Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Montana trip and some remarks on Emile Gruppes book and palette

Above, Emile Gruppe

I have returned from a week in Montana. I was a guest artist at the Western Rendezvous of Art. I met a lot of really fine painters that I had long heard about but never met. A few of the artists I met were, Matt Smith, Josh Elliot and Ralph Oberg, I also met Robert Lemler and John Potter. There were a lot of fine paintings in the show, and we had several large banquets together that provided an opportunity to talk to each other. One of the days was a paint out.

I stayed in Montana for a couple of days after the event and painted with two blog readers who had come a long way to meet me. I took them each out for a days lesson and painted myself too. I really enjoy meeting, and when I can helping the readers of this blog. I am used, therefore I am useful!

One of you contacted me and asked if I was going to do a fall camping workshop in Acadia this year, I dunno? Maybe I should, any interest out there? If you are willing to camp, this is by far the cheapest way to take one of my workshops as camping is very cheap. I like the camping part of that workshop. We hang out till late at night and drink tonic.
There are motels nearby too for the fainthearted.

A reader wrote
Hi Stape,
I am reading Gruppe on painting. He explains that yellow is warm, red a modifier and Blue cool.
In his palette he has a cool and a warm for each primaries. He also says to not introduce a warm yellow into shadows. Until then I have no problem.
My understanding will be to use the cool primaries for the shadows and the warm primaries for the light and never mix a cool primary with a warm primary but ...
When he shows how he creates complements with his palette (see attached) I start to be confused. For the green he uses phthalo blue with lemon yellow but lemon yellow should be the cool yellow. But I can understand that any yellow can be considered warm .... I guess. He goes on with umber and that is confusing. He mixed the cool purple with madder or cad red or cad orange ??? Cad orange has a warm yellow in it ! ??? (but maybe it works because red a modifier)
If I had to do cool umbers I would use ultramarine, madder and lemon yellow (cool yellow). And for a warm umber I would use phthalo blue, cad red and cad yellow.
How should I think to make Gruppe's palette work ? HELP !!!! Thanks !
....................Larry Mantlebiter Jr.


Whoa! you are losing me. I think I will just talk about the Gruppe palette a little and offer one possible answer to your dilemma.

Emile Gruppe ( 1896-1978) was one of the best known painters of the Cape Ann school. He kept a studio in Gloucester for many years and was known for his rapid style of painting. A major influence on many New England landscape painters, Gruppe is best known for his harbor scenes with fishing boats.

As you can see from the chart above, Gruppe used a relatively small chromatic palette. That means it contains only pure colors, no earth colors. I have used this palette a little in the past, but not extensively. This palette contains a warm and a cool pigment in each of the three hues, red, yellow and blue. If you want punch in your colors, this palette will help. If you have been using a three color palette, this might be an interesting way to expand your choice of colors

I think you should chart your colors. Richard Schmid explains how to do this in his book "Alla Prima". Here is a basic description of how to do that. On a piece of Masonite or canvas about the size of a place mat, lines are drawn to divide the surface into as many columns as you have pigments. Here is a link to a blogger who has written about that and explains it well.

If you "chart" your colors you will then know all they they can do and I think it will answer your question and any others you might have. With a relatively small palette such as this charting it should go more quickly.

There were once three Gruppe books. I have them all, but they are out of print except for one. I have posted a link to the one that is still in print below and a link to a used copy that is affordable. These are excellent books.

Gruppe talks about mixing "umbers" from this palette.He does this by mixing compliments together. He believed that making your own "umbres" gave you more interesting and varied grays and taught you more about mixing than actually having dulled earth colors on your palette. I don't use umber, but I would miss my earth colors. If I had to choose:


The Gruppe on Painting is a restrike and while its quality is acceptable and you can learn from it, the older original book like the one above it is a better printing. The Gruppe books contain a large assortment of his paintings and even if they were not excellent as art instruction they would still be valuable on that count.


kaibab58 said...

Hi Stape, have looked at a million paintings now and you often the ones I am drawn to most of all are those without high bright greens , this follows on from a recent post of yours about smuggling reds and toning down greens. Its cadmium yellows that seems to do it, its almost the death of a painting. Its almost that if you cant avoid using those high yellows then pick a different subject (difficult for a painter like you surrounded by so much New England green) If I am gallery visiting the paintings that will stop me in my tracks or notice from afar amidst dozens of others are the reduced pallete ones. If you can paint green well , then you are a real painter indeed.

Philip Koch said...

That is a very nice piece by Gruppe you've chosen!

I haven't had my second cup of morning coffee yet so I'm even more slow-witted than usual, but it struck me that Gruppe's thinking about color mixing was way different than my own. And I got too confused to follow it (perhaps the coffee deficit).

Any painter who's active over the long haul is going to develop a personal relationship to her or his pigments and likely have a highly individualized way of thinking about color. Any system for thinking about color that helps an artist paint better I am in favor of. But it's important to remember there is no one way to conceive of one's colors.

