Drop Down MenusCSS Drop Down MenuPure CSS Dropdown Menu

Jun 22, 2014

What is White?...


Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida
Under the Awning, Zarauz, 1910

Last week I got together for coffee with some fellow painters and the topic at the table was white. What is white anyway? Is it a color? Is it a value? Is it a paint? I think the the only conclusion we could agree on was how you think about white affects how you use it in your work.

Is this white?...

When I squeeze titanium or lead onto my palette I don't think of it as a color per se. For the most part I think of it as a value that can lighten a hue. And when you and I are directly observing the world what we might think is a white, isn't. Sure, we can paint our houses white, we can wear a white wedding dress, and yes, we can even whiten our teeth. But in truth, there is no such thing as a pure white because in scientific terms an absolute white is a reflection of the entire spectrum of light and nothing in the real world does that.

Is this white?...

Most painters use the subtractive method to mix the color they see and then often add white to the color to lighten it. When they do so it not only lightens the color it also makes it more neutral. The more white that is added, the more the neutral the color becomes, and, as a color becomes more neutral it becomes more susceptible to the temperature of the light that illuminates it. (This is true for both the actual subject and the painting.) In addition, your perception of this neutral color becomes increasingly effected by any other color in close proximity, or the color you were just looking at. (An effect that occurs entirely within your eye called the Law of Simultaneous Contrast.) 

And interestingly, white is as neutral as a color can get!


Is this white?...

Just to complicate things further... Even if we were able to surround an absolute white with a perfect neutral gray in the hope of objectifying our color perception the white would still appear to have a color cast. There are other things that cause the retina to bias a neutral towards a hue: some of it is physiological, some of it is neurological, and some if it is cultural. In other words, our perception depends upon our biology and expectations.


Is this white?

Maddening, isn't it? If there is no such thing as a pure white – or to be more precise, we humans are not equipped to perceive such a thing – then what is the observational painter to do in this nutty situation? 


Here are all the whites you just saw placed next to each other. 
Believe it or not, from upper left and clockwise: 
3% magenta, 3% cyan, 3% yellow, and 3% black. 
It is the presence of hue - even the tiniest amount - that is important here. 
Not how light or dark they are.


Here are some guidelines for how to paint white:

1. Look for distinct cool and warm whites. They often there to some degree. They either exist in your subject or your retinas is generating them. Doesn't matter which one is correct. Just paint what you see.

2. Speaking of seeing, look for whites which display a reddish, orangish, yellowish, greenish, bluish, or purplish cast. This doesn't mean the hues will be obvious. They won't. But every white will have some sort of  bias towards a primary or secondary hue. So don't paint white straight from the tube.

3. Placing patches of reddish, orangish, yellowish, greenish, bluish, or purplish white in close proximity to each other will make a viewer aware of how much they differ. It will also imbue your paintings with an incredible sense of light and please the eye.

4. Often, the white you are looking at isn't as light as you think. If the white  is surrounded by a dark then you will perceive that white as being lighter than it is. (This is an expression of the Law of Simultaneous Contrast again and it often tricks a painter into dotting a canvas with too many highlights.)

5. The temperature of the light illuminating your subject and canvas will modify your perception of the lights more than it will the middle values or the darks. If you are seeing warm lights then you should be seeing cool darks. And vice versa. (It's the Law of Simultaneous Contrast again.)

6. Assigning an incorrect temperature to a white can make the surrounding colors appear muddy, or, it can make the surrounding colors look chalky. This can often see in poorly controlled flesh tones.

7. If you set your painting's middle value range too high it will make it impossible to articulate any subtleties in your highlights. If you are having trouble differentiating your whites stop fiddling around with them and lower your middle values. Then go back to the lights.

8. Think like a French Impressionist: don't paint the colors your see – paint the color effects you see.

9. A basic housekeeping rule: Keep your brushes clean when mixing your whites. Whites are easily polluted by what is already in the brush, be it a pigment or solvent. Try mixing your whites with a palette knife and then applying them with a brush without stirring things around.

10. If anything in this post confuses you collect a few white objects and set up a still life. Use a white sheet for a backdrop and arrange the objects so they overlap. Use natural light from a window or set up outside on a table. Now paint the whites as you see them and look for differences. First observe the warm and cool whites, usually separated by light and shadow, and then the hues of those whites. You will understand everything and nothing will ever be the same again.

_______

Workshop Announcement:

Essential Plein Air Alla Prima Techniques
Portland, Oregon

If you live in the area you can day-trip and be home with your family each night. If you are an out-of-towner you can come paint in one of the most beautiful metropolitan & farmland areas in America while enjoying all that 'Portlandia' has to offer.

For more information, or to receive a registration form, click here




Jun 8, 2014

La Dolce Vita...



"The Sweet Life..."

An epic film by Federico Fellini that starred Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg. I try to watch it every decade or so. It is a bittersweet story of love, confusion, and the pursuit of celebrity, and it ranks as one of the best movies of all time. It gave birth to the term 'Paparazzi' and it was a movie that formed my idea of what Italy was like back in my youth when I too was in love, confused, and seeking celebrity. Ever since, I've wanted to go to Italy and experience the sweet life.

This trip to Tuscany was awesome. It only took shutting down a bustling career in illustration & design, my wife and I getting our son off to college, and then us putting together a workshop to get me to go – but now that I have, I must go back for more. No, we must go back for more.


