Limited palettes simplified

I've been writing a monthly article for Artsy Magazine's creativity strand.  Most are about painting and studio practises, and I admit they're always a huge struggle.  Writing for an editor is very different than writing a blog for myself.   I keep doing them, though, because it feels so good when I finish a piece.  It's the same feeling of accomplishment that I get when I solve a particularly tricky painting.

This month's piece which is about limited palettes and it has pictures to illustrate the concepts.  I hope you'll have a read.

To see the all of my articles, google Ingrid Christensen Artsy (which is very descriptive and apt), and you'll get links.

Happy painting!

Foundations of oil painting 12 week class

Dates: Thursdays, September 5 - November 21, 2019 Time: 9 am - 12 pm Location: Calgary, AB
Swinton's Art Supply **3 Spots left**
I'll be teaching a comprehensive 12 week class about oil painting methods and materials beginning on September 5.  There are still 3 spots available if you'd like to join me.

This class is designed for beginners and painters in other mediums who would like to ge a solid grounding in oil painting from a complete paint geek. 

We'll cover everything that you need to know to make paintings that will stand the test of time, and we'll work with painter safety as a priority.  Using oils doesn't need to be a toxic pursuit, and you'll learn how to paint with minimal or no solvents to keep yourself healthy and painting into ripe old age.

For the low down, please see my website.  You can use the contact form to register or to ask me questions.


I pulled out the cherry blossom robe again in honour of spring and because I find that painting the same thing over and over forces me to look for new ways to depict it.  This robe has inspired a lot of experimentation in palettes and paint applications.
The version at the bottom is how the painting looked after my first attempt.  It was straight forward alla prima painting and I thought the result was "ok" - which is damning with faint praise.  
The biggest issue was the sap green background.  That was an experiment in transparent darks that didn't end up suiting my aesthetic.  Sap is a transparent pigment and its rich colour and glassy transparency looked unpleasant, refusing to integrate with the opacity and impasto of the figure and robe.   The piece wasn't bad enough to scrape off, so I let it dry and thought about it for a couple of weeks. 
A clue for the next step came from the upper right corner of the painting in which I'd scumbled some cool, opaque gre…

Edges in photos and life

Last weekend I taught a "Painting from Photos" workshop to a keen bunch of painters.  One of the concepts we worked on was the power of edges, and how to break out of the camera's viewpoint when rendering them.

Photos give us the idea that an entire scene can be in crisp focus, no matter how broad, but that's only true if you're a camera.  Humans don't see like that.  What we see is soft edges with only a tiny fraction of sharpness - maybe 2% of our visual field.  Maybe 1%.  It's actually surprising to realize how indistinct our visual experience is.  Too often, though, we forget this when we paint, especially if we're painting from photos.  We end up creating painted photos instead of paintings that show our  view of the world.

The piece above shows how few hard edges you need to make a believable painting.  I've clustered the edges in the focal area near the eye and the upper part of the face while diminishing the edges of forms as they get fu…


I'm always looking for a new way to make marks and achieve effects in oil paint, and always coming up against its one firm rule: "fat over lean".  Following this rule will ensure that your paintings age as well as possible instead of cracking to pieces in a potentially short period of time; every oil painter's nightmare.

Essentially, "oilier over less oily", the fat over lean rule should be easy to apply, but it's actually very complex.  A brief look at oil painting forums devoted to this subject will tell you that there are a lot of interpretations happening in studios.

If you're building a painting wet-in-wet, it's straightforward: less paint and added oil in the lower layer and more paint and added oil in the upper layers.  Because oil paint is pigment bound in vegetable oil, applying a thicker layer of paint automatically means that it will be fatter (oilier) than a thin application.

I dilute my first layer with a 50/50 mix of oil and odour…

Some good books about oil painting

I've had many emails over the years asking me how I learned to paint and for resource suggestions, so I thought I'd list the books that were the most influential to me when I was learning.  I made that sound past tense, but I'm actually still learning and always will be. 

First, a confession: I look at the pictures in most art books, and only skim the texts, and I have yet to do an exercise from any how-to book that I own.  It's a personal failing.

Here are some books that I actually did read because they were so informative and relevant:

- Richard Schmid:"Alla Prima".  It's a sweeping, common sense, and generous survey of oil painting methods and materials.  It taught me how to choose my palette, start and build a painting, and troubleshoot the inevitable hiccups that every painting presents.

- Charles Reid: "Painting What You Want to See".  My aesthetic is more aligned with Reid's than Schmid's which makes this book especially useful …

Another palette experiment

I've been experimenting with lower chroma pigments lately because I like the subdued greys that they produce, and because I've become overly familiar with my usual palette.  Knowing exactly what my colours will do has diminished some of the magic of their application, so, in a wild and crazy move, I've been substituting earth pigments for one or all of the usual colours and seeing what happens.  Who says painters are boring?
(In case you're wondering, the usual 6 are: cad red light, alizarin permanent, ultramarine blue, pthalo blue, cad yellow, and cad yellow light + white)
This piece was done on a cool-toned support using a low chroma palette of Indian red, yellow ochre, and a blue-black made from ivory black mixed with ultramarine blue.  Toward the end, I added a smidge of cad red light to achieve those warm pieces in the clothing and to liven up the lip colour.  
I'm a fan of the limited palette, but if I need a certain effect, I won't hesitate to drop anot…