Recent studio paintings
Had a lovely refreshing walk one day in a gale, and took some photos which the one above was done from. Below my vantage point there is Pittenweem tidal pool, where there were still some swimmers enjoying the moment.
Just down the coast ten minutes from me is Kingsbarns beach, which I’ve discovered is even better than I’d previously realised for this kind of rocky subject. This was a cold day again, but I was happy with this painting; one of my favourite studio pieces in a while.
Virtually the same spot, a few weeks later, a sunnier day (thought still cold!) and the tide a bit further in with a more lively sea. It was stunning to be there, hence I was inspired to paint it again when I got home. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a ‘Kingsbarns beach in April’ painting. Or else May. Hopefully those will be plein air.
On ‘greens’ – a video
After I asked in my previous blog post about reader questions to be answered on video, I received an email on this familiar subject, and quite apt for the upcoming spring season. So, ‘Greens’ it is!
You may notice the top painting is mostly subtle shades of ‘grey’. With any ‘grass’ not being ‘green’, as such.
In the second painting there is a bit of green on/in the rocks. Seaweed, etc, and this is a slightly less common hue of green among my paintings, being mixed using my second yellow of Winsor Lemon (though any cool, lemony type yellow would do) and Thalo blue (RED shade). There are areas that utilise Raw Umber with the Thalo, in addition.
The colours in the video seem to my eye not to display quite as they are in reality. This is inevitable. Firstly I don’t have very expensive equipment, but even if I did it would then need to be calibrated perfectly, lit perfectly, etc, and even after all efforts might have been made, your own display equipment will still have an influence on the results. It’s worth considering what this tells us about the nature of colour! Whether or not you see the colours exactly as they appear in reality, or on my own laptop screen, the overall *colour relationships* will have been preserved. (And who knows if we even percieve each individual colour the same? )
I do touch on this situation – that I believe we should view colours, in general, in terms of their *relativity*, rather than worry about the specific aspects of any particular ‘hue’ in isolation (such as ‘chroma’). Having used these technical terms, I stress that I steer clear as much as possible from ‘colour theory’ (being a scientific thing to do with light as much as a painter’s pigment issue) in my tuition.
I’m not an expert on colour theory nor pigment, and I don’t think most painters need to be. Some knowledge helps, but as with all important things in painting, most of it can be picked up organically from observation of the world, the ongoing practice of painting or your own deliberate colour experiments. Being ignorant may lead to so-called ‘originality’ or distinction as often as being knowledgable – should you aspire to such things. I know that while a lot of people say they ‘just love colour’ and some artists say their work is ‘all about colour’, to many of us it can be tedious to learn colour theory. Much of the time, in the way it is taught, it is almost irrelevant. The biggest issue I’ve always had with it as a tutor of painting is that IT GETS IN THE WAY OF EVERYTHING ELSE! It can create a huge stumbling block, needless anxiety and far slower development in all the other aspects of learning to paint. But back to the specific subject of this post; simply ‘green’.
The video is far longer than I’d originally intended (about 30 mins!), but I’ll leave this one as is. I still haven’t covered everything, in the least, but I hope manage to convey a few useful thougts and some reassurance to people who often are, I think, overly concerned about the whole issue of colour, or concerned with it in an unhelpful way.
One thing I forget to mention is:
I am often asked during tuition or a demonstration how I’ve mixed a particular colour (not uncommonly, a green).
More than once I’ve shown people precisely how I’ve done it on my palette (which is pretty simple) and they’ve gone away and mixed precisely the same colour, from the same brand of paints, only to then not like the colour. Though they liked it on my palette, or on my painting. This, I believe, is because it isn’t the actual ‘hue’ that people are liking. They think it is, but this is an illusion. The truth is we ‘like’ a colour only in the exact context of where we see it used. A colour creates an effect only in relation to other colours. This is the point. The specificness of hue takes the credit, or the blame, for more than it should. I briefly mention this in the video, so I hope I’ve explained it well enough. It’s a bit tricky to put into words, but I’ll no doubt return to it in future and try to give more clear examples. Even the quality of the drawing, markmaking or other aspects of the context we are seeing this colour in can influence people to think they ‘like the colour’ being used.
It’s not just colour that we need to view this way, but all other aspects of the painting ecosystem. Consider individual brush marks (or shapes): a ‘big’ mark is only big in relation to (or by comparison with) other marks which are smaller. A ‘soft edge’ is only relatively soft, by comparison with another edge which may be ‘hard’; or more to the point, harder.
A key point I try to get across to anyone who wants to be their own painter, is: realise that most ‘landscapey’ colours (anything that might be described as a brown, green, grey, bluey-greeny-browny-grey – etc) can be mixed from a huge number of possible colours that you might buy and probably already own. So you really can stop wanting to buy the exact same colours of other painters that you might admire.
Try out using all the potential combinations of red, yellow & blue triads that you already have. Discover a combination that you like enough, then practise mixing from them your own version of any colour you see. You might need at least one or two of the three colours to be fairly ‘earthy’ or muted in nature (as opposed to saturated/bright). It’s when you mix all three together (to some extent) that you should be able to arrive at ‘greyed’ hues. Experiment! And enjoy it!