This workshop was based near the town of Certaldo, one hour out of Florence, and my Italian partner and I rented an 18th century villa that was once a nunnery. How cool is that? We had nine students in all, with one student-spouse, my wife, and two of our friends in tow. Counting me that made for a party of thirteen and it was like one of those foreign films I saw in school. We painted. We laughed. And yes, some of us cried. We ate food fresh off the farm. We lunched out on the lawn and picnicked in the field as we painted. We slept. We got out of bed. And then we painted some more. There were rolling hills of vines and groves of olive trees right off our doorstep, distant farmhouses on the horizon, and we traveled up into the old hill town of Certaldo Alta to paint its ancient walls and buildings. We traveled to the stone towers of San Gimignano and spent a lovely afternoon painting at the ruins of the fortress. We took a train into Florence and toured the Ufizzi, which contains the Medici's collection of great Renaissance painters. 

Everywhere we went we saw and lived la dolce vita, but without the drama of love, confusion and pursuit of celebrity.

_____


Here are a few photos from the week. I hope you enjoy them.



The 2014 Paint Tuscany al Fresco crew...



Our initial meet 'n' greet at the villa while still waiting for the rest of the students to arrive...



The view immediately behind us...



A pre-dinner 30 minute demo talking about establishing a Notan and aerial perspective...



The morning light and an outbuilding on the fattoria...



An early riser out above the lavender. No worries about jet-lag here...



A midmorning demo about staging distance and working from thin to thick...




Ahhh, the front door to the villa...



A view of the villa and our old stone studio...



The common area, where we could hang out and talk shop in the evenings...



Another paintable vantage point on the villa grounds...



Working with a student on the villa lawn before lunch...



Lunch under the trees...





Morning painting in Certaldo Alta...



Really digging in...



Painting the old walls and buildings of Certaldo, on an old wall that dates back centuries...




What they were painting...



A mother and daughter who came together...



My wife taking a moment to draw in her journal...



And of course, lunch in the street in Certaldo after our morning painting...



As we ate, a wedding party walked up towards the church at the top of the hill...



Gathering in San Gimignano after getting the requisite cappuccinos, bathroom breaks, and pastries...



The view from the square in SG...



A student painting at the top of San Gimignano, overlooking the hills of Tuscany...



Another student chose to paint the towers closer in...



A little local color: Two students painted this window from below before the wash was taken in. Originally, instead of towels, there was a line of white panties that made for a humorous subject. We were able to communicate via hand signals for her to leave them out until the painting was done.
She laughed and did so...



Lunch again. Picnic-style between painting sessions...



A postprandial critique. This student was painting the square in front of the fortress gates...



Another individual critique...



Later that evening we went to Poggio (something) to tour an organic farm. These are the famous Tuscan breed of white cattle (Chianina). And afterwards...


...we sat down to a fine meal of antipasti and lovely wines.



This was the hit of the evening. Farro salad with finely chopped vegetables, olive oil, and vinegar. Delicate and fresh. Easy to make at home. It will go into regular rotation at our house...



The view from our table: San Gimignano in the distance. Things are pretty close to each other around here and there's another painting wherever you look...



And the group kept going: a impromptu late night critique back at the villa of all the work everyone produced that day...





You can see the infamous panties painting down in the lower right corner. It was a group favorite...



A view of the courtyard from inside the Ufizzi in Florence, where we went to see works by great Renaissance painters such as Botticelli, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Caravaggio. (No photos allowed inside.) You can see the Duomo di Firenze in the distance, the largest load-bearing dome at the time it was built and still awe-inspiring to see today. Built using load-bearing brick.  No one thought it could be done until the virtually unknown architect Brunelleschi showed them how...



After the Ufizzi it was recess. Free time to shop, eat, or just walk around in Florence...



Of course, this still being Italy, most of us elected to find a place to eat. One student who knew the city well elected herself as our tour guide and lead us through the streets...



...and over the Ponte Vecchio...



...into the Oltrarno and into a wonderful restaurant off Santo Spirito Square...



Where we learned that in Italy, everyone's order doesn't necessarily come at the same time. 
Hey, the food was still terrific...



Next our 'guide' took us to what she said was the best gelato in Firenze. I believe her now...



Later that evening we had dinner back at the villa...



Alberto, one of our villa hosts, showed us the wine cellar...




A couple, late at night, looking out the window at the fireflies flitting about on the lawn below...



The next day we painted at the villa again, and needed some quick take-out for lunch...


Here it is, ready for the artists...



Every morning (and evening) became check in time on the "wee-fee" out in the garden loggia. It was lovely to have internet access when you needed it, but not to be accessible 24/7...



Friday morning a little weather blew in. Nothing big, just a few drizzles. But as a former boy scout leader I had a Plan B. Note for those who don't know me: I always have a Plan B...


Plan B was to go indoors and paint in the stone studio...



First I did a demo, using existing light only. That meant no lights were turned on inside and I had to paint by the light that came in through a window. Just as painters once did 400 years ago... 



I set up intimate still lives on window ledges and one table top and we talked about painting 'contra jour' style. Contra Jour is French for backlit, and if you do a historical survey of painting you find beautiful examples of it everywhere.


Everyone seemed to enjoy the change-up...



And a chance to sit down...



For our last dinner – the night before our departure – our hosts Patrice and Alberto pulled out all the stops. Nothing was too fine for us. Here, out of appreciation, one student gave them a handmade pen from her father. A touching moment for all.



And later, another student snuck into the kitchen for a little more vin santo and grappa.



The ever present wary farmhouse cats



And the morning light that welcomed us before our final departure.



Everyone has now scattered to the winds. Off to home, off to Florence, Rome, Verona, Germany, or to places further afield. Here we are with our traveling friends waiting to catch the next train to Vernazza in the Cinque Terre. 

On the road again. Good times...

_____


If you would like to join us in the Fall of 2015 for your own Tuscan Painting adventure click here to be put on the notification list. If you place yourself on this list you'll hear about it before I announce it on the blog. 

So until then, La Dolce Vita!...

TJK