Thursday, September 30, 2010

A painting in near complements

I thought it might be educational for me to make a painting using near complements. I chose one of the color wheel illustrations I used recently. That's it, above. It is yellow green, violet and red.

Here are the pigments I used, permanent red ( I had to add red to the shot above in photoshop as my lights turned it orange) Viridian with a little cadmium yellow in it, and cobalt violet and of course I allowed myself titanium white. This seemed like a crazy little palette, but I pulled out a panel 5" by 7" and went to work. After a couple of hours I had the little sketch below. This was made out of my head with no references, photographic or otherwise. I like to make up landscapes, I think it is good for practice in arranging pictures. Not the best painting I ever made, but it does illustrate the result of this severely limited palette.

What I found was that I couldn't get anywhere near a blue, I had hoped I could make one with the yellow-green and violet but it really didn't work very well. I could control the red well enough by feeding the yellow-green into it. The darks were violet plus the yellow-green as a neutralizer. The whole mixing experience was weird, I don't intend to use that again. Tomorrow I will try another set of near compliments, something with less poisonous looking colors. It was like painting with the colors of a bruise. I think these particular near complements might be good for a decorative scheme, but for painting the landscape they were a hindrance.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Back to the color wheel

Here is a shot that one of the students e-mailed me. I am doing a demo on the second day of the workshop which was gray. It was drizzling a little so we set up under these huge trees that sheltered us from most of the rain and were able to continue to work outside.

Below is nice Mr. color wheel. Tonight we will talk about near complements. When you choose three notes in an orderly way from the color wheel you form a triad.

This color wheel shows a near complement. The complement of one of the colors is omitted and it's two flanking colors are used.

Below is a near complement. The yellow is offset with the colors on either side of its complement. As we learned not too long ago the two colors on either side of a note can be mixed to form a version (albeit grayed) of the note in the middle. But there is a significant difference when you do this. A color mixed with its complement is merely reduced. It has the same effect as adding gray. Colors mixed from near complements have a range of color. That range is not a wide one, but it does allow color harmonies rather than only reduction of the color.

Here is another near complement. Whole landscapes could easily be painted from this selection. It is a color chord. Just as an arrangement of complementary notes form a chord in music, they do the same in color. That chord might be harmonious or discordant but it IS a chord.

The Acadia workshop

Here are some pictures taken the first day of my Acadia workshop. The first day was sunny, the second two were gray and we got a little drizzle but not enough to keep us from painting outside.

Here is James showing a confident stance at his big Gloucester easel.

Here is Lori. Unfortunately, later in the day she took a fall on the rocks and had to go to the hospital in an ambulance. She was back in class the next morning with a black eye and a tenacious attitude.

Here is Nancy with a little surf behind her.

I spewed information at them, which is my usual thing, lets see if I can remember some of the things I told them.

  • Don't paint your darks so inky, save that darkest value for accents within your shadows.
  • Learn to work with the biggest brush possible, that will improve your handling.
  • Ask yourself "why am I painting this place and not another? What is it that makes this view special?"
  • Many of the colors in nature are inominate, that is they have no names. You can't say they are blue or yellow or red, they contain all three.
  • Look for optical violets in your shadows. Alizarin and ultramarine are good for mixing those.
  • Learn to pull your stroke in every direction, use your brushstrokes to build form.
  • Work with more values! Don't paint only in middle tones.
  • Mix up piles of paint as thick as a dime. You can't make an oil painting out of thinner.
  • When you reach the finishing stages use no medium when you can. That gives the best handling.
  • Start out with a shovel, finish with a needle.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Crit 2

I recieved the painting above for a crit. Wow, what a great painting! This really has the feel of the place. I can even feel the temperature of this dry stretch of road.

I did make a few small changes to this one. It was so nice I didn't want to do much, it was hard to find a lot wrong with it. But I did the following.
  • I felt that the shadows across the road were a little repetitive and too heavy. I lightened them up and reduced the size of the most distant ones. I wanted their size to decrease more as they receded.
  • I cleaned up the sky a little. It had a few notes that seemed a little dirty and I made the clouds a little more horizontal and simpler because the landscape receded so deeply and quickly I felt that that added a little more balance to those lines in the road.
Again, I taught about a 12 hour day so that's all for tonight. See you tomorrow. Thank you to our mystery artist for the use of their excellent painting.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Odds and ends

I have been teaching all day and will only write a little tonight. I think I will answer a few questions that have been thrown at me lately.

