadmium Red Pale, Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber and Raw Sienna and perhaps Viridian, a remarkable variety of complexions and cool and warm shadow areas can be made from this basic palette.
February 23, 2021
Portrait painting is challenging because we are so familiar with faces that we can spot inaccuracies easily, and perfecting a likeness both of the physical features and the character of the model requires a lot of precise observation. This does not mean that we need to paint every detail but does mean understanding of how the various forms of the head and shoulders present themselves. A glance back to the portrait drawing Blog posts of May 5 Full Face, May 18 Profile and June 1 Three Quarter View will give you some useful reminders. Choose the appropriate month of the Blog archive to find them.
No excuses for the length of this post but the information should be useful for all of the next four weeks. I’ve put together a very eclectic mix of portraits on my Pinterest Board at
Making studies from photographs makes some things easier; the subject is already translated into two dimensions; it’s the easiest way to attempt wriggling children, and also to maintain consistent lighting etc. The down side is that many photographs tend to flatten the image so that we lose the sense of three dimensions and it is all too easy to copy slavishly instead of using the reference as a starting point.
Choosing a reference photograph
For the next four weeks we will consider working from photos of the head and shoulders and I suggest starting with a front or three quarter view. Reference photos with directional lighting from either side or above are more useful in revealing the form of the head and its features than those in which the head is evenly lit. Even lighting makes it very difficult to make the nose appear three dimensional and in painting as in a tonal drawing colour and tone will be more important than line to depict forms that are in reality three dimensional. Shadows on the face become even more interesting if the subject is wearing a hat but I suggest for this week it’s hats off and your first task is to find a suitable reference.
To Crop or not to Crop?
Once you have selected a suitable image you may find more content is more included than you wish to use for your portrait. It may be that more of the figure is included or that the surround is too large. Try using two L shaped pieces of card arranging them like a view finder so you can decide on an attractive crop for the image. Once found it’s a good idea to attach them so that you always return to work from the same part of the reference.
Now that a reference has been selected and cropped it could be imagined that all that remains is to go ahead and paint, and that’s possible but it may be better to think a few things through first, especially with regard to;
position of the head and its size in relation to the support, size of the finished work, background, tonal balance, colour composition
This is the stage where it would be useful to make a few thumbnail sketches. These should be no more than 3 x 4 inches and all on the same sheet of paper. Explore some of the following using a rectangle of the same proportions as the support to be used for the finished work.;
a) The position of the head on the paper e.g. as in the reference or to right or left, further up or down
b) Size of the head compared to the support, and size of finished work. Very often a photo reference contains the face but not absolutely all of the head. This can look charming at a small scale but presents considerable problems at a much larger scale. Very often head and shoulder portraits are made at three quarter life size so for an adult’s head and shoulders with some background 12 x 16 inches or about A3 would be fine and still allow the head to “breathe”. If only a child’s head/face fills the image so that there is virtually no background you may consider working much smaller at say 8 x 10 inches. Those working on paper can always cut paper accordingly but if you are using board or canvas you should work out the size you wish to work at carefully beforehand.
c) Background or vignette: Photographs of head and shoulders will have a background. It is a valid choice to paint without a background if that would suit the subject.
d) Does the background in the reference detract from or is it important to the way in which you wish to paint the portrait. Backgrounds may need simplifying, even to the extent of making them fairly uniformly dark or pale. Try both in separate sketches to see what would suit the subject best.
e) The main tonal areas of the head, neck and shoulders, and the hair. A small thumbnail sketch should really help you sort out the large areas and perhaps pinpoint the real highlights in the reference. It will also help you sort out the fact that the eyes are always in shade.
This is the point when you should also start to think about colour;
e) Complexion: Is the subject pale or dark skinned? Although we are only looking at the head and shoulders are clothes important and colourful and are some of those colours reflected in the face, especially neck, chin and sometimes the cheeks. See colour notes below for fair and dark skins.
f) Clothes and jewellery: Is the sitter wearing a hat or jewellery and how important are these to the composition? If a brimmed hat you should have already looked at the shadows this may cast across the face.
g) Background colours: do these enhance or detract from the portrait reference? These may be simplified and/or changed.
You may like to make a thumbnail colour sketch and work out some suitable flesh colours and see how these would work alongside colour swatches for background and clothes.
A mid toned paper would be suitable for working with pastel. If using acrylic or you may like to lay down a layer of white or tinted gesso, or thinned paint. At this stage you may decide whether to draw the image on to the support or whether as many painters do, or to start by blocking in the main shapes and tones and gradually refining these till your portrait is finished.
However you start it is important to reduce distortions when transferring the main shapes to the support by always working at the same ratio of dimensions on the support as in the reference. If working on canvas choose a size with the dimensions in the nearest ratio to the reference.
For example if your reference is 5 x 7 inches and you wish to scale up to twice the size a 12 x 16 inch canvas would be suitable but remember to lightly mark a rectangle of 10 x 14 inches ready to scale up the reference. When painting begins the paint can be extended to cover the margins but at the initial stages this will ensure that you should be able to get the proportions correct.
Draw the image on the support; either freehand or by using a grid.
Freehand: Personally I prefer to do most of the drawing freehand but often make a feint line across both my reference and support, dividing them both into quarters. This is helpful in checking whether the subject’s head is slightly tilted and gives a rough guide where to place the main shapes and to check the proportions and angles.
Grid: Many find a more exacting grid method useful. Stanley Spencer used grids extensively. If you wish to try this find a piece of acetate and make a grid of 1 inch squares. Lay this across your reference and make a corresponding grid of larger squares on the support (two inch squares for two times reference dimensions), remembering to work out the margins if the proportions of the support are not exactly the same as the reference. You can then transfer the drawing square by square from the reference. While accurate, this can result in a stiffer drawing so ensure you preserve the flow of the forms as they relate to each other.
Just draw the main lines and shapes including eyes, mouth, nostrils, nose and ear positions as well as the main head and shoulders shapes. At this point you can decide whether to start your painting by blocking in the main shapes or by making a tonal under drawing or painting. I may decide to start an acrylic painting by making a tonal drawing in charcoal, fixing this and laying a thin layer of transparent paint, perhaps burnt sienna or a more neutral colour thinned with water and a little slow drying medium and wiping out the highlights with a rag.
In Pastel: A good way to start is to draw the main shapes and then to start lightly blocking in tones and colour with broad side strokes, broadly working from dark to light but often also marking the lightest and brightest areas early on.
In Acrylic Paint: Perhaps tint the surface as described earlier and mark out the main shapes of the composition broadly with a brush. Then start to paint in the main areas of tone. I like to build up fairly tonally. This is a personal preference but within that I may like to indicate cooler and warmer areas, so it will not be a totally monochrome under painting. No detail will be painted but I will establish the darkest, palest, and then with colour perhaps some of the most colourful areas and the background so that I have some key areas established.
