Sunday, November 27, 2016

Exploring Different Palettes

I love to read articles by artists about their palettes.  There are so many approaches to color mixing. As long as there is harmony I don't believe it matters whether an artist uses many colors or just a few, but limiting the number makes harmonizing easier, especially for the beginner.  An added benefit of using only a few colors is the ease of taking inventory and restocking.

The simplest palette is one of each primary and white.  There are more mixing options with a warm and cool version of each primary plus white, such as ultramarine blue, Prussian blue, alizarin crimson (cool), cadmium red (warm), cadmium lemon (c), cadmium yellow medium or deep (w), and white.  I usually use this latter choice (but often with ultramarine as my only blue) with one or more "convenience colors" thrown in.  I like cadmium orange because I cannot mix an orange with this much staining power and I use it regularly to gray my blues.  I also like to include an earth tone such as burnt sienna or raw umber to gray other colors, mix earth color variations, or add to ultramarine blue to make darks.

That said, I always use the palette recommended by the instructor in workshops so I can experiment. Whenever I find interesting articles about color mixing and palettes I save them for future reference.  Here are a few that have been especially helpful or interesting.

Terry Miura recently posted this on mixing greens and I encourage you to read it.  He lists the colors on his palette- a warm, cool and low chroma (grayed down) version of each primary plus white.  He goes on to discuss how he uses these colors to mix different greens, a problematic color for the landscape painter. He uses the same palette for his other subject matters as well.

Kathleen Dunphey paints majestic west coast landscapes/seascapes but she also paints still life and animals.  Her palette is quite limited (just 6 including white) and she lists her colors in this post-  Take a look at her choices.  She lists which brand she uses for specific colors (there can be a big difference between brands).  I have worked with this palette a bit and have found it to be very versatile.

Thomas Jefferson Kitts has written a great article regarding the various plein air palettes of contemporary painters.  You can see what many of your favorite artists are using in the field.

Try this challenge- paint one (or more) paintings using the Zorn palette:
white, black, yellow (usually yellow ochre) and red.  That's it!  Black is blue when white is added, yellow and black make a great green.  Anders Zorn was a Swedish artist.  He didn't always use such a limited palette but was well known for it.  Look up his work if you aren't familiar.

Here is a scene I painted in the studio using titanium white, ivory black, cad. yellow light and cad. red medium.

I didn't have trouble mixing the colors I needed but I missed the transparent darks I can get with my usual palette.  With practice I could probably get the hang of thinning them down.  This palette lightens the load for outdoor painting and travel. Color harmony is a given.

And last, regarding all those tubes of weird colors that you never use and don't remember why you bought them in the first place, try adding only one at a time to your usual palette to see how it mixes.  You might make new discoveries and you'll use up some of that paint!

I have barely scratched the surface of this huge subject but I hope I called your attention to some helpful links.

Keep mixing and experimenting!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Taking Reference Photos

I've carried on and on about painting from life, but in reality most of us are going to paint from photos at least some of the time if not all of the time.  The plein air movement has gained so much traction that I think painters sometimes are made to feel that it is wrong to paint from photos and if they do they shouldn't admit it.  Reference photos can be invaluable.  Try painting a chicken from life and you'll see what I mean.

If you are a skilled photographer who has mastered Photoshop, etc. you might want to skip to the list at the end of this post.  The following paragraphs are for painters who usually paint from their photos just as they are.  I know you are out there and I used to be one.

Learning to take good reference photos is yet another skill on the list for painters to acquire as if we didn't have enough going on already.   We know that the camera cannot do what our eyes can.  In high contrast photos the shadows can look completely black and the bright areas may be white-outs.  If you paint outdoors enough you can learn to interpret your photos with this in mind.  If you are a really good photographer (I'm not) you may know how to correct much of this when you take the photograph.  But you can also do it on your computer in the photo app under "edit".  You can lighten shadows and darken the the light. I have an iMac so I'll show you how to do it on that device.

Before-  The shadows are way to dark, the sunlight maybe a bit too bright.

Under "edit" in photos select "adjust".  To lighten shadows move the shadows bar to the right, to darken the highlights move the highlights bar to the left.  Hit "done" and that's all there is to it.  You can revert to the original if you don't like it.  Click on the image below for a closer look.

After-  This looks much more like the actual scene.  You can now see the low lights and objects in the room.

With respect to composition you can crop photos to evaluate different formats.  I love a square format so I often try cropping them that way.  You can compare vertical vs horizontal crops.  Of course it's a good idea to try shooting them different ways in the field but you can explore endless options on the computer later.

In my March 20th post I showed examples of the files I keep of other artists' work to study.  I do the same thing with my reference photos.  Anything deemed to be a "keeper" goes into my "Art Ideas" folder, grouped by genre.  I have my iTunes set up to transfer new photos in these files to my iPad which I now use in the studio instead of printed photos.  Every time I back up my iPad my reference shots are updated.  When those dreaded days of not knowing what to paint come along I open those files and looks around to see what grabs me.  Something usually does.  Other benefits- I've saved a fortune in printing costs, I prefer the image on a computer screen (don't have to deal with bad prints) and when I go to workshops that require reference photography I have everything with me- as long as I don't forget my iPad.

In closing I have another list for you.

1.  Do paint from your own photos.  There are many reasons for this.  Barbara Jaenicke posted a very helpful discussion of this and I encourage you to read it.

2.  Check the camera screen for composition before and after you take each photo.  Try different formats in the field and on your computer.

3.  After you take a photo, look at the image in your camera.  Then study the real life subject and notice the differences.  If you need to, take a few notes to help you remember later.

4.  Best of all worlds- paint a small field study to document values/color temperatures in the field AND take a photo.  (More plein air propaganda...)

5.  However you decide to do it, organize your photos so they are easily accessed.  Cull through them periodically.  If you haven't used a photo after many months or years, the memory of that scene is long gone.

Happy shooting!