Sunday, April 27, 2014

Do You Paint With Greys?

winter on the Florida Gulf Coast
An artist friend of mine had the good fortune to attend a Scott Christensen workshop. She showed me the set of eight greys that he uses to block in his values and adjust his colors. I knew from Christensen's website that these greys were all mixed from  three primary colors.

 I put a dab of all eight colors on a piece of canvas and spread a bit of it out thin to examine each color's transparency. To a small amount of each grey, I added white because it's often impossible otherwise to determine how much of what color goes into a color mixture. This is especially true of a dark mixture.
I had previously contacted Scott to inquire which version of the three primaries are used to mix these greys. His studio graciously emailed me back that Ultramarine Blue, Permanent Red and Cadmium Lemon were his chosen primaries. I was skeptical that eight so different greys could be mixed from these three primaries but sure enough, they can.

So, what did I find from working with a palette of the greys and the three primaries?
   _ Resulting color was very natural. The colors looked exactly like they do in nature.
   _A cohesive color scheme was easy to attain.
   _Blocking in the composition's big value shapes using the greys made it easier to quickly develop the painting which is definitely a plus in fast changing light.

you can see in this study how closely the greys imitate the colors of nature
 So, how about the negatives of using this system. 
_Using only the three primaries did limit my ability to produce some colors, especially the greens. It was easy to get an endless variety of olive greens but much harder to get variety in the bright greens. More care had to be taken in the color that surrounded the bright green in order to get it to look bright.
_The finished painting can become too grey for my taste. Half of my motivation to paint comes from a delight is seeing all the subtle color around me and exaggerating it just enough to communicate what I'm seeing.

 After playing with the palette for a while, I've begun to reintroduce other colors back into the basic palette- usually a red oxide or sienna type color,  viridian green if needed and one or two other colors if needed. I'll be paying much more attention to using greys with my color but I don't think I'll be excluding the colors that give me so much joy to paint with.

a coastal study in greys

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