I said in the critique last night that "light eats color". One of you asked what I meant by that. In extremely brightly lit areas of a scene the color is refused. Instead of being highly colored glare takes over in these passages. More color is found out by the turning edge of the shadow than in the really bright areas. You remember the images of spheres lit to show the parts of the light. One part, called the highlight is often represented as white, even on a colored sphere. That is an extreme example of light "eating" the color.

I was asked if the permanent reds I have been using are from RGH. They are not. I have been using two, Rembrandt, and Sennelier. I happened to have a couple of big tubes of those and they last me a long time. If I were shopping for a permanent red at RGH I would check out their pyrolene ruby red. I haven't actually tried it, but I have used other makers pyrolene red and liked them. So buy a little and see if you like it first before buying the half gallon.

I was asked about giving and receiving critiques in a group. I wanted to suggest a discipline you might want to try. Whoever's work is being critiqued doesn't speak until the crit is finished. That eliminates all of the excuse making and reduces the chance of disagreements arising (sometimes)
I have a general rule for myself of never defending my art. Say what you want, I will listen and decide whether it is useful, but I don't ever explain or make excuses.I won't try to tell you that you are wrong, even if I think you are. I just smile and listen, nodding occasionally so you know I am listening. Then I go back to work, either using or ignoring your criticism.

I have found that the Sherwin Williams prime which I have recommended her on the blog for panels has been reformulated and turpentine lifts it some. I switched to Zinsser OIL based primer (not shellac based!) and it seems to be working fine. Here is the original post on making panels

Gotta have sleep, goodnight.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A quick crit

Above is a painting I had submitted to me for a critique. Below is my crudely photoshopped version. Below that I will discuss what I did to it and why.

  • I felt that the original version was too dotty, so I threw some broader strokes in to it. I made brush marks instead of dots.
  • I reworked the fence line. In the original the fence dived down in to the ground, taking the bush behind it along. I also ran some light and shadow patches on the fence to break up the overly insistent geometry there.The grass in the foreground closed in there too. This formed all of these converging pointing lines in a place where nothing was really going on.
  • I made the road follow through the foreground into the distance better. It seemed odd the the foreground road was covered in grass and the distance was not. I slipped some shadow variation along the fence line all the way to the boat, giving more variation into that area.
  • I used "value stacking" to put darks behind the lights and lights behind the darks in the river and boat area. Also in the sky behind the bridge. I now have a more interesting set of values there and the values set off the things I want you to see. Before, for instance the boat just disappeared. Now it lights up against the darker water.
  • I softened up the grass in the foreground and made it a little less saturated. It got more light and less color. Light "eats" color.
  • I made a less square top on the bush behind the fence. I also pulled it together into simpler less spotty values. It now has a big light and a big dark.
  • I accented the boat with bright white to bring your eye to it. I then scattered a little bit of that into the road, which takes your eye there like Hansel's breadcrumbs.
  • I made the tree in the upper left hand corner run up and out of the painting, rather than kissing the frame. That looks more natural. Before it looked as if that tree was being careful to duck it's head and stay within the picture.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Seekers and wankers

I am going to give the color wheel a rest for a few days. I like to mix things up a bit here, so tonight I think I will write about two different attitudes toward art and why one of them will lock you out of advancement as a painter. Caution; the material that follows is provocative and may contain irksome content.

There are two types of art students, the first who I shall refer to for convenience as "wankers" believe that all they need to know lies buried within themselves and they have but to find the sincerity to extrude it onto the canvas.

The second group I will call "seekers" look out into the world and seek to find information out there about how to make art. Seekers read books about painting, study with other artists, haunt museums and study historic art. They seek out the company and advice of other artists, particularly those that can help the improve. They BELIEVE they can improve. I recommend you develop a seeker's attitude. Here are some reasons why I think that is a good idea.