– Oh, “just one more thing, sir” (good old Columbo) – later that day I did a Zoom demo and used my ‘third blue’, being Cobalt Turquoise, as I sometimes am reminded to do! This with Raw Umber makes a lovely and much more ‘grassy’ or leaf green, good for spring paintings. But I stress there’s nothing special about this mix, this colour, this ‘hue’ achieved! You don’t need it! (it looks like one you can easily mix from what you already own!!) The point is, it’s just a different green to my others! So it expands the range of greens I can portray.
I’ve not even talked here about the overarching point that *rarely do you need to ‘match’ the colours you see*. That’ll have to wait for a more general discussion about colour. You could also see the article linked to from the ‘Materials’ section on my About page (scroll down) Anyway… Here’s the video on greens!
*SORRY my cursor mysteriously disappears from view once or twice. Plus I’ll make it even bigger next time.*
So, my greens are generally mixed from a base of Raw Umber and my two blues: Thalo/phthalo blue (Red shade) and French Ultramarine.
Into this is often added a touch of one of my reds: Indian Red or Light Red. Or frankly a touch of any ‘grey’ that might be already mixed somewhere on the palette (a mix of all colours). In other words, there could easily be a touch of all my regular colours in there. Then there’s occasional use Winsor Lemon and Cobalt Turquoise. In fact, I’ve started using the turquoise with Raw Umber more often recently, and I this may become a regular thing.
A final parting comment: Sometimes I don’t even like my own greens that much! Certainly not in all situations.
But one thing I’ve learned is that if you want to keep to a limited palette as I do, then there will need to be some compromise. It’s when you get the whole palette working together that you discover how well it works. And you’ll learn that if you change one of those colours then the whole ‘team’ may not work as well overall as it did before. I’ve tried out many alternatives over the years. For various reasons I come back to my current selection.
I make the point in the video – even if you did love every mix on your palette (for now), the viewer of your work may not. And plenty of people seem to like my greens, so what does it matter if I don’t?
That’s the nature of colour. When you realise this it can mean you worry much less about it, and then you’ll be able to focus on the many other aspects of painting that matter equally if not more. Colour is just one of the things that contribute to helping us make our ‘interpretation’ of the world.
Recent plein airs
This farm in inland a couple of miles from Anstruther. Starting off with pretty good weather, if a bit cold, the beautiful warm afternoon light was touching everthing orange, but it didn’t last long! After clouding over it got much colder, and when I was 80% done it started raining. So a hasty pack up and back to the studio, where I completed this one. I was joined at the scene by a hare, as happened the last time I painted on the edge of a field around here. There are definitely a lot around. It gave me a fright, running up to my left side to about ten yards away, where it sat to check me out for a few seconds, before running off up the hedgerow.
This painting was a demo for a one-to-one student, and is now sold and to feature as a cover image on a book of poetry by a Taoist shepherd from Wales! Whilst we worked a couple passed by and we had a jolly chat about how cold it was, yet how nice it still was to be there. I have a lot of such chats when out plein air painting.
It was a very cold morning, and the painting was approached quite experimentally. It was a very worthwhile thing, too, as experimenting usually is. It’s easier sometimes to let go of the unhelpful ‘hope’ or expectation of producing a good result when the conditions are such that from the beginning you know you’re chances are slim. We chatted a lot about the work, me demonstrating and my student working alongside me, but we weren’t hanging around!
This painting was done with a deliberately ‘out of order’ approach. To show that, in fact, you can build up a watercolour in a completely different way to the ‘norm’. We started with the main boat, and put in the background last. Other bits were added in a very random order. The background was painted without any pencil guide lines at all, intentionally softened and whacked in very quickly on the basis of “I’ll paint this now and look at it later!” Although rough I think it had the desired effect as a whole, of giving an impression of the setting while not becoming confused with the foreground. It was a pretty grey sky and flat light, but the sun (which was out at the beginning) was almost behind us, thus flattening the subject and showing all detail, which did blend the background with the boats, and something needed to be done about that. The subject and composition has good shapes, and this is usually vital in a situation where light and shade is less than ideal. I also boosted the tonal contrast in places for stronger counterchange (dark against light and light against dark).
This was the first time in a few weeks that it was both mild and not raining, so I got out at last. Actually it rained at the end, but I’d done 95% of it (as with the farm scene!) so just added literally a few finishing bits at home. Didn’t get a photo of the scene this time, though I recorded a bit of video (viewable on Instagram)…. Had to get the picture into the folder sharpish on the arrival of the rain.
Dedham Hall course
This willow tree painting was from my course last year at Dedham Hall. This year’s course is coming up – from April 8th – 15th. I’d be delighted if you’d like to join me in becoming one with the landscape of Dedham vale (and coastal and village locations). For full details please see my Courses page, HERE. To book a place please contact Dedham Hall directly; details HERE.
New Beginner’s weekly class
For anyone local to me, I’ve got a 5 week course at the Forgan Arts Centre in Newport-on-Tay, starting April 17th.
There are just two spaces still available, currently. Full details can be found here:
For next time
I hope you found the feature on greens useful. It’s not at all exhaustive and even though I’ve also written a bit of extra here on the subject I’ve since thought of even more things I’d say…. I’ve clearly got too much to say, but anyway do ask away if you have questions. And feel free to leave a suggestion for what I should cover next time. You can email me if you prefer.
Spring is here, I reckon. I hope you’ll enjoy it.