Thursday, December 31, 2015

Why I changed my palette

©Theresa Grillo Laird - Winter Day on Navarre Beach - oil - 12x18"
(the first venture into using a 3 color palette)

Many years ago in Mr. Wright's high school painting class, he laid out a palette of colors for a lesson on portrait painting. The idea of a set palette of colors was new to me. Until then I had just squeezed out what ever colors seemed needed for the subject. Even afterwards, I still had such a poor understanding of color options that when I went to a workshop after high school, I struggled to remember the palette thinking that it was the one and only palette that anyone ever used.

As I gained more experience, I adopted a standard all purpose traditional palette. It had a cadmium red and alizarine crimson, ultramarine, prussian and cobalt blues, cadmium yellow light and deep, yellow ochre, burnt and raw sienna and raw and burnt umber, venetian red, viridian green and terre vert. I also used sap green a lot in those days- I just plain liked the color.

The next shift in my palette occurred when I moved to Florida and began painting much more frequently en plein air. I didn't deliberately start using fewer colors. I just chose colors I saw in front of me. I had also started teaching, and  a palette of 6 to 8 colors- a warm and cool of the primaries- was easier for students to handle. 
Since from my earliest painting days, I'd used both a palette knife and a brush, the look of the paintings came from both texture and the color.

The paintings were selling and buyers especially liked the color and the texture. You'd think I'd be off and running, but I wasn't happy. The paintings seemed overly bright and it became too much of a crutch to rely on texture to create vibration in them. 

So about two years ago, I started working with much less knife work and with only permanent red, ultramarine blue and cadmium lemon yellow.
The greys that result from combinations of these three colors give the paintings a more naturalistic range of color very different from the brights of the more extended palette. Painters who advocate using a three color palette say you can get a full range of colors from them. I think it's more accurate to say you can get the appearance of a full range of colors by balancing brighter mixtures against greyer ones.

I miss the pure pleasure of looking at a tapestry of saturated colors on the canvas but I like the greater sense of color harmony that comes with the smaller palette. I still haven't decided which I like better. Lately a few of my old favorites and a couple of new colors have made their way back, mostly varieties of red that are so useful for modifying colors.

It may be so soon to know if I'm on a wild goose chase that I'll abandon like Pissarro did with his pointillist period or Renoir with his hard edged portrait work. But I'd have never been satisfied if I didn't at least try experimenting with something that might work better to make a better painting. And isn't that after all what it's all about.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Dona Nobis Pacem

©Theresa Grillo Laird -Christmas Light
It's Christmas, the time of year when thoughts turn to peace, joy and goodwill. Yet look around and the world seems so dark. The people in our country are polarized, standing immovably on one side of the line on every aspect of life that could possibly be argued about. Shallow thought and self indulgence are celebrated, and around the world, a savage mentality has been loosed and is viciously killing supposedly in the name of God.

I've been looking around at this world I barely recognize, and trying to perceive if it's always been in such turmoil and I just didn't see it, or whether this is something new, when I heard a message at Christmas service that resonated with me. I know that all my readers may not follow Christian teachings but this message applies to all who wish to live in peace no matter what their belief.

Those gathered for the candlelight service were reminded that Christmas song and Bible verse refer to a great Light that is seen in the darkness, and a Light that darkness can never extinguish. We were reminded to look for that Light that is always there no matter how dark the night is. The sermon continued while I sat in the glow of candlelight imagining myself seeking light where there seemed to be nothing but darkness and wondering in what guise I might find it, and then came the zinger- and be that light yourself reflecting the Light that darkness can't put out. Now that's a plan for the New Year.

Peace, joy and goodwill to you this season and throughout the year!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Santa delivers the goods

 ©Theresa Grillo Laird, Late Season Snow, oil, 12x16
Interested? Talk to me here

Santa came early to my art studio this year in the form of a finished goals list and project list for 2016! Those who know me couldn't be more surprised than I am to have this task finished 2 weeks before the new year! Yay!! Usually it remains an amorphous cloud of thoughts still floating in the cerebral netherworld halfway into the year. I must admit I can't entirely claim credit for this early Christmas gift to myself. It came about from taking Alyson Stanfield's Art Biz Bootcamp class that wrapped up last week. 