Lots of people have been down this road before you, even though they may have been very clever they still have had the benefit of generations of artists handing down ideas and methods. If you wanted to become a chemist, you wouldn't hole up in your basement and try to discover the periodic table of elements yourself, it took generations to discover that, you would simply buy a book and look it up. Why waste the years discovering that which is not only basic, but easily discoverable? With enough years of study you might be able to do something original chemically perhaps even add a new element to that table.

A familiarity with the historic ideas will give you a standpoint for appraising new ideas. Knowing how artists before you have dealt with various problems will give you an inventory of methods for solving those problems when they appear in your own painting. Knowing the work of the great artists will help you to recognize the best art of today rather than be impressed with the merely adequate or worse, the derivative. How are you going to make great art if you don't know what it looks like? If you told me you were studying to be a rock and roll guitarist and I asked you what you thought of Chuck Berry and you said "who?" I would guess you were not real serious.
Wankers are anti-learning. Why learn about the art of other people if everything you need to know is already within you? They have mistaken self examination for communication. What matters is not what the artist intends, but what they convey.

Knowing about art will make you a better painter, not damage your originality. It is better that your originality spring from knowledge rather than being a symptom of that which you have left unlearned. The seekers will add to their knowledge, the wankers will not. That is why you occasionally meet people who have been painting for many years that paint so poorly, rather than become knowledgeable about art, they have chased themselves in ever tightening circles. Wankers!

When I was an art student we were encouraged to be wankers. I think it filled chairs in the art schools. Telling those kids it was all about them, was far more popular than presenting them with a daunting course of study into methods, history, materials and philosophies of art. It also made possible the employment of teachers who might have been unable to convey those rarefied ideas. The art school teachers I had would simply dribble zen-like pop psyche phrases and cryptic aphorism like "explore the random inner tectonics of the flatness continuum!" or "give it more Bossa Nova!

While "Know thyself" is a good advice, "know what you are doing" is probably better advice in the painting game. Become a seeker, not a wanker!

More about analagous color schemes

Here is the color wheel again. I was asked by a reader what pigments I used to make it. I set out to make it using only Cadmium yellow, permanent red and cobalt blue. I discovered though that I needed to use a little cobalt violet to get the violet to show and I used a little quinacridone over in the red-violet, I also fed a little cadmium orange into the orange note. I think if I had used quinacridone red or permanent alizarin all the way through it would probably have worked better. But I wanted the colors to be real clear and distinct in order to clearly illustrate my points.

Here is a analogous color scheme plus a complement. This is a very common color scheme. We have all seen the lady in the red hat dropped into a green landscape. The eye is very pleased to find a little bit of the complementary color in a picture based on an analogous scheme. If you look at the color wheel at the top you can pick out several more of these. The greens against red is only one of the possible variations on this.

The analogous plus a complement is a real workhorse combination and is a sure fire way to get a simple, pleasing color scheme in a painting.

Above is a corner of a color scheme that I want to tell you about. This is really a strange thing. We usually are told that primaries are not mixable, they just ARE. But if you mix together the colors on either side of a primary, you get the primary. It is somewhat grayed, but there it is, just the same. In other words if you mix the two colors flanking the yellow note, you will get yellow. Weird, huh?

Here is another variation. Rather than each of the three hues being identical and evenly balanced with each other, two of them are subordinated . The yellow is the dominant and the two flanking colors are reduced in chroma. This gives artistic inequality. With one the dominant and the other two subordinate a more artful effect is gained.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Analogous color schemes

Here is our color wheel. If we select only a section of the wheel and restrict ourselves to that, we are forming an analogous color scheme. An analogous color scheme is one that contains only those hues from the wheel that contain a common element, for instance blue, as shown in the section of the wheel below.

Analogous color schemes have great unity of color and are pleasing and harmonious in appearance. The scheme above is called a close harmony. Here is an analogous scheme based on yellow. All of the notes within it contain yellow. This is a little larger section of the color wheel, so it is less of a close harmony.

Here it is again in a scheme based on blue.