Most flesh colour mixes have a brown as their base which is modified with other primary colours. other colours. For fair skin this is often a burnt Sienna. For middle complexions this may be a burnt umber and for dark complexions raw umber. All of these can be modified with reds, yellows and for shadow areas blue. Some of you will have already experimented with the Zorn palette which makes successful flesh colours mainly because black and red will produce good browns. A reminder of some of the colours possible with this palette is below.
Try mixing your brown pigments with reds, yellows, white to make flesh colours and see what happens when you add a little blue or a little viridian.
Also note the difference between using a cool red like carmine or crimson alizarin or a more orange red such as vermilion or cadmium red pale in the mixes.
The flesh tones can be built up with opaque or transparent paint using darker and cooler shades for the shadow areas and pale opaque paint for the palest areas. See if any areas are picking up colours reflected from clothes or from the background and include these.
1.Thumbnail sketches as indicated earlier; exploring composition, tone and colour.
2. Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting it would be good to have the composition worked out on the support; as a drawing for watercolour; or a charcoal under-drawing for pastel quite heavily fixed so that the colour can be worked over the drawing. In the case of a young person the pastel drawing should not be too dark.
If working in acrylic you may prefer to make a tonal under-painting or block in the main areas of colour, or make a tonal under-drawing, fix it and wash with a thin layer of very transparent paint. The paint layer will seal the charcoal and prevent it from lifting.
I hope to demonstrate some colour mixes and applying the first layers of paint. So the review session will be short.
Illustrations will be added to this post during the week.
This week is a mix of finished and preparatory work;
February 9, 2021
This week I just took a little time exploring how two reds, one closely related to orange, Vermilion and the other Alizarin Crimson, closer to purple, mixed and related to two very different greens, Sap Green which is much more yellow that Phthalocyanine Green which leans toward blue.
You may have different greens and reds in your paint box. Take some time to discover how near to orange or purple s each red is and how near to yellow or blue each green is.
Viridian, Phthalocyanine Green, Cobalt green and Prussian Green are all examples of greens nearer to blue. Sap Green is a more yellow green and Hooker’s Green is much bluer than Sap Green but more yellow than Phthalo Green.
Vermilion, and Cadmium Red Pale are much nearer to orange than Crimson Alizarin, Quinacridone Rose and Magenta and you may have other reds which are somewhere between the two.
Before homing in on the green and red pigments you choose for your painting subjects this week find which combinations will be best suited by experimenting a little.
Have a look at this week’s Pinterest board at
In each example make a note of how the red and green pigments are being employed and how they interact. Observe how red looks when surrounded by dark, pale tones, by similar hues and by complementary colours both pale greens, dark greens, yellow greens and bluer greens.
Choose only two from the following list and make two paintings incorporating one in each. That doesn’t mean to say the other items won’t be present but I would like you to have one main theme for each painting, just as a story may involve one main character and a couple of supporting roles. Don’t feel you have to do two paintings. One well thought out composition is really worthwhile.
You may use white pure in areas and in mixes, and your paintings may be representational or abstract. The medium is up to you. Try to make dark tones by mixing the appropriate reds and greens and use black only if essential.
Think very carefully about how many greens you wish/need to work with and how many reds. The illustrations will give you some idea of the scope of using only four pigments but you may wish to explore lots of greens in a painting and only one red for instance. Try to have a reason for your choices.
After a while it becomes intuitive to just go for the “right” colour knowing how it will appear on its own and in mixes, and you will definitely begin to enjoy using some pigments more than others. I firmly believe that individual colour choices and combinations form as much of the identity of an artist as the shapes and lines he produces. (“he” being used in the universal mankind sense here.) Think this has already been born out in the last few weeks by those who prefer orange and blue to yellow and violet and vice versa!
February 3, 2021
Red demands our attention even in the smallest quantities. The tiniest area of pure red can form a focal point as in the painting of the blue rug above. It’s like an itch that cannot be ignored.
Where blue may be sad or holy, red is fiery, passionate, romantic, celebratory. Blue is recession or depression, red leads the cavalry to advance. We need both the calm of blue and the jollity of red for a balanced colour diet.
Look at the way red is used in the works on this week’s Pinterest board at:
Look at the red dot in Matisse’s cut out “Icarus”. See how different reds interact in the abstracts by Rothko and Patrick Heron. Explore how Bernard Cathelin manipulates red in still life, portrait and studies of groups of figures.
This week for all the studies you may use any red pigment alone or in combination with other reds. You may use Magenta, Quinacridone Rose, Alizarin as well as the warmer reds cadmium Red Pale, Scarlet and Vermilion. It would be useful for these studies to have one cool red(nearer to purple) and one warm red(nearer to orange).
One way to understand your reds is to test each one by discovering how it appears surrounded by black , white or a different red. Make a note of which appear to advance or whether the same red appears different against different surrounding hues. After that try at least one of the following red/reds to make a composition. You may use back and white, mixed with the reds or as areas of white and black. These paintings may be abstract or representational, hard or soft edged.
1. Make a painting using one or more red pigments, black and white. This may be hard or soft edged, abstract or representational.
2. Make a painting with red as in 1. but a small amount of a related hue may be used, but only one; either a reddish orange or a reddish mauve but not both.
3. Make a painting with any colour but include one small area of red as a focus.
January 26, 2021
This week we have high drama purple and yellow. It’s in some ways very like the blue orange challenge, although to my mind not as easy. Yellow and purple together always brings to mind mauve and yellow crocuses and Iris. I didn’t find quite so many references so perhaps I’m not the only one to find this challenging.
All the same principles apply as for the orange blue complementary pair, and it’s worth trying to mix a few yellows with one purple colour to find out what you can make with this limited palette. Again purple will very quickly denature any yellow much in the same way that blue does the same with orange, so always add a small amount of purple to the yellow to make your mixes, unless you just want to add a small amount of yellow to a very strong pigment like Dioxazine Purple, just to take the edge off its rather harsh colour.
A few notes on other pigments and the use of pastel are included in the Challenges for this week: section nearer the end.
Unlike red and blue and especially when working with oil or acrylic, yellow can be used to make a deep colour paler while at the same time lessening its saturation (purity). That is why a little yellow with Dioxazine will lessen its vivid colour. This does not work where reds and blues are opaque paints that already contain a lot of white; especially gouache and acrylic paints (some pink and pale bluecolours).
A useful watercolour technique is charging. Make a small square of yellow wash, about 3inches square and drop a strong purple into it while it is wet. This technique is called charging. Very often the colours mingle rather than mix, but the results can be stunning. Then try dropping yellow into a purple wash.
I repeated this with a stronger purple wash; the results are subtle but would be wonderful for a ceramic vase.
Challenges for this week:
Spend most of the time on 3. and/or 4.
1. Yellow and Purple mixes;
I suggest you stick to one purple, Dioxazine (also called Winsor Violet) would be a good choice being a strong pigment that will give you plenty of tonal contrast and see how it mixes with the yellows in your box. Just remember it is very strong, transparent and staining.
