I’m experimenting with beginning a painting from reality and allowing it to veer off in another direction while still painting en plein air.

Inspired by the Buddleia Bush

I enjoy playing with the positive and negative shapes when dealing with the complicated overlapping of leaves and branches.  It is a wonderful opportunity to be inventive with color.

Buddleia Bush Number Two is posted on my other blog, Third Time Around.

Color Palette: Cadmium Yellow Pale, Raw Sienna, Vermillion, Alizarin Crimson, Cerulean Blue, Peacock Blue, Thalo Blue, Viridian.


As the petals of a red rose turn from the light, what color will the red petal become?

What is the color of a shadow cast upon a bright red ball on a field of grass?

I find these exercises extremely useful.

Red Vermillion grayed with greens and cool blues

In watercolor there are several variables that can alter the result of the mix.  Always keep in mind the value of the pigment at full strength.  More water will create the effect of light reflecting back into the shadow causing it to be a lighter value, but still neutralized.  Whether the pigment is opaque or translucent alters the results.  The amount of pigment used to gray the red will determine whether or not the object retains red as its local color.  Too much of the pigment used to neutralize the red will turn it either too purple, too brown or too gray.  It will no longer look like a red object in or out of the light.

I like to see the subtle differences between the mixes.  When working with a limited palette, it’s good to know what the possibilities are.   I should have included Ultramarine Blue and Cobalt  Blue just for reference, even though they are too far from being complements to be considered as pigments for graying vermillion.  I try to keep in mind that graying is neutralizing not simply altering the intensity of a color.

I prefer graying pigments using near-complements rather than perfect complements, since perfect complements often take the life out of a color, neutralizing too well.  By using near-complements I can suggest the lighting situation and nearby objects reflecting color back onto the object while at the same time creating harmony with the other palette colors.

The challenge of neutralizing yellow:

Retaining the local color of a sphere as it turns from the light. Watercolor study.

Yellow at full strength is still a light value.  It is therefore a challenge to turn it from the light into shadow without it being overpowered by other pigments.  I grayed the yellow with a mixture of ultramarine blue and alizarin crimson after having made a page of color swatches using both a cool yellow (lemon) and a warmer yellow (cadmium yellow pale).  The best neutrals were created when the violet I mixed to gray the cool yellow leaned more toward the alizarin (warm) and the violet I mixed to gray the warm yellow leaned more toward the ultramarine (cool).  All of the swatches are useful.  Sometimes you might want the yellow to lean toward green or toward orange, but not so far that it loses its yellow identity.

Color swatches

My scanner read the cadmium yellow pale more as an orange. I adjusted the color, trying to make it a bit truer to the swatches.

Watercolor Sailboat Study

I recently posted several of the watercolor studies of sailing on my other blog, Third Time Around.  All of them were done with a limited palette: Yellow Ochre or Raw Sienna, Light Red, Alizarin Crimson, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue and French Ultramarine Blue.  There was a slight, very slight, touch of cadmium red light in the sail in the above study. the focus has been on using the pigments for their natural color value and their tendency toward warm or cool.  Focus has been on getting the values right with the least amount of color mixing possible.

The cerulean I use for the “in light” areas.  The Cobalt Blue is added as the form turns from the light.  The French Ultramarine is used in the out of light areas.  A touch of Alizarin is used in mixtures where the form is turning from the light.

The shapes that are struck by light are warmer.  As the form turns from the light it becomes cooler as it is affected less by the sun as a light source and more by the sky as a light source.  The out of light areas become even more neutralized while still retaining color reflected by near surfaces.

More samples:

It’s certainly time for a new post!  These are from my collection of favorites.

Splats Number One - Watercolor

Playing with variations of the three primary colors (yellow, red and blue) is pure fun.  These are relatively large paintings, approximately 22″ x 30″.  I love throwing paint and allowing the energy of the marks to dictate the next application of color and/or movement of the arm and brush.

Splotches Number One - watercolor

Before the poppies have vanished for this spring, I wanted to do a more careful value study of one blossom.  The wind has been tossing the blossoms around too much for me to be able to do the study en plein air.  I decided to work from a photograph…. grrrrrr. I find photographs uninspiring yet extremely helpful for specific information, other than color.

Turning both photographs and paintings into grayscale is useful for seeing both the color values and the overall shapes and patterns of the composition.

Playing with color schemes to start the day, oiling the gears in the brain. ..

Morning Warm Up - Complementary Color Scheme 'Poppy in Blue Vase'

The wilting poppy in the blue vase presented the perfect subject for a complementary color scheme.

Second Warm Up Exercise

Two warm up paintings can be ten times as helpful as one.  Always work from life, not photographs, for the warm up exercises.  After doing the first, a great deal of information has been processed in the brain.  Simplification of processed information is easier than simplifying unknown information. Allow ten to fifteen minutes for the first warm up.  Allow only five minutes for the second.  Pour yourself another cup of coffee and enjoy the day.

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