Below is a section of the wheel which is really too wide to be fully harmonious. You could argue that it is still a analogous scheme based on yellow, but the harmony is pretty much lost. If was any larger it would contain a color plus its compliment which would no longer be an analogous color scheme. The most effective analogous schemes cover only a quarter of the color wheel.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A review of the color wheel.

There it is, the official color wheel of the Stapleton Kearns blog. I couldn't find one out there on the web that I liked, that wasn't copyrighted so I finally made my own. Everything about this blog is a little homemade and this wheel is no exception. It looks a little handcrafted, but I think it will do. You do get what you pay for here.

Here is the wheel with the complements of the primaries connected.


The secondaries complements are shown below.

As you can see every color on the wheel has it's complement. Any two complementary colors mixed together will result in black because;

Here is a list of the complements from our color wheel;
  • yellow and purple(violet)
  • blue and orange
  • red and green
  • yellow-orange and blue-violet
  • yellow-green and red-violet
  • red orange and blue green.
Tomorrow I will continue with my color series. I will begin covering color schemes.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The bonfire of the vanities

In 1490 a Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola entered Florence on a mission from the church. He had spent years alone in his cell in a monastery studying the scriptures and was appalled at the evils and excesses of the renaissance society. With the fabulous wealth of the Di Medici bankrolling the explosion of art, fashion and luxury in Florence standing in contrast to the poverty of the common man, Florence was a place of shocking contrasts. There was a plague called the French Pox (syphilis) and a growing resentment of the ruling classes by the ordinary citizens. The coming millennium (1500) was fueling a movement that speculated that the end of times was at hand. Savonarola was a gifted and fiery speaker though possessed of a small voice and unimposing figure. He preached the coming of the last days and claimed communication with God and the saints.

Savonarola denounced the sinfulness of the Florentines, he proclaimed the faults in the church itself and denounced the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo Di Medici. His sermons were wildly popular among the rich and the poor alike and he drew crowds of thousands. Lorenzo gave fortunes to the poor and attempted to win over Savonarola. Unable to convince the fiery priest to desist in his criticism of the Di Medici rule, Lorenzo ordered him to stop or he would be expelled from the city. Savonarola"s reply was that Di Medici must repent and stated that he, although not a citizen would remain in Florence and Lorenzo would be forced to quit the city. Lorenzo sickened and from his death bed called Savonarola to come so he might be absolved of his sins. The priest made three requests of Lorenzo. The ruler was to confess and believe that God would forgive his sins. The second was to return to the people wealth that Savonarola felt Lorenzo had come by immorally and the third was that Lorenzo must return to Florence the rights that they had possessed before the rise of the DiMedici. The last, Lorenzo refused, rolled over to face the wall and died.

Savonarola continued to preach and prophesied the destruction of the Florentine state by a force that would come over the Alps. Charles the VIII of France arrived at the head of an army and fulfilled Savonarola's predictions. The French expelled the Medici and set up a republic with the consent of the Florentines. Savonarola was charged with administering that. Florence became a theocracy and named Christ as their king. The city was swept up in a fervor of repentance. Woman discarded their fabulous gowns and began dressing simply in drab colors. The taverns and gambling houses emptied and were closed.

This new Puritanism encouraged, even required the citizens to bring the trappings of "earthly vanity" to the Piazza Della Signoria to be burned. They brought playing cards and books that were deemed secular, fashionable gowns, cosmetics, wigs and mirrors and musical instruments, then ancient sculpture and finally fine paintings. Into the enormous bonfire on February 7, 1497 went the works of Fra Bartolemo, and Lorenzo Di Credi and probably Sandro Bottecelli, possibly by the artists own hand. Florence burned great art and private libraries. Plenty of the citizens of Florence were fed into bonfires for good measure.

As Florence's economic conditions worsened though, the people began to realize that Savonarola's anti business policies of opposition to free trading and profit were partly if not mostly to blame. There were riots and the taverns reopened to a thirsty city, too sober on repentance.

