Saturday, May 16, 2009

Every brushstroke 3

Monet waterlilies image: art renewal .org

This is a continuation of the posts I have been doing about what you need to know about every stroke you lay on the canvas. Here are the next three points on the checklist.

  • 1) Is it the right color?
  • 2) Is it the the right chroma, that is, is it too saturated or is it too grave ( gray)?
  • 3) Is the temperature of the color correct, is it too warm or is it too cool?
These three are inseparable, in a way they are really one thing. You could say,"if the note is the right color of course it is the right temperature" etc. But I am presenting this as a checklist to hold up to your work and if you look for these things you will get better results.

1) Is it the right color? The process runs something like this. Look out at nature and see a color. You then mix the note on your palette. A choice has to happen here. Say you are looking at a field of yellow grass. Would it be better to make it with cadmium yellow or with yellow ocher? The two different colors have different characteristics and you need to decide which will work best. Often either would do, if you add a little bit of a second color as a modifier and white to get it up to the value you want. But usually one color will get you there better. Perhaps you just painted something else nearby with ocher, and you want to use a different color, so you choose cadmium yellow. You then mix up the note and put it in the right place on the canvas.

What happens next is critical. Don't just go on to mix the next note. Look again at nature and ask yourself, "how does nature differ from the note I just hit?" Almost always there will be a difference. You might notice the note you have painted is too dull. So you grab more yellow and gently add a little to the note on your canvas and look again. Maybe that did it, or maybe not. Observe it again and ask yourself. " How is the note I have painted different from the color of nature. You might say now, well its almost there but it needs a little red. You add that. In other words you tune the color until it is correct by adding the missing element.

2) Is it the right chroma, that is, is it too saturated or is it too grave? This is another fact you need to observe. If the color is too saturated or pure, you need to add its compliment or perhaps a graver version of the same color. Lets return to our example of the yellow field. Say you layed it in with cadmium yellow and it looks too saturated.. You could add violet ( ultramarine and alizirin perhaps) its' compliment to dull the note, or perhaps you could add yellow ocher which is a less saturated yellow.

There is no way to increase the chroma of cadmium yellow. Nothing on your palette will make cadmium yellow any yellower. You are occasionally confronted with colors you just can't hit. particularly man made things . Think orange traffic cone. Or weird lime green polyester textiles you see at Walmart . (Are those colors more common in the plus sizes? why would anybody with a weight problem want to wear clothes that are neon colored?) Sometimes flowers can be pretty hard to hit too. Usually if you do the best you can with your palette, when the painting is shown and the real flower or traffic cone isn't there for comparison, the viewer will like it just fine. You really are out to get them to recall that flower or cone or large woman. They will usually accept a close approximation.

3) Is it the right temperature? Look at the note and look at nature. How are they different? Is the note in nature warmer or cooler than what you just put down? If the color is too hot, add something to cool it off, perhaps blue or green or a cool red, analyze the look of nature and see what will best take it where it should go, and add that color to your note. Just a little though. You want to modify the note not blow it up. This can be a very delicate adjustment.Again lets take the example of the yellow field, if the note we put on the canvas looks too cool we can heat it up by modifying it . Perhaps we could add cadmium red light or burnt sienna. But just a touch. Then look again and ask yourself "have I got it?" if not, again ask yourself how is my note different from nature. The point is to identify the missing element and add it. With practice this becomes second nature and will happen very quickly, also you will see the same colors or close variants of those colors occurring over and over in nature and you will become practiced at mixing them.

Sometimes you may want to codify the temperature of your notes notes based on whether they are in the light or in the shadow. Most of the time outside, the lights will be warm and the shadows cool. That's most of the time, so look.

Remember this. Values are a part of drawing. That trumps color. Go for the values first. Color is a decoration you hang on your drawing. If you get the value painted right you can inject the proper color into the note. If you get the values right often times you can lie about the color.

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