A gentler option would be any other mauve or violet.
If you have a pale opaque violet like the rather expensive Cobalt Violet your yellow mixes will be much more subtle but you will not be able to make dark tones with yellow. It is certainly worth experimenting with as it is a beautiful pigment for delicate colour washes but will not give you any strong tones.
Purple is one of the more difficult colours to mix but a magenta added to an ultramarine should give a good purple. Mix a large amount if you wish to have a consistent colour mix for a painting.
You may also wish to use either pastel or oil pastel which would be great as a wax resist with watercolour.
If you are using acrylic Dioxazine Purple is the strongest. There are other purple pigments which are often mixed with white so you would automatically reduce the transparency of your colour by mixing with transparent yellows. All are useful but please be aware that the results will be different.
If working with watercolour try the charging technique as outlined above. Note any difference in the behaviour of your pigments. Try charging purple into yellow and yellow into purple.
3. Make a composition using only yellows, one purple and white if required.
4. Make a second painting using yellows, one purple, white, black and a small amount of colour analogous to purple e.g. a purplish blue like ultramarine.
The painting should appear mainly yellow purple and mixes of these two. Use black with caution but do try using a pure black and very strong purple beside each other or for a very rich dark area try laying strokes of purple over a dry black wash. A strong transparent purple like Dioxazine is necessary for this.
If you use Payne’s Grey instead of black also be aware that this paint is a mixed pigment that contains black so will tend to desaturate/muddy colours in the same way that black does. Very often the added hues are blue and/or purple pigments. My personal choice is to use a Payne’s Grey Blue Shade as the alternatives are generally very dull.
If time is limited, choose to do either 3. or 4.
Do first look at the Matisse painting of a woman in a purple and yellow jacket and the Dufy work of a view through a window in Nice. It would also be well worth looking at the contemporary artist David Tress who works mainly with land and city scapes. If you can, choose to work from your imagination or your own reference, otherwise make your version of one of the paintings referenced.
January 19, 2021
Yellow, the sunshine colour; just what we could do with today! Opposite purple on the simple colour wheel this is the colour intrinsically pale in tone, even the yellows that are nearer to orange are pale in their most saturated form.
Yellow paints in your box may range from the very pale lemony yellows nearest to green;
Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Lemon, Cadmium Yellow Light
To the middle yellows;
Cadmium Yellow Medium, Chromium Yellow Light
And yellows that are almost orange;
Turner’s Yellow, Chromium Yellow Deep, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Indian Yellow
You can do any of the suggested projects below with one pale or lemony yellow and one that is nearer to orange or at least in the middle range of yellows.
Have a look at the Pinterest board to see how other artists have worked with yellow as the principal colour in a composition.
Then try any two of the following (more if it’s pouring with rain outside).
1. Try making an abstract or representational painting, using any pure yellows. If you need to because you are using an opaque medium like pastel or gouache you may use white.
Do not use earth yellows such as the ochres. These are already de-saturated colours. By mixing yellow with black, or as we shall see next week with purple, you should be able to mix your own approximations to these.
2. Find how the yellows in your box mix with black and make a hard edged composition with at least some pure black areas, some pure white/white of the paper areas, and blocks of pure yellow and yellow mixed with black or white. This may be representational or abstract.
3.Make a painting with hard and soft edges with any mixes of yellow, black and white, abstract or representational. For textures as in the Sargent portrait you may consider using pastel instead of a wet medium.
4. Make a painting using the same colours as in 3 but you may add touches of closely related colours like a reddish orange or a yellowy green.
With your paintings try to find ways of sorting out major tonal areas. The dark and unsaturated colours will be the perfect foil to pure or almost pure colours. Be very aware of when you are using pure colour and when you are using de-saturated colour. Look at how pure colours seem to stand out from duller unsaturated colours demanding attention.
January 12, 2021
Orange and Blue is a very versatile colour combination producing vivid contrasts and yet in mixes some lovely muted colours and greys can be made. In theory you should be able to mix a neutral grey if the orange and blue are mixed in the right proportions. Try this with an ultramarine and a cadmium orange. The exercise below used gouache pigments but could be done with watercolour or acrylic.
Try adding a titanium white to one of the darkest mixes. That will soon reveal whether the mix has a blue or an orange bias. See below.
Last week we saw how different hues looked when the same hue was surrounded by hues that were different in tone and saturation. This week we are throwing a much greater colour difference into the mix and the effects of pale and dark borders. The following were constructed digitally but the same principles apply when you are painting.
Outlines matter: the arrangement of colour is identical in the three illustrations below, they differ only in that the first group have no outline, the second group a black outline and the third group a white otline to the cross shapes.
References for this week can be found on the Power of Colour Pinterest board at:
The first challenge is to create two or three small studies that show how blue and orange can relate to each other, much as we did for the different blue hues. This time I would like to see both studies use similar shapes; these can be organic or more geometric. The colours should be distinct and either have no border, a black border or a white border. Use only one blue and a premixed orange e.g. cadmium orange or a similar bright orange.
Some people really enjoy making these studies/little abstract paintings. If you do, you may like to spend all your time on this. If not just spend a short time mixing colours; especially noticing any differences between mixing the complementary colours together, and mixing each complementary with white or black before spending most of your time on a painting; see notes below the study notes..
First Study; work with your chosen blue and orange as the brightest blocks of colour you can make. Include white as pure white and black as pure black and include shapes with and without outlines.
Second Study: In the second study try including some desaturated colour by mixing your blue with the orange. You may use white but not black.
(if time)Third Study: This time you may still use only one orange and one blue but do not mix them with each other, just use white or black to de-saturate the colours. You may choose whether to include any areas of pure blue and pure orange or you may choose to work with either very pale or very dark colour mixes.
Medium: You may use any medium for this; collage would work brilliantly perhaps inspired by works by Patrick Heron or Josef Albers. An opaque medium like gouache would also work well. This can also be done with watercolour, pastel or acrylic. These studies can be quite small and contain only about eight shapes, certainly not more than about twelve. If you decide to work in collage; paint some pieces of cartridge paper and cut or tare them to make your shapes. White paper can be your pure white and if you have any black paper that can be your black.
Painting; after the studies spend some time looking at the Pinterest Board again and make your own composition using any of your blue pigments, black and white but use only one premixed orange. Mix these however you like. An opaque orange like Cadmium Orange would be ideal but any bright orange will do.
Note how black lines can separate areas of colour, containing them as in a stained glass window. We often prepare to paint by drawing with lines that separate areas we may later choose to fill with colour. These lines usually represent edges of what we can see. Very often we obliterate these lines during the course of painting so that one colour lies directly against its neighbouring colour with no dividing line. See how in some works the artist uses line, sometimes to separate blocks of colour and/or to define the edges of objects within an area of colour as in the blue and gold interior painted by Matisse referenced on the Pinterest board for this week.