The Pope excommunicated Savonarola who had become a nuisance to him and ordered the priest arrested. After a bloody riot that resulted in the death of Savonarola's guards he surrendered and was charged with heresy, false prophesy and other charges. He and two of his closest aides were tortured. Broken on the rack Savonarola confessed and was condemned to death. The three were hung from a large wooden cross by chains over a bonfire on the same site as the burnings of the "vanities". The charred remains of the three were broken up and reburned until nothing was left and thrown in the Arno, beside the Ponte Vecchio to deprive his followers of relics.

Savonarola and the Bonfire of the vanities are remembered as an example of fanaticism. Their destruction of art and books remains a cautionary tale of the excesses of a theocracy turning on beauty and worldly pleasures. Artists, writers and lovers of aesthetics should remember this cautionary story and be aware there are forces in the world that are no friends to beauty and intellect. The soldiers of repression and narrow asceticism may seem powerless, but then suddenly gain strength and destructive force. The freedoms to make and enjoy art, to enjoy the beauty of fashion and poetry, music and the gaiety of wine and celebration are not perpetual and assured. They flourish in freedom and are a decoration to liberty.

Above is the music of Mansour, banned from his native Iran and living in California, part of the diaspora of Iranian artists. This is a great tune. I am fond of Iranian pop music.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Corot's later paintings.

images courtesy of

Here is a sampling of the later paintings of Corot. His work took on a gauzy softness and a pearly gray tone. The are hushed and elegant in their reserve. After years of being under appreciated and rejected repeatedly from the salon, Corot became very successful in his later years.

Corot never married and lived with his mother. He was an extremely generous man who gave away substantial sums of money to various charities and needy elderly artists. He supported a day care center in Paris and gave a house to the aged and blind artist Honore Daumier.

Because Corot's work was so identifiable and commercial there arose an entire industry devoted to copying it. He often lent paintings to copyist and occasionally would sign copies by students as his own work, after a few knowing touches of paint.

A famous joke made about Corot was that he painted about three thousand paintings, ten thousand of which are in this country.

Later in life he gave of him time as well surrounding himself with young students and was an important influence on the impressionist painters of the next generation.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Illustrations from

Above is the sort of painting by Corot that we all recognize. The blurred romantic and highly stylized landscape of a sunlit Arcadian paradise.These scenes were a great influence on American painting from Inness to the tonalists. But these are the work of Corot after the age of fifty. Before these, Corot was a very different painter who worked in a tighter and more classical style. Tonight I will show you some of those. Many of them are of Italy and most of these are from the 1820's.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot was born to a middle class family in Paris in 1796. He was apprenticed to a draper and disliked it intensely. In his early twenties his family allowed him to study painting, and gave him a stipend with which to do that. He was able to afford the rent on a studio and studied with Jean-Victor Bertin who was a neoclassical landscape painter.

In 1825 Corot studied in Italy producing over 150 paintings. He did hundreds of drawings on location there also.

Upon Corots return to France he began working on pictures to submit to the Salon. In those days a painter who was shown at the Salon became a recognized artist and without that approval it was hard to make a living. The view above, "The Bridge at Narni" (1826) was made from from studies done on location, however Corot has extensively reworked the actual scene into a classical design.

The trees in this piece of Rome give a little preview of the sort of art he was to make later. The simplifications he is using in the grass at the left and in the wall across the middle ground, foreshadow the handling that later characterized the French Impressionists to whom he would become a hero.

Here is Haggar in the wilderness, The story of Hagar is from Genesis, Sarah, the wife of Abraham gave him a servant girl, Hagar to bear him a son as Sarah was barren. Hagar bears a son, Ishmael. When fourteen years later Sarah conceives, she tells Abraham to send Hagar into the desert. God commands Abraham to obey Sarah's wish and she and Ishmael are sent to wander in the wilderness, where they become lost and are dying of thirst. Hagar crys out to God and is shown the way to a well and survival.

There are lots of these Italian views, many are better known than this but I liked the bold shapes and the warm reflected lights in the shadows on this one. If you squint at it, you can see the simple design. Corot has reduced the whole foreground-middleground to one great unified shape superimposed on the illuminated background.