I have my goals divided into categories of Art, Business, Health, Spiritual, Personal and, since I'm her full time care giver, Mom's affairs. There are 4 projects for the year that will keep me plenty busy. One of them is an exciting project to mark the centennial year of the National Parks. More about that in a later post.

I still have to divide the list into monthly  tasks, then I'll be off and running! Now to finish my Christmas shopping!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Is your studio equipped with one of these?

Gillian at 14
I pity the studio that isn't graced by the presence of a studio cat. I first discovered the affinity a cat has for the goings on of an art studio when I brought home a new kitten. Gillian was of course given free reign to roam the house. One day, in the throes of frustration with a painting that wasn't working, I stabbed away at the canvas with my brush and almost hit the ceiling when the canvas surface started jumping back at me.Like ping pong, this dance went back and forth for a few seconds before I realized Gillian had settled herself on the table behind my easel and was having great fun answering each poke of my brush with a poke of her own. For the next 14 years she was my constant studio companion.

Shadow and Oriental Art
My next studio cat was a much more sedate senior gentleman. I first made his acquaintance at my parents house in Florida. After a hurricane destroyed that house, Shadow briefly lived with me in a FEMA trailer before moving north to my parents new home.He came to my Florida studio late in his life, and made himself at home for the next year in a corner chair. Right about then, Kitty Cat began hanging out at my studio door.

Kitty Cat comes calling
No, I did not give him such an unimaginative name. He used to belong to the renters next door, but when they moved, he stayed behind. For the next few years he was on his own scrambling to survive while I traveled back and forth on lengthy stays up north. Each time I returned, Kitty Cat came running to greet me. Last Spring, after determining that his owners had no intention of caring for him, he became my cat. He's purrrfectly happy to hang out in my studio with me and only occaisionally complains about the choice of music!

Monday, December 7, 2015

What's on your bookshelf?

Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honore Fragonard

There are some art books I return to again and again. When looking for how- to information, I especially like the landscape painter's bible, Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting. A lot of other artists like it too judging by how often Carlson's information is repeated in workshops and classes.It's a terrific book for someone who doesn't have much painting experience. But what I really like about it is that you can find helpful information and solutions in it's pages at any state of your artistic progress. The language in it is a little dated but that doesn't diminish it's usefulness.

Another book often recommended for landscape painters is Edgar Payne's Composition of Outdoor Painting. It has a lot of thumbnail sketches of composition options, as well as examples of faulty composition. I recently found a book from 1909 called Landscape Painting by Alfred East .It's interesting that it has some of the same descriptions of compositional devices that the Payne book does. I guess that just shows that good ideas get passed from one generation to another.

If I'm looking for technical information like what color the  pigment number for "delft blue" might be, I'll turn to Ralph Mayer's Artist Handbook or Ray Smith's New Artist's Handbook. Of course the info can be found online now but sometimes it's just handier to pull a book off the shelf.

Living the Artist Life by Paul Dorrell  and The Art Spirit by Robert Henri were two of the first books I replaced after a flood destroyed my 200- book art library. The Dorell book is both inspiring and entertaining. 

When I want to see how another artist solved a painting problem, I'll pull a few different books off the shelf. These might include books on the French and American Impressionists including the frequently neglected women artists. I also turn often to California Impressionism by William H Gerdts. A few others I like are Ilya Repin, , A T Hibbard, by John L Cooley, and for portrait and figure work John Singer Sargent by Carter Ratcliff.

Van Gogh was such an example of commitment and belief in his work, that it's interesting to try to figure out how he thought. My bookshelf has many books on Van Gogh including his Complete Letters. The last book added to that collection is Van Gogh The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. What's especially interesting about this recently written book is that it makes sense of all the loose ends and the  explanations of events in his life that just didn't ring true. It's sad but a very good read.

These books are a small part of the art library that I'm slowly rebuilding. Sadly a lot of the lost art books I'd been collecting since childhood, are out of print. I still hope to replace the books on World Impressionism, Russian painters, Chinese Brush painters from before the communist era, artists from the golden age of Dutch painting, and an amazing book on Valazquez I often referred to.

So, what are your favorite art books?

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