When looking at paintings look for works that use line and those that represent forms with no line which is much more as we see them.
Look at how Modigliani sometimes used a pale blue for eyes in a rather orange face. You might consider working from a black and white portrait photo. In landscape paintings blues tend to recede and the orange and red colours seem to advance. Whether you produce an abstract or a representational piece think about edges and enjoy the colour!
January 5, 2021
For the next few weeks we’ll be looking at primary colours used on their own and their use with each of their complementary colours. Primary colours will also be used with closely related hues to make harmonious compositions.
We’ll also explore some of the effects of colours on each other, after all colour can seriously affect your eyes or at the least deceive them a little!
Look at the appearance of the four blue squares on the right and middle columns above. Do they look different? What happens at their edges?
Then: stare at each of the squares in turn for about a minute then look at the blank space below before going on to the next one. What do you see?
For even more spectacular after images stare at the colour wheel below and then at a white space. these after images and illusions are with us all the time we are seeing.
To start with, here are a few basic definitions that are relevant to the course.: please skip if you are already up to speed with this!
Hue: a pure colour of a certain wavelength in the visible light spectrum.
Colour wheel; this should be a circle with a continuum of all the different hues in the visible spectrum. In practical terms this has been reduced to a beach ball of just six colours which represent six major groups of colour as used for painting; firstly, the three primary colours; red, yellow, and blue called primaries because they cannot be mixed from other colours; secondly, the three secondary colours orange, green and purple which can be mixed from the primary colours and which lie in between the colours they are mixed from on the colour wheel. Scientists and artists have invented a huge number of colour wheels, some of which include many more colours and also tints and shades at different levels within the circle.
Analogous colours; colours close in hue and next to each other on the colour wheel. the colour wheel. e.g. red and a reddish purple
Saturation : the purity of the colour, which is occasionally and I think confusingly, called intensity. To de-saturate a colour mix the pure hue (fully saturated colour), with its complementary colour, or black or white. The saturation of some colours is altered radically by even the smallest amounts of these; for example yellow is very rapidly changed by the addition of the smallest amounts of purple or black.
Tone: how light or dark a colour appears. Every pure hue has an intrinsic tone. A pure yellow for instance is always paler than a pure red. The additionof black, both de-saturates a hue and lowers or darkens its tone. Colours darkened in this way are usually called shades. The addition of a complementary colour also lowers its tone.
The addition of white to a hue lightens it and is said to raise its tone to make tints.
The definition of tints and shades is not always consistent as pastels are often labelled as e.g. tints 1 to 6 where usually a stick labelled tint 1 or 0 is the palest and is the pure colour plus white, and a stick labelled tint 6 is the darkest of that colour made up of the pure hue plus black.
This week’s colour is blue. Often the colour of melancholy and depression as in Picasso’s blue period portraits, I didn’t choose blue first because of Covid creating so much depression this New Year. No, I chose it first because it’s also the colour of sunny skies and Mediterranean waters, and because as you will see next week blue is great to combine with its complementary orange.
The blue pigments I have used for the exercises are
French Ultramarine (warm),
Cobalt Blue (warm)
Phthalo Blue, green shade or Prussian blue (cold)
It’s useful to have at least one warm and one cool blue to work with. If I had only two I would probably favour Ultramarine and Cerulean, but the richness of cobalt and the dark tones that can be produced with Phthalo or Prussian Blues are very useful additions.
For this week you will also need a black and white, and perhaps a couple of analogous colours a blueish purple and a blueish green or turquoise.
Used at full strength pure cobalt and pure cerulean are not as dark in tone as Ultramarine or Phthalo Blue and the darkest is Prussian blue. Phthalo Blue, Prussian blue and Ultramarine are generally more transparent than Cerulean and cobalt blue.
What does this mean in practice?
Transparency only applies to watercolour, oil and acrylic paints as if you are using gouache or pastel you are effectively working with an inherently opaque medium. Transparent colours deepen the more layers of colour that are added. Opaque colours laid down at full strength do not become darker when further layers are added. Very often it is difficult unless you know their position to identify the transparent colours of watercolour pans in a box because they all appear so dark whereas the more opaque colours give away their identity on sight; e.g, cadmium red, cadmium orange etc.
Exercises; I have chosen watercolour for this week but most could be done with pastel, acrylic or gouache. I hope to provide some pastel examples later in the week. The illustrations are only to give you ideas of ways to explore the blue pigments in your own boxes,
1. Tone and saturation
Take a blue pigment and try 1. diluting with water, 2. mixing with increasing amounts of white, 3. mixing with black and adding increasing amounts of white, and 4. compare with black to which increasing amounts of white are added.
Try this for a warm blue like Ultramarine and a cool blue like Cerulean or Phthalo Blue. Adding water or white will make tints and adding black will darken the colour and de-saturate the blue. Adding white to this mix will produce blueish greys.
2. Optical properties
Dark and light surrounds, disappearing boundaries; very closely related hues of the same tone.
Make a study where similar shapes of one hue are surrounded by white, a much darker hue or by a closely related hue of the same tone. An example is given below.
You may choose to do 3 or 4 below;
3. Make a painting/study using just blue pigments
4. Make a painting or study using blue pigments, and black. You may also use white and a couple of analogous colours like a blueish green and/or a blueish purple. The general effect should be that you are making a predominantly blue and harmonious painting.
3 and 4 may be your own composition or your version of a famous painting where the predominant colour is blue.
What conditions make a blue advance, float, or recede?
With regard to tone and hue how does a background colour affect how a blue hue appears?
Pinterest board for reference.
The link for this week’s board is:
which includes abstract works by Patrick Heron, Marc Rothko, Josef Albers, Kandinsky and Matisse alongside works from Picasso’s blue period.
November 17, 2020
Fire is natural light. We can cause fire to happen but it is a natural phenomenon and unpredictable in its shape and form which is as flickering and fluid as water. There are some similarities with the way fire and water behave visually; the explosive bursts of fire from natural causes or rockets exploding in the sky are not so different from fountains spraying water as pressure is released by a valve; fire can also pour down volcanic mountains. A difference is that we see water because it reflects light but fire is the light source. Visually it is the difference between the sun and the moon. In our thought processes when we depict fire we depict power and potential danger, even when this is in the form of a humble candle.
Perhaps the disconnect between the power of fire which we harness domestically and its destructive nature, whether natural or harnessed for war is why we find the flickering flame so exciting.
That’s the philosophy bit done! Now for a look at the candle;
The “halo” is not necessarily the sphere as seen in so many Christmas greetings cards. Note the blue at the base of the flame and bands of orange and yellow. Look at the soft glow of the top of the candle itself and tiny subdued highlights in the molten wax. The wick is barely discernible against the dark background here.
Lastly note how the reddish halo gradually merges with the dark ground; colours from dark orange to deep red before becoming indistinguishable from the red/black darks.
