Saturday, July 19, 2014

Experiments in colour and surface


Mallow Flowers
5.75 x 5.75
Oil on aluminum
Garden Pansies
6 x 8
Oil on linen on board

Sometimes a small painting can teach me so much more than a large one.  These little paintings are life studies of some flowers from my garden, and each was done as an experiment with a very clear aim.

The pansies were an exploration of colour.  I wanted to create the illusion that the flowers were brilliant and luminous.  This is something that nature does effortlessly in even the smallest form like a leaf or an insect, but artists can labour lifetimes to imitate. There are no pigments that actually glow or are as richly coloured as a pansy (or a dandelion for that matter); my paints are just ground minerals, metals, and organic matter mixed with oil.  They are, essentially, mud.  So I had to rely on all of the artists' tricks that I knew.

Though the flowers were very warm in temperature, I couldn't create that warmth without introducing cools into them, creating a vibration and enhancing the illusion of brilliance.  I chose to use complimentary greenish colours into both the shadow and the light of the flowers.  In fact, most of the flower surface isn't orange; it's brownish, greenish, earthy red, ochre, and other secondary and tertiary mixtures.  That subdued colour background means that a swatch of relatively pure colour in the focal flower seems very rich and lively by comparison.  That little swatch also tells the viewers that they're looking at an orange object, not a red or green one.  The glow was enhanced by allowing orange to mingle into the background, suggesting that they are so brilliant that they influence their environment with their colour.

To further enhance the orange colour, I added blue to the background, choosing a blue that would create a complimentary vibration with the most brilliant orange in the focal colour (this takes a bit of trial and error).

The mallow flower study was done with a different purpose.  I'm experimenting, as always, with painting surfaces, and this is on an aluminum architectural panel that I had prepared by degreasing with rubbing alcohol.  I wanted to see what I thought of the cool tone, the mark making and the absence of texture.

The jury's still out.

I liked the cool environment as it enhances warm colour without being an obvious colour itself, but I found that I couldn't make much use of my hogs' bristle brushes on this surface.  They are too coarse to leave paint behind and created lots of scratchy marks as they scraped over the smoothness of the metal.  I resorted to the few soft brushes that I own along with palette knives to build up the paint surface.  And yet there's something of interest in the metal surface and I'll do more experiments on it and see where they lead.  It may just mean that I don't work alla prima when I use aluminum.  If I get those first scratchy marks on and let them dry, the second layer should look richer and more lush.  I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime: happy painting! 

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