Artist have often described the ideal design as a big dark shape with a patch of white within it, superimposed on a smaller light shape with a small dark within it. Or the opposite of that. This painting is laid out on that scheme. The large dark of the buildings is interrupted by the bridge abutment in the light, and the light background has the shape of a dark cloud at the upper left. This perfectly fulfills the requirement of that classical design idea.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Some questions, answered

The grave of John Singer Sargent in Surrey, England from

I get a lot of e-mailed questions (thanks!) so I think I will catch up on a few of the more interesting tonight. The questions are in italics.

I looked at their primers online and they make several different oil primers. I was wondering which one you used specifically. I tried one a while back but I don't think it was the right one because it melted when I put a turpentine wash on my board. Hope you can help.

I had that happen too. It seems that Sherwin Williams has reformulated their primers, to be low VOC. I have been using Zinsser, oil based interior-exterior Cover Stain Primer. It seems to work fine and I haven't had any problems with it. They also make a lot of shellac based primers, they are NOT what you want.

As an emerging artist with no gallery representation and only Facebook to show my stuff to the world, I realize I could get out there more by setting up a blog. But I want to be very clear about my motives and goals. So far, I think those are: 1. Use it as a tool to become more daring, productive and skillful; 2. Focus and articulate my thoughts about the creative process; and 3. Generate some sales. What do you think are the main reasons for an artist to have a blog? Do you think I should use Blogger, or as my techno-nephew recommends, WordPress?

I see a lot of artists blogs that show a painting and then tell about why the artist painted it and then ask for money. Maybe they work, I don't know, but it doesn't seem like a good business model to me. If your prices are low enough, it might work but you need to generate some interesting narrative for people to read. I don't think you will generate much of a following just showing your paintings unless you are REALLY, REALLY good. I know there are some "painting a day" people who have become very successful, but I think there are a million others who have not. Still If your work is very inexpensive it might be worth a try. My friend Renee Lammers has a blog you might want to emulate, she generates interesting text about what she is up to and her readers can feel like they know her. Here is a link to that. I think Renee is doing what you would like to do, and she is selling paintings from her blog.

I don't know that it will make you more productive either, my own experience is that it takes time to do this and that time has to be subtracted from something else. I don't have a TV for instance. I sit down and write every night the way most people sit down to entertainment. In order to have a following, I think you need to write routinely and constantly update your blog. People will not return many times to a stale, unchanged blog. So doing it is a discipline. Writing about what you do will clarify your thinking, I know it has for me. I also have to stay one lesson ahead of the class, which means I have to study up to write the blog. A lot of things I write about I know well enough to talk about but I have to double check everything when I am committing it to writing. I spend as much time doing research as actually writing.

My main reason for doing the blog is to give away the things I have learned. I keep the self promotion to a minimum. People read my blog because they learn things that are useful to them. I am able to do that because I have been painting a long time and have had some exposure to older more experienced mentors who have passed on. The payoff for me is that a lot of people know who I am and that is useful up to a point. It is like advertising, I guess. It does fill workshops. But mostly I like to feel that I am useful.

I do my blog on Blogger, but I am moving to wordpress soon as my techno-wife thinks (insists) I should. The beauty of that is my archives are on our own server and not Googles. It is supposedly a better platform, I will let you know if I find it that. You might check out this article by Clint over at Fine Arts Views He is in the business of providing artists with websites that include a blogging platform. Their sites are user friendly and I think they provide a good service. They are inexpensive and I recommend checking them out. You can quickly have a web-site and a blog and they will be linked and easily found by anyone looking for you.

If you want a lot of people to buy your art a blog might help but I would recommend you get VERY good at painting. There are lots of galleries (there didn't used to be) perhaps you should find one that will show your work, a local coop perhaps. If you were taking piano lessons you would play recitals. Part of the art gig is showing.

Showing art on Facebook is weird. I see dreadful things followed by twenty comments from their friends saying how great they are. There are some great artists showing on Facebook, but they are generally in galleries too. Usually I knew who they were before joining Facebook. I think there is no substitute for actually showing the art on a gallery wall. I don't think showing on Facebook will hurt you, but it is not the same.

I'm new to oils and have only learned to paint alla prima. If I want to add to a painting (Want? I need to!) how long do I wait / can I wait / should I wait to add more color on top of what I have down? There are a lot of times when I try to add my next layer but do nothing except smear what's already there.