My advice to someone just beginning to think about color would be to familiarize oneself with several different systems- either reading books by Gruppe and by other painters, or taking classes with a variety of instructors. Each will have a slightly different take on how to think about color. Try 'em all out for awhile. Overtime one way of thinking will probably assert itself in your mind as most useful.

Color is a real bear- it's both the best thing and the worst thing in art to deal with. My tell my students that when color seems to be driving you crazy (as it inevitably will sometimes) they should drop back to focusing instead on strengthening the major shapes and better arranging your pattern of darks and lights.

Powerful shapes and a good tonal pattern (I call darks and lights "tones") can make paintings of almost any hue look good. That was a piece of advice I got from one of my teachers in grad school and it has served me well over the years. said...

Welcome back Stapelton! Uh oh...I have an opinion here too many artists seem to think that using a particular "pallet " system is a major key to unlocking a painting. But almost any pallet can's in the pigments and the mixing. One can make a sienna look like a cadmium if you surround it with the right relative colors..

Robert J. Simone said...

Gruppe's chart is a little hard to decipher so maybe this will help you, Larry. As you stated, Gruppe uses a warm and cool of each primary. By mixing two primaries he gets the compliment of the third primary. He creates his umbers by mixing near compliments, which is the same as mixing all three primaries. For example, when he adds orange (a red + a yellow) to his purple (a red + a blue) he gets an umber. Orange is not a direct complement to purple, but it contains yellow which is a direct complement to purple. The simple fact is that his umbers contain all three primaries. He begins with two versions of each primary so that he has more potential for variety in his mixtures.

The more limited the palette the fewer the options. The more extensive the palette the greater the options. Limited palettes have an intrinsic harmony. That is why Gruppe mixed his grays and umbers from his spectral palette.

Mary Byrom said...

Stapleton, Glad you had a nice trip out west meeting some of my painter friends!
About color ...I've discovered, its not the colors, its how you use them. Its all about relationships (and how you want your painting to look.) You can use favorite colors, a limited palette or expanded palette, what ever you like. Its making the color charts that show you what your colors/pigments do when mixed. I like doing color charts, then I know how my specific paints behave. (There are differences in brands.) I do charts when I add new colors to the repertoire. Ask my students from my color classes about color and painting before and after all those color charts they have done !
Seeing colors and painting colors are so much easier after focusing specifically on color and doing color charts. Color is complicated, light is involved, pigment, perception, and people even see color differently. The longer I have painted out doors the more sensitive I have become to color. All the different lighting situations on the landscape have really helped my eye develop. When I first went outdoors I couldn't see certain colors other painters would see. I thought they were faking it. Then as I went out to paint more, I could see more colors.
Hey, its hard enough to put together a painting. It helps to know something about color before you delve into arranging the relationships on a canvas.

Mary Byrom said...

Robert, yes, great simple explanation of Gruppe's chart.

JonInFrance said...

Well, I got the book on Stape's recommendation - had the same problem with Gruppe's expalanation - and thought of writing to Stape with this question.

Stape, I still find Gruppe's explanation confusing - he sure expressed that bit of the book badly - nice book tho'!

Antonin Passemard said...

Great explanation Stape !

Schwenk Art said...

Thank Heavens you are back and sending out this blog! I have done the color charts and found them very informative. Need to look at them more often for a refresher. I also made the color wheels for limited palettes found on pages 104 and 105 of James Gurney's Color and Light. If you make the four wheels you can tell almost instantly which of the four palettes will work best for your subject. I made my chart on a 20 x 16 panel and it takes up less room than my color charts.

finnsheep said...

Thanks! Already had "Gruppe on Painting" and ordered his book on brushwork. I had been firmly entrenched in the school of timid dabbing and am hoping to get out.

Jim Gibbons said...

On the Acadia camping trip......what's the ballpark going rate on that???? Sounds like fun

Stapleton Kearns said...

There are painters like Inness and Metcalf who handle green so nicely.They can paint green pictures but make em work

Stapleton Kearns said...

Philip Koch; There are so many confusing books on color too and weird proprietary systems.

Stapleton Kearns said... ;
It ain't in the paint.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks that's a clear explanation.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Mary Byrom;
There is so much to think about it is a wonder anybody ever gets a painting outside.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The book is excellent even if in places it is a little obscure.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

Schwenk Art;
The color book is excellent isn't it. Very approachable.

Stapleton Kearns said...

finnsheep ;
Gruppe was never timid.
Good to study for that.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Jim Gibbons;
I charge 300 dollars for a three day workshop. The campsite is real cheap maybe 15 bucks a night or so.

Anonymous said...

I subscribe to your blog and read it all the time so was surprised and delighted to find a link to my color charts in your post. Thank you for sharing that link. It was a great learning experience and I'm happy to share it with others. Also thank you for sharing your wonderful artwork, stories and wisdom!