If you wish to make a candle study you may like to light a candle, taking sensible safety precautions and observe the colours you see. Your colours and tones may be very different from those in the photograph above so observation is the key to developing a realistic painting.
In 1982 to 1983 Gerhardt Richter made some very beautiful and photo-realistic oil paintings of candles, closely observed against different backgrounds. These look deceptively simple but are carefully painted with huge skill in handling the paint where gradual transitions from light to dark occur. References to these can be found on this week’s Pinterest board at:
Alongside works by;
Georges de la Tour: more candles and candle light; look at how faces reflect the candle light in his works
Joseph Wright of Derby: volcanic eruptions and a fire burning a cottage down at night
And Bonfires by the contemporary artist Brent Cotton.
This should supply you with plenty of ideas for next week’s painting. I would like to see work either from your imagination or a fire situation you have experienced; from an erupting volcano to a child’s birthday celebration or Christmas candle.
Looking forward to seeing
November 10, 2020
This week we are moving toward the coast, rivers and canals for inspiration and your challenge will be to produce paintings including a light source and its reflection in water. The reflection will not only be affected by the position of the light source to its reflection but also the prevailing light conditions; mist or the darkness of night and whether the water is calm, rippling or rough.
Look at photos of rivers and the sea where any light is reflected and look at how reflections are interrupted and sometimes scattered by waves.
Apart from the vertical positioning of any reflection take special care that each reflection is directly below the light source being reflected. This is seen very clearly both in works by Whistler and Andrew Gifford. better still take a walk along the Thames in the early evening.
The medium is very much your choice and as last week you may work from your imagination or from a reference, preferably of a place you know. James McNiell Whistler is famed for his series of “nocturne” paintings of the Thames. The darkest of these are full of drama and the most subtle have that beauty of early morning stillness. Examples of Whistler’s nocturnes alongside works by Andrew Gifford and the Canadian artist David Haughton can be seen on this week’s Pinterest board at:
Also included are some imaginative works by Charles Philippe Jacquet. The artist’s rather surreal compositions combine his ideas with an almost believable reality. In reviewing some of your own photographs you may be inspired to adapt them to an imaginative approach or to paint a more representational painting. If your reference is complicated, consider making a study of part of it and experiment with little sketches before homing in on a final composition.
Lastly I couldn’t resist including this photo of a cruise ship leaving Funchal; the antithesis of the little yellow boat that carries commuters and tourists alike from Leeds Dock.
If you have very little in the way of references for lights reflected in water at night or evening from boats or buildings on the shore, make a sketch or photo of one of the bridges or part of the Thames shoreline at dusk. Maidenhead Bridge has plenty of lights. Alternatively, if you would like to try a more surreal approach why not choose a building you know and perch it with fully lit windows on a rock in the middle of a lake and imagine your own private lighthouse!
November 3, 2020
This week we’ll consider street lights and other urban lights. The principles are exactly the same as last week; huge tonal differences between the light source and its surroundings.
Last week you were invited to make a very representational painting or to use your imagination to invent a moonlit scene. This week you may consider a representational approach or look at the abstract patterns made by traffic and street lighting which would work very well in pastel on dark papers. A few ideas for working in pastel or watercolour are outlined below.
If working in pastel or opaque watercolour you may like to consider working on a dark or mid toned paper. Often street lights are on well before the light fails completely and in this case a mid toned paper may be useful enabling you to easily make some areas lighter and others darker, perhaps using the paper as one of the tones/colours in your painting.
When using pastel and a very dark blue paper, like midnight blue or even indigo, black will make that even darker for the very deepest tones but use it sparingly. As last week you may need to place your shapes by working with a mid-toned pastel pencil before blocking them in and reserve your palest pastels for the light sources; light from windows, street lamps etc.
If you are working in watercolour plan out your composition so that you can either reserve the lightest and white areas by painting around them or by using masking fluid. Remember not to apply your washes till the masking is absolutely dry. Then work as you would usually working first the pale areas, then the middle and lastly the darkest washes. Your palest washes may be washed over pretty much the whole of your paper, lending unity to subsequent washes and you may like to drop in mid tone colours in some areas at this stage.
Do look at your reference carefully as there may be areas of reflected light and sharp edged shadows.
The photographic references include a dark night time scene from Bradford and some in London at twilight where the shadows are diffuse and there is less glare from each light source.
Try to avoid reflections in water this week as that will be the subject of the following week’s challenge. Stick to street lighting, traffic and car lights, shops and window lights and even cafe lighting. If you are feeling more ambitious try a floodlit building, sports stadium or building site.
Look at how the light is emitted from the light source. It may appear as a round dazzle of light as round the sun or from a torch. It may be directed as the floodlights illuminating a building or stadium. You may even see “pools” of light on the ground.
Hope this gives you some ideas and there are examples of how several artists have tackled this subject on the Pinterest Board link below.
Works by John Atkinson Grimshaw, Frederick Childe -Hassam and Whistler are featured and also works by the Czech artist Jacob Schikaneder. I especially like his tramway scenes. These artists all worked over a similar period about 1890 to 1920.
Have fun and don’t forget to photograph/sketch some fireworks ready for the week 5 challenge.
October 27, 2020
This week’s challenge is the moon and its effects on the landscape. You may paint an observed scene or introduce something more imaginative. The works of Turner and Samuel Palmer combine large elements of observation with imagination. Much smaller than the sun its size is often exaggerated in paintings; look at Turner’s watercolour sketch of Shields Lighthouse, 1823-26.
Several of Turner’s works together with works by Samuel Palmer and the contemporary artists John Caple and Richard Cartwright and others feature on the Pinterest Board titled Lights in the Sky, Lights from the Land, section: Moon and Stars, Link below;
Another featured artist is the Victorian artist, John Atkinson Grimshaw of whom Whistler famously remarked “I considered myself the inventor of nocturnes until I saw Grimmy’s moonlit pictures.” This is unbelievably arrogant in the face of moonlit paintings by Turner, Palmer etc. years earlier. However it is really worth studying Whistler’s nocturnes of the Thames which we’ll look at in a couple of weeks time.
The moon’s light being a mere reflection of the sun’s light is less bright, but is most often depicted during the hours of darkness, so affords huge contrasts with the darkened skies. Because of the darkness the palette used for painting moonlit scenes is generally less colourful and may be depicted in near monochrome.
This week you may work in pastel which will work very well on a dark paper, perhaps a very dark blue or even a dark burgundy colour as in the demonstration piece below. If you are working in watercolour you may choose a white paper as in the illustration above, or if you consider working in gouache, or white added to your watercolours, again you may like to choose a dark paper. Pastel papers can be stretched in the same way as watercolour paper, or you could work in gouache on an off cut of mount board.
The images below show stages in creating a moonlit landscape based loosely on the Eden valley in Northumberland.
Below are a few suggestions for painting the moon in watercolour.