You don't need to wait. You will find that with practice you can add a new note into or onto the existing paint. A delicate touch is the key, that and not having too much paint already on the canvas. If the paint gets too thick, pull it back with your palette knife. If you want your paint to dry more quickly, use an alkyd medium, like Galkyd or Liquin. The reason that oil paint is so great is that it doesn't dry quickly. That long open time is an advantage because it allows you to manipulate it. I think that if you practice you will find that working into wet paint is just as enjoyable and maybe more so than working on a dry painting. You have far better control of your edges and you can meld the new paint to the old better than on a dried painting.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The "why" of complement neutralization

Here is the reason why complements make black. Black is not the absence of all colors, that's white. The presence of all colors makes black. There are only three colors, red, yellow and blue. If we put two of these together, say, red and yellow, we make orange, a secondary. That secondary, orange is the complement of blue. Blue is the third primary and we didn't use it in our mixtures so far.

We have added red to yellow plus that third primary, blue.

If we mix blue and orange (red and yellow) we have mixed all three primaries. When you mix all three primaries you get black.

This works with yellow and purple, green and red etc.

I want to give a quick shout-out to Inez Sainz, I have no reason to believe you read my blog, but you never know. If you do, I'm proud of you, and I'm on YOUR side, I think you've got a lot of talent. I would also like to add that I'm cooler than your boyfriend.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Neutralized tints

Above is a chart showing the gradual neutralization of the the three principal hues. I have added a, increasing amount of gray to each. They drop in both value and chroma. Notice how they become very different from the original hue. I did this with titanium white and ivory black. I mixed five piles on my palette ranging from a pale gray to a deep grey and then added this to the cadmium yellow, permanent red and cobalt blue.

The cadmium yellow drops through a warm yellow green to an olive color.

The permanent red drops through a brick red to a russet color.

The cobalt blue drops through a slate gray to a midnight blue.

Dropping the value and neutralizing the color effects the appearance of the color. The colors don't just drop in value, they become different colors. This is important to understand when you are mixing paint on your palette, as you neutralize your colors they are effected in ways that you might not expect.

You might try to remember these colors so you can recognize them. It is useful to know what the colors on your palette look like when they are neutralized. I am routinely "stepping" on colors to make them take their proper place in a painting.


I went through a period when I was young, trying to get as much color as I could into paintings. I thought that would make me a colorist ( I did every dumb think you can think of when I was young). What I later decided was that "good" color was an arrangement of both saturated and neutralized colors. The neutralized or grayed colors activated my saturated colors and made them more brilliant. I heard about a jeweler in New York who filled a display case with dirt and then placed the diamonds he had for sale on that. The diamonds glittered and looked particularly brilliant against that backdrop. Just as you need some deep darks to make a painting light up, you need some grayed notes to make your color sing.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tints, shades and tones.

One of the ways that colors are neutralized is through the use of tints, shades and tones. Above are examples of this. Everyone's monitor is a little different, so if you have a moment at the palette, you might mix these up yourself and see for yourself what they look like.

  • The top row are the hues. I used a permanent red, cadmium yellow and cobalt blue. These were applied directly from the tube. When you think of the word hue, you might say to yourself "the color, straight".
  • In the second row are the tints.

sometimes in the decorators trade these are called pastels. Painters use that term only to apply to the medium that is pigments compressed into sticks.
  • In the third row are the shades.

When you go to the paint store there are lots of shades in those color chips. The decorators call them neutrals sometimes.
  • In the fourth row are the tones.

Some artist and illustrators mix up tints, hues and tones before painting in order to build their paintings in an orderly and predetermined color system. There are extensive ways to use these to build paintings and illustrators are often fond of using premixed tints, tones and shades. I don't work that way, but I sometimes mix these up to do layins and studies. They can be used as a shorthand way of coloring a study for a painting.


There are still places left in the Old Lyme Artsociation workshop for this coming weekend. Old Lyme is one of those historic art places. We will be painting in the same area that Hassam, Metcalf and Ranger worked. The art asoociation is in a wonderful Charles Platt building set next to the Florence Griswold house where the American Impressionist painters came to paint their landscapes. Here is a link to their site that describes the workshop.

