I host a monthly Adult Artist Workshop at the Red Bank New Jersey Public Library. The participants often give me challenging questions that help crystalize various skills in my mind. I learn a lot from the participants!
Recently, Anita, one of the regular participants, brought in a picture that she wanted to paint. It depicted a heron silhouetted against a brilliant sunset! Anita asked me for my opinion of what color paints to use and how the achieve such dramatic effects. After some initial suggestions, I took this tough assignment and went an gave it some serious thought in order to bring Anita some more complete answers for the next month's workshop.
Anita had given me a copy of the photo which she wanted to work from. I decided I would do my version of the painting as an experiment. As I got into it I realized that this motif was an excellent example of how to use a number of trick of the trade to achieve such dramatic effects.
The initial version of my painting is shown below.
What Color Paints to Use?
This was the first question that Anita asked me. After looking at the motif for a while the answer was obvious to me.
In my 9/20/14 post I discussed the concept of using Color Triads to organize my thinking of how to exploit my limited modern color pallet. The motif Anita had chosen to paint was clearly composed of very warm colors. Therefore, I want to use the warm color triad pictured below. This color gamut of this triad clearly covers the warm section of the color space!
Blue is the compliment of orange. Therefore as the blue is added the color of the orange becomes more neutral. The more blue mixed the duller the orange becomes. Ultimately, proceeding through various dull oranges, browns, grays and blacks. I have added some white to some of the color pools so you can see better what the color actually is.
At the bottom of the canvas, I have mixed various oranges and some white with the blue so you can see some of the posible blues that can be realized.
On the left side of the canvas I have mixed various amounts of the yellow and blue and some of the oranges to show just oa few of the greens that can be achieved.
On the right side of the canvas I have mixed the blue and red, along with some white, to achieve a variety of purples.
As you can see, a wide variety of colors can be achieved with this triad. As another example, as I discussed in my 9/20/14 post, the following painting was also painted using this triad!
How to Achieve Brilliant Colors
Now that we have chosen the three tubes of paint that we will use for this painting, the next question is how to achieve the brilliance of the this amazing sunset!
Adding Various Whites
As a beginner we might think to add white to brighten the colors. Well let's look at this a bit before deciding what to do!
The following images illustrates two ways of brightening or increasing the value of the yellow that we are using for this painting.
On the right side of the above canvas. zinc white has been added to the yellow. Zinc white is a transparent paint, and adding zinc white to a color tends to brighten the color without changing the nature of the color, i.e. it does not introduce any chalky pastel effect.
Also, since it is a transparent paint, when it is mixed with another transparent color, the mixture will also be transparent. This can be very important when layering paints to achieve subtle variations while maintaining the brilliance of the resulting surface.
This brings us to a third way of increasing the brilliance of a color without changing the nature of the color, as illustrated below.
Another version of this is pictured below.
The key to this layering technique is that each layer must be thoroughly dry before the next layer is applied. This is the technique that was used to in the sunset painting for the tops of the clouds and the rim of the sun, as pictured below.
Another form of layering that was used in the sky is the layering of semi-transparent mixtures of various dulled oranges. This is often referred to a sufamoto. This technique was used extensively in the sky and the water. As you go down in the sky the number of and darkens of the layers increases.
There are two aspects of this type of layering to keep in mind. First, the paint must be allowed to dry between layering. Second, each layer will darken the surface so this requires some planning so that the value of the surface will be of the desired value.
Another way to increase the brilliance of of a color is depicted below.
In fact, the three cases are the same yellow. the middle case appears brighter than the left case as the surrounding black provides a greater contrast in value. The right hand image surrounds yellow with its compliment of purple. This is an important case as it illustrates that when compliments are placed next to each other, they enhance the brilliance of each other.
This technique is utilized in the sun of the Sunset painting above. It is interesting that in the source photo that Anita provided, the sun appeared to be bright white. The reason for this is that when there are great variations in value in a scene being photographed, the very bright objects such as the sun will saturate and just appear white. However, the sun is actually the source of the all the warm light!
Therefore, when I painted the sun I initially painted it with solid titanium while. When this dried, i painted transparent dabs of blue and orange over the surface. These dabs of compliments enhance each other and tend to give the sun a brilliance composed of the colors that are used throughout the rest of the painting, which also provides for color harmony.
Glazing is when a highly transparent version of a color is painted over another color. The two colors then optically mix. For example, if a thin blue glaze is painted over a dry orange background, the orange will be dulled to a less intense tone. This is pictured below.
At the bottom the sky and the top of the distant land mass a glaze of transparent zinc white and blue provided the haze of the distant aerial perspective.
The way colors interact in glazing is the same as when they are mixed together physically. For example, blue and orange dull each other. I illustrated this previously with the mixing on the pallet of the warm color triad. However, glazing can give a more subtle airy look, which was exploited in gently dulling the orange in the sky at the top of the painting and as you go down lower in the bottom set of clouds.
Edge control is an important aspect of this painting since the tree and herron are starkly silhouetted against the background. If the edges are not properly treated this can look very cut out and artificial. To mitigate this, a halftone is painted along all of the edges, as illustrated below.
In the above example the dark brown streak is painted over the orange background. Note the edge of the brown ribbon on the bottom and the top left. It provides a very sharp and cut out looking boundary. Note the lighter brown line of halftone coming in from the top left of the brown ribbon. When it is painted along the edge of the brown ribbon it gives a nice soft edge. Compare this to the edge at the bottom of the ribbon to appreciate the effectiveness of this technique.
In the Sunset painting you can see half tones painted on all of the edges of the tree and heron In the case of the heron, since it has a soft feather edge, some of the edges has a light halftone to signify the feathers catching the light of the evening sun!
Pallet Knife and Opaque Painting
Two other techniques were used extensively in this painting. One is opaque painting , both as a dry layer and wet in to wet paint. Here the the tree and the heron were painted opaquely over the dried background. Whereas, the sea was painted with many different blues, greens and oranges, often applied in a wet on wet fashion.
The sea did also have some glazes and sufamoto to bring done the reflected tones of the sky, on top of the dried wet in wet painting.
Pallet knife painting was used to apply thick orange blue and white paint to create the highlight reflection of the sun in the sea.
This painting of the brilliant sunset provided an excellent example of the application of a number of painting techniques, or "tricks of the trade" as I referred to them in the title to this post. I think they are clearly illustrated here in that this motif required specific techniques to be able to attain, in paint, the dramatic effects of the motif being represented. If you are not familiar with these "tricks" as a beginning painter, I do not think it would be obvious how to obtain these results. This is what motivated me to write this post, in hopes it would help others further their own painting processes.