Whatever your medium, compared with the sun the moon is a tiny object though it appears a good size from earth because of its proximity. It sheds a much paler silvery light on the landscape which is very different from the vast range of hues revealed by direct sunlight.
Your challenge for this week is to paint a picture of a moonlit landscape with the moon visible in the night sky. This may take the form of a very imaginative scene as in the works of John Caple or Richard Cartwight or something more literal. Have fun!
October 20, 2020
This week’s project is to depict the sun and effects of its luminosity on the landscape. As light sources, natural and manufactured are the topics for the next few weeks, I thought it would be useful to consider some general aspects of depicting luminosity.
Light sources vary in the colours they emit; some have haloes of different colours surrounding a white or paler coloured centre and others are single hued with a near white highlight at the centre. During the next few weeks we will discover some of these differences in more detail.
Guidelines for creating luminosity in a composition
(Some of this is rather obvious but here goes!)
1. The luminous area should be smaller than its surroundings.
2. The luminous area should be painted in paler tones than its surroundings and the highlight will be the palest tone.
3. Within the brightest part of the luminous area none of the tonal values should contrast with each other greatly. Deeper values should be painted outside this area although there may be different colours of medium tonal value outside the brightest part of the luminous area.
4. A sheen of the colours within and just outside the luminous area often pervades the entire composition. The Impressionists made great use of these effects. This can be seen in Monet’s paintings of the Houses of Parliament and the Waterloo Bridge series. The hues just outside the main illuminated feature and to a lesser extent those within the illuminated area are seen as echoes in streaks and dashes of paint, the colours that create a sheen over the surroundings area, giving the work colour unity as in the rather rough illustration below.
A link to the Pinterest board “Lights in Art” is below and you will find images of the works referenced as well as several other examples of how artists have depicted the sun and sunlight.
Luminosity may be achieved with neutral greys simply by surrounding a small white circle with rings of increasingly darker pale greys on a background of a much darker grey, or with single hue by doing the same but with a colour instead of grey.
Luminosity can also be achieved by using several hues e.g. white surrounded by yellow, then red and other colours but again choosing a darker hue for the wider area surrounding the light source.
Another way of using colour is to surround a saturated colour (pure hue) with less saturated colours or the complement of the pure hue at the centre. Again it usually works best if the surrounding hues are similar tonally or darker than the luminous area.
A good example of a pure colour being surrounded by a less saturated near complementary colour is afforded by “Impression Sunrise”, 1872 by Monet. The sun is painted as a small disc of a rather pure orange against a rather desaturated(less pure) purple cloud. The reflection of the sun is painted clearly in the water and throughout the work echoes of the orange can be seen among the purples and chromatic(coloured) grays of the rest of the composition giving the impression of the sun’s light giving a sheen over the whole work.
It is of course almost impossible to depict the sun on a bright day with hardly a cloud in the sky. This is probably why most paintings of the sun involve sunsets and sunrises, or the sun in overcast conditions; its light pouring through the gaps between the clouds. Another way in which the brightness of the sun is depicted is it’s reflection in water; either as a sparkle or as a reflection of the whole sun.
Even on the dullest day the sun appears white at the centre surrounded by a ring of pale yellow. At sunset the sun may appear white or yellow at the centre and surrounded by red orange colours or the whole sun may appear bright orange/red. The duller the day the more monochrome it appears and the sun’s reflection in water behaves in the same way.
For more ideas do visit the Pinterest Board link below.
1. Experiment with making a small area look luminous using one hue and then with several hues.
2. Using pastel or watercolour or a watercolour/pastel combination make a painting where the sun is evident in the sky and may also include a reflection of the sun. The reflection may appear as the reflection of the whole sun or as a sparkle on the water.
The weather is up to you!
You may like to work your own version of one of the images on the Pinterest board, or use your own reference/imagination.
October 2, 2020
This week we will still be working with just three primary colours but you may choose to use any two warm primaries with one cool primary or any two cool primaries with any one warm primary.
Palettes with a cool bias;
One that gives good mixing opportunities is;
Alizarin Crimson: cool red
Ultramarine: warm blue
Lemon yellow or Cadmium lemon: cool yellows
Reasonable green colours can be mixed and purple and orange hues, as well as near black neutral greys using the red plus blue plus a tiny amount of yellow. By substituting Alizarin with Permanent Rose or Magenta some great violet /purple colours can be made but cooler orange hues.
Another interesting choice with a cool bias would be
Cadmium Red Pale: warm red
Cerulean Blue or Phthalocyanine Blue: cool blues
Lemon Yellow or Cadmium Lemon: cool yellows
This will give very fresh and may give rather acid looking greens which can always be knocked down by adding the tiniest amount of red (more if you need a rather olive green/brown). You will not be able to mix a good purple.
Two Palettes with a warm bias would be;
Cadmium Red Pale: warm red
Ultramarine: warm blue
Lemon yellow or Cadmium lemon: cool yellows
Alizarin crimson or permanent rose: cool reds
Ultramarine Blue blue: warm blue
Indian Yellow: warm yellow
Remember that the overall look, cool or warm, will depend not only on the pigments used but the proportions in which they are used. If blue is predominant the whole may have a cooler appearance than if red dominates. Also where colours are diluted or made paler in tone by mixing with white this also has a ‘cooling’ effect, as does working with muted colours and coloured grays mixed from the primaries.
The Pinterest link below references a variety of works that could be interpreted with a limited mix of primary colours. There are a handful of still lives, some Impressionist and American landscapes including a couple by Thomas Moran, whose paintings I have seen at first hand with other amazing landscapes painted in America over the same period around 1870 to 1900. There are also a couple of delightful posies by Fred Cuming. Other artists represented are even better known, and a few sunsets and sunrises that I am sure you will know.
Hope you enjoy them!
1. The only rule this week is that your three primaries should include at least one cool and one warm primary colour, so investigate what you have in the paint box, and try some mixes out. If working in any opaque way you may use white but not black!
2. Paint a picture, perhaps a still life with flowers or a landscape with an architectural feature or a dramatic sky. The ‘architectural feature could be anything from a garden shed to a distant ruin. The palette used is more important than the subject but try to choose the combination of primaries that best suit the mood of your painting, and please list the pigments used when you send an image.
Malcolm used a palette of warm blue, cool red, warm yellow: Ultramarine B29, Quinacridone Magenta R122, Cadmium Yellow Medium Y37. Plus white.
The reference was a black and white photo b&w photo of a vintage original which took his eye on a hotel staircase in the Cinque Terre; something about the light and dark composition. So Malcolm gave himself the challenge of relating the original tones to the colours achievable with the palette.
Starting with a reddish-purple monochrome underpainting of the darks only, everything except the sky was covered with a with a transparent glaze of the opaque yellow, using glazing medium. This turned the grisaille brown as in the basic building shadows. Malcolm deliberately left some yellow imperfectly covered to get a warm afternoon feel to the painting.