I am moving my blog to Wordpress. The new URL address where I soon will be posting new entries is: You can check it out right now but I am still in the process of moving. There will be a redirect of the URL that you are using now and all the links and feeds should still work without your changing anything. I also will leave this blog up just in case.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Capturing a sunny day

I was in the Boston Globe today. I taught a three day seascape workshop entitled "Seascape painting for the non-amphibian" for the Rockport Art Association, today was the last day. I had thirteen students. The first day I taught in the studio, demonstrating how to paint an "ideal" wave. No photos allowed. We did watch some movies on my computer of waves though. I can stop them and point out the anatomy of the surf. But we used no photo references during the painting.Then in the afternoon I had the students paint their own waves and I went from easel to easel helping them. Afterward we went out to Lobsta-Land for dinner and I drew on napkins and taught while we waited for our dinner.

Saturday we went to Plum Cove in Gloucester, it was a perfect day on the beach. The sun was warm and the light was good. We painted the cove with its rocks and distant views across Ipswich bay. It was about as perfect as an early autumn day in New England gets. While we were there a photographer showed up and took a series of pictures of us working and introduced himself as a photographer for the Globe, so I tried to lean a little to the left in order to be more appealing to their readers.

That must have worked as today my old friend Don Mosher showed up at my workshop with a photo clipped from the newspaper of me painting on the beach. I am wearing my Grateful Dead T-shirt and paint splattered jeans, surrounded by ladies in floppy hats.

On the third day of the workshop, today, we returned to the studio and used our paintings from Plum Cove as a reference to make a new painting with surf in it. I again did a demo in the morning of that, and in the afternoon the class did their own surf paintings. I have added a day of seascape instruction to a landscape workshop before, but this is the first exclusively seascape workshop I have ever done. I had a lot of fun, although I returned home exhausted every night at about 10:00. I think the students enjoyed it and I think they learned a few things. I really enjoyed meeting them and tried as hard as I could to make myself useful.


Below is a materials list for upcoming workshops. Those of you in the Maine workshop will receive an e-mail shortly providing information specific to that.

Here are the materials you will need for my workshop.
You will need a a french easel, a pochade ( pronounced "pochade") box and tripod, or a Gloucester easel. Aluminum collapsing easels and little wooden tripod easels are generally not steady enough and they won't hold your palette. I don't recommend them.


In your paintbox you will need:

Titanium White
cadmium yellow medium or light
cadmium red light
burnt sienna
either cobalt, Prussian, or pthalocyanine blue
yellow ochre
ultramarine blue
Permanent alizirin or quinacridone red
viridian or permanent green deep

you also might want, but won't require,

Ivory black or
cobalt violet

a palette of some sort, most easel setups include a palette.

a medium. I like Liquin or Galkyd but if you like an oil and varnish medium that is fine too. You may already be using a medium at home, bring that. Also you will need a top from an olive jar or a small oil cup to put it in.

mineral spirits or turpentine, and a tuna fish can to put that in.

A roll of Bounty or Viva paper towels, all others are inferior. Also a grocery store plastic bag for them after use.

A selection of flat brushes, a couple of #1's, several #4's, a #8 or 10 and a short handled rigger, synthetic or sable, about a #4 . Also a leaf shaped palette knife.

You will need a hat with a substantial brim, a baseball hat works well. I carry a container of Goop, you can get that at Wall Mart or an auto supply store, to use cleaning your hands.

A fine cigar or two, possibly a maduro, box pressed if possible, no White Owls or plastic mouthpieces please.

Several canvases, or panels to paint on. Please no cardboard artist boards they are floppy and impermanent dreadful things. Gessoboard is nice, sourcetek panels are good, clayboard is too absorbent. I think a 16 x 20 is the ideal size. Small canvases bring an added complexity to painting as you need to miniaturize nature to go on them. Don't bring anything larger than an 18 x 24 unless you are a pro.

Some people like to have an umbrella to shade their canvas, I don't use one, but you might.

A camera, you will want to get a shot of what you are painting because it may save the project later in the studio.