Sunday, January 19, 2014

High chroma palette

Self portrait in painting hat
16 x 12
I've been test driving some different palettes lately; trying to shake up old patterns of painting and discover new effects.  Most of my experiments have been in self portraiture because I enjoy seeing how much I can get away with in a face and still make it work.

This portrait was done with a 6 colour + white palette that I restricted to high chroma colours:

Cad red light
Alizarin permanent
Cad yellow pale
Cad yellow deep
Ultramarine blue
Cerulean blue

My white was flake white hue.  I like it for its thick texture and the fact that it doesn't corrupt colour as much as titanium does.  That allowed me to get good clean colour without chalkiness.  I still like titanium, but am aware of its limitations.

What I was trying to do was mix flesh tones that made sense but had no earth tones in them.  Convenience colours like raw umber and yellow ochre have their place, but they also impart a certain low-chroma look to paintings, and I was getting a bit tired of that look.  Not having raw umber meant that I had to darken a colour with ultramarine (in some form, whether pure or as part of a green or purple), and not having yellow ochre meant that I had to think hard about the cool colours in the face, and not rely on my go to base colour.

The portrait is colourful, but it works because the relationships are right: the cools are in the right places in relationship to the warms, and the values make sense.  If these relationships are accurate, you can put any colour that you want into a face, and it will read as true.  We've all seen a person's face turn green near a bright lawn, or orange in a sunset, and we accept it.  The important thing to remember is that, even in a green face, the cheeks and other areas have a hint of red, just as they would in a more conventional colour scheme.

My next self portrait will be a more earthy, Zorn palette.  The greys will be less lively, but it has a certain sophisticated appeal.

Happy painting!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Looking with peripheral vision

Still Life with Little Dancer
24 x 30

This replica of Degas' little dancer has been a prized, but never successfully painted, possession of mine since I bought her last spring.  I've tried to paint her a few times but each time I bailed when the figure got tight and too representational.  Having seen the original in the Met, I wanted to capture her attitude and the thrust of her pose, but not belabour the details.

This time, I caught her and I did it by not actually looking at her.  Using peripheral vision rather than staring right at the figure, I massed in general shapes, colours and values without any outlines to start.  In fact, the whole painting was done with this peripheral gaze.  Somehow it's easier to understand the complexity of a scene when you look indirectly; colour relationships, value, and shape all simplify and are perceived as a whole rather than as individual parts.  As soon as you look at the dancer directly, it's harder to see her in context because you stop looking at the scarf, the bowl and all of the other elements of the still life set up; you can only look at one thing at a time.  And that's when you notice all of the little stuff that tightens up the painting.

This was a fun experiment in looking and I'm going to apply it to other subjects to see how it works.  I'll let you know how it turns out.

Happy 2014 and happy painting!