September 26, 2020
The challenge this week is to work with either a cool palette or a warm palette, still using only three colours.
Most people are aware of what constitutes a cool or a warm primary colour but for reference a basic colour wheel is shown below, which used primaries that are neither cool nor warm. These are colours designed to emulate printing colours and in theory you should be able to mix any hue from them.
However in practise, a much wider and richer range of colours can be mixed if you have the following;
A cool red; one that is nearer to purple
e.g. Alizarin Crimson, Permanent Rose
A warm red: one that is nearer to orange
e.g. Cadmium Red Pale, Vermilion, Scarlet Vermilion
A cool yellow; one that is nearer to green
e.g. cadmium lemon, cadmium yellow pale, lemon yellow
A warm yellow; one that is nearer to orange
e.g. cadmium Yellow Deep, Chrome Yellow Deep, Indian Yellow
A warm blue; one that is nearer to purple
e.g. French Ultramarine, Ultramarine red shade, Cobalt blue
A cool blue; one that is nearer to green
e.g. Cerulean Blue, Phthalo Blue, Phthalo Blue Green Shade
The cool palette will consist of a cool red, a cool yellow and a cool blue
The warm palette will consist of a warm red, a warm yellow and a warm blue
Working with only three primaries is still a restricted palette and some colours are difficult to mix with exclusively warm or cool palettes. Purple and violet shades are difficult with both but easier with some cool palettes. The freshest greens can be made with the cool palette and the hottest oranges with the warm palette as you can see from the chart below.
This chart was made with gouache but the result would be very similar for watercolour or acrylic.
Next week we will still work with just three primary pigments but with a mixed palette that includes at least one cool and one warm primary.
1. Identify which cool and warm primary colours you have and make colour swatches to check them out. The pigments may be different to those I have suggested.
2a. Choose a set of three cool primaries and find what colours you can make with them either by mixing or overlaying them or letting them mingle wet in wet.
2b. Do the same with a set of three warm primaries.
3. Paint a picture, representational or more abstract using only three cool primary colours or three warm primaries. Still life subjects or landscape would be suitable. Hopefully you can find a reference which is a place you have visited or set up your own still life.
Think very carefully whether a warm or cool palette would suit your subject best. Remember that you may use white which will always “cool” all colours. Because it is possible to mix to mix greys and muted colours using both palettes you will be able to make very subtle colours from mixes of even the brightest of pigments. These can be incredibly beautiful.
Try making muted colours and chromatic greys by adding a little of a primary colour to its complementary colour. Complementary colours are opposite each other on the basic colour wheel.
e.g. Mix an orange and add a little of its complementary, blue.
The more blue that is added the duller the orange will become till a grey is achieved. From that point if more blue is added the grey will become a muted blue.
Small increments of blue are added to the orange on the right. About midway between orange and blue a neutral grey can be mixed and on either side hues that are slightly more blue or more orange. These are known as chromatic greys. Toward each end are muted colours which are still recognisably blue or orange but not as pure. These colours are often referred to as desaturated in various degrees. All pure hues can be desaturated by adding their complementary colour.
If, as above the mixes are very dark and it is difficult to see whether they (in this case) are slightly more orange or slightly more blue this will become evident by diluting the mix with water or by adding white.
I have tried to illustrate the differences in using a cool and warm palette in the choice of works for reference on this week’s Pinterest Board. The link is below and the sections called Cool Palettes and Warm Palettes are the ones to look at. The paintings all have either a cool palette or a warm palette feel to them and could be interpreted in that way.
4. If you have time it would be a real challenge to make a similar painting to your first using the alternative palette that you chose for your colour mixing at 2.
America 2020 notes from Malcolm
The composition was fun, based on the Golden Ratio and “no two intervals the same”. So too was the physicality – “mad artist attacks easel”.
I first laid down a complete underpainting of yellow-orange. All of the darks are simply red dulled by blue, avoiding the purple side to preserve the sense of heat. There are a few dark greens and a few darker triple mixes. I couldn’t resist some tongues of pure red, and got the toothbrush out for yellow and orange sparks. It was all incredibly quick and hugely enjoyable.
Note on Angela’s palettes;
Lemon yellow and Winsor yellow are not sufficiently different to cause much shift in the temperature of these palettes, however the Cobalt blue used in the left palette is significantly cooler than the ultramarine used on the left. Usually cobalt blue is a warm blue but does vary.
Here fresher green mixes are produced on the left in addition to good purple mixes which should definitely be possible with cobalt and permanent rose and is why in flower painting if a pan of purple or violet is not available, cobalt blue and permanent rose or ultramarine and permanent rose can make successful mixes.
The difficulties of mixing fairly pure purple or violet hues from the warm primaries cadmium red and Ultramarine blue can be clearly seen, in the palette on the right above and in Angela’s abstract studies below.
In the warmer study on the on the right below some fairly fresh looking greens have been mixed. This would not have been possible with a warm yellow like; Cadmium Yellow Deep, Indian Yellow or Gamboge which are much nearer to orange in hue and would have only allowed rather duller greens.
September 18, 2020
The purest definition of an earth pigment is that it derives from a naturally occurring mineral source. However the term seems to be more loosely applied today to include some pigments derived from plant extracts such as Indigo, and even a few synthetically produced pigments some of which now replace their less stable naturally occurring counterparts. For our purposes earth pigments will include most of the less saturated pigments i.e. the ochres and reddish browns etc.
The first pigments were discovered and extracted from minerals over forty thousand years ago and very soon Palaeolithic artists not only ground existing ochres from rocks but fired them to make other colours. They made crayons using ground pigment and spittle or vegetable gum binders and had a great variety of ochres from yellow to dark reds and browns at their disposal, together with carbon black from charcoal. If you are interested in how they made pigments and the chemical constituents of earth colours try the link below:
It is a sobering thought that we still use pigments from the same mineral sources today although some have been superseded by synthetic equivalents.
Since the time of ancient Egypt many blue colours were obtained from azurite a copper carbonate mineral, which is unstable and becomes greener as it weathers. It was widely used in Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and was used by Holbein to paint the background of Lady with a Squirrel. Less expensive than lapis, azurite was a precursor to cerulean blue and is the only reason I can think that cerulean is included in some earth triads.
The Pinterest board for this week’s challenge is a collection of art works that are either painted or made with earth pigments or could easily be interpreted in those colours. There is rather a large content from the Palaeolithic ages which may fire your imagination and other art forms including mosaics and frescoes, finishing with several landscapes. This week the challenge will be to choose an earth palette and make a painting of a landscape, natural form or inspired by rock art, just with three earth pigments that approximate a yellow, a red and a blue.
1. Collect the earth colours in your box and make swatches of each labelling them as you go.
2. Select an earth triad you would like to work with plus white This should contain one yellow, one red, and one blue equivalent plus white if wished.
Below are a few suggestions of earth triads you may experiment with. If you don’t have the exact pigment use the closest you have and you are quite free to make your own combinations of earth pigments. The following are triads ancient and modern!
a) Raw Sienna (or Transparent Yellow Ochre), Burnt Sienna, Paynes Grey
This is sometimes called the old masters earth triad and was a very useful combination of inexpensive pigments both for portrait and landscape studies. I prefer if possible to use the blue shade of Payne’s grey just because it allows mixing more definite green secondaries, albeit very desaturated greens. For this post I used a transparent Yellow Ochre. Raw Sienna is usually transparent and yellow ochre often opaque but is very slightly brighter than Raw Sienna.
b) Transparent Yellow Ochre, Light Red, Indigo
Red Oxide is a very opaque pigment and slightly redder but cooler than burnt Sienna. Indigo is usually semi-opaque and most often a mixture of pigments of including black, blue and sometimes violet or red constituents. Because of the greater blue content than Payne’s Grey a greater variety of greens can be mixed and because of the redness of the light red rather purplish browns can be achieved.
c) Quinacridone Gold, Brown madder, Indigo (bright earth, transparent)
I don’t have the first two pigments so would substitute a transparent Raw Sienna and a Permanent Madder Brownish. This should be an approximation as all the pigments are transparent and the brownish madder should allow some interesting shades.
Some of the triads below have some pigments you may not have and are listed for interest but if you do have a tube or pan of for example Perylene Maroon and haven’t used it perhaps now is the time to try.
d) Raw Sienna, Transparent Red oxide, Cerulean: you won’t be able to make real darks with this triad but you could try substituting Indigo or Indanthrone Blue for the Cerulean. Red oxide is similar in appearance to Light Red and is available in opaque and transparent forms.
e) Yellow Ochre, Indian Red, Cerulean: another opaque and pale combination
f) Yellow Ochre, Red Ochre, Mayan Blue
g) Quinacridone Gold, Perylene Maroon, Indanthrone Blue: modern transparent
h) Raw Sienna, Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet, Indigo
3. Paint your picture: landscape, natural form or inspired by ancient art
Having selected your colours and experimented with a few mixes, paint either a landscape or natural form or be inspired by a more ancient art form using some of the motifs from mosaics or even Palaeolithic cave paintings.
September 9, 2020
Working with just a triad of colours (plus white if not working in pure watercolour) may be a challenge, but also gives unity to a painting. The first triad we will try is known today as the Zorn palette.
Anders Leonard Zorn (1860 to 1920) a Swedish artist greatly acclaimed internationally for his portraits, including those of several American presidents, was also famous for frequently using a limited palette of just four pigments: Yellow Ochre, Vermillion, Ivory Black and Flake White. Now we may prefer to use Yellow Ochre, Cadmium red Pale, Ivory Black and Titanium White. Flake white is warmer than Titanium White but is made from lead oxide, so rather a health and safety hazard.
Many old masters including Rembrandt, frequently used a similar limited palette partly due to the expense of blue pigments and also due to the fact that many of the pigments we use today were not known or manufactured then. Zorn used this limited palette when working in oil but it is perfectly feasible to use the same palette when working in acrylic, gouache, watercolour or even pastel.
It is a very suitable palette for mixing skin tones, hence the many Zorn portraits using this limited palette, but can also be successfully used for other subjects; still life studies, some natural forms and city-scapes. It is more of a challenge for landscapes but could work for Autumn trees against a leaden sky. The black becomes a substitute for blue and both black and white (or water if using watercolour) contribute to the tonal and saturation range in the composition.
My “Pomegranate and Pear” study uses watercolour and titanium white gouache, but I could have used just watercolour without the white pigment or all gouache or acrylic. I decided to find what mixing the pigments would look like before starting to paint the still life. This was a chart of mixing the pairs of colours to make secondary colours. This could have been extended by mixing any of the squares with the missing pigment e.g. mixing a little black into the orange mix. I could have also extended the tonal range by diluting with water or adding titanium white.
First row: Yellow Ochre with increasing amounts of Cadmium Red Pale
Second row: Ivory Black with increasing amounts of Yellow Ochre
Third row: Cadmium Red Pale with increasing amounts of Ivory Black
You will see that some rather olive green colours were created when Yellow Ochre was mixed with Ivory Black. This is because Ivory Black is very slightly blue and will make very cool (tending toward blue) greys when mixed with Titanium White or water. It is often difficult to see exactly what hues are in very dark colours but by diluting the colour with white or water the inherent colour can be more easily seen.
Added a few more rows, first three as previous colour chart. Row 4 added black to water, should have added less initially to make a smoother transition through loads of grey shades! Rows 5,6,7, various pale mixes; some with red, yellow and black; no system to them! Row 8 Permanent White (Titanium Oxide White) with increasing additions of Ivory Black.
On a general note when colours are mixed it is always best to add a little of the darker pigment to the paler one, as much more pigment is needed to change the appearance of a dark colour by adding a paler one, so you risk wasting paint.
Have at the ready;
Cadmium Red Pale (or any other bright warm red like Vermilion)
Titanium White gouache if not using pure watercolour. This is usually labelled Permanent White. Zinc white is more transparent.
You will also need watercolour paper, a deep welled palette for making washes and your usual brushes and equipment. I would experiment a bit with mixing but if time is limited don’t be too precise just make sure you understand the possibilities.
1. Make a colour chart of mixes of each colour
2. Try extending the black with water and with white. You will notice a difference.
3. Try mixing the secondary colours with the missing (complementary) colour e.g. add a little black into a mixed orange.
4. Allow your colours to mingle wet in wet on the paper. Allow to dry then add other colours over them.
5. Make an abstract or a representational painting; a simple still life, natural form or a portrait study either from your own reference or referencing one of Zorn’s paintings.
Ensure you understand the tonal composition of your reference. If working in watercolour start with the palest tones and colour and build up to the darker washes. In acrylic and gouache the darks may be established earlier on and over painted with paler tones mixed with white where appropriate.
Reference Pinterest Board “Limited Palettes”
Some of Anders Zorn’s works are referenced on my Limited Palette Pinterest board together with a gouache demonstration of the Zorn palette used with gouache by James Gurney. It has an unusual setting but is very useful. He does talk about using additional browns but you should be able to mix all of these from your red, yellow and black. He also used a paper primed with an Ochre or Raw Sienna casein paint; you could always apply a dilute acrylic wash of a similar hue. At one stage he removes paint to let the background casein colour show through. That should also work with an acrylic wash. However as you can see from the still life at the beginning of the post you can see that it is perfectly possible just to paint on white watercolour paper.
Castagnet works in watercolour and I have included one of his cityscape works which could be reinterpreted using the pigments of the Zorn palette.
Your Zorn Palette Paintings:
Both of Sandra’s works were painted with Cadmium Red Deep instead of a brighter red like Cadmium Red Pale, Vermilion or Scarlet Lake.
Starting with Pastel
Wednesdays 14th April to 5th May