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Mar 21, 2013

Follow Up Questions from a Demo...

I did a demo earlier in the week in Vancouver, Washington, and met some new landscape painters in my area. And today received an email from one of the artists with a few follow up questions. Since I'll be lecturing on the outdoor palette at the 2nd Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo in a few weeks, down in Monterey, Chris' email seemed like a helpful thing to share here.

If you are going to the convention I invite you to come listen to my talk. I am scheduled to speak on the first day in the morning and I'll make your time worthwhile – fun as well as informative.

Here are Chris' and Tim's questions...

Hi Thomas, thank you for the demo last Tuesday. Tim and I have some questions we'd like to ask... 
1. Why is a specific plein air palette even necessary?
No one palette is necessary per se but having a full range of hues to mix with can be helpful if you want to be able to paint everything you see. In truth, a more informative answer will be more nuanced. There are aesthetic reasons to use a limited palette, and when a limited palette is handled well it produces a lovely painting. But if you walk out the door being able to cover the entire spectrum it then becomes your choice to limit your palette or not. And I like having the choice.

2. Are warm and cool temperatures of each primary necessary? 
Again, yes and no. Having a warm and cool version of each primary hue allows you to work within a greater gamut (range) of intensity. For example. if you try to mix an orange using a cadmium red medium (a warmish red) and cadmium yellow light or lemon (a coolish yellow) you won't end up with a intense orange. The cool cast inherent in the cad yellow light will neutralize the orange you wanted to mix. (Remember, orange and 'blue' are complements and together they produce a gray.) This is true for the rest of the spectrum as well. Partly due to the physical nature of light and partly due to the working properties of pigments and subtractive color. Color always requires a compromise.

However, it is essential to understand that warm and cool are relative to each other. A red which appears warmer than a blue may still appear cooler than an orange. It sounds crazy, I know, but everything about color is relative. This is why you should never think you are mixing in a color vacuum.

3. Are earth colors necessary?
No, they aren't. I can do without them altogether and mix all my earth colors or tertiaries, and sometimes I do. What is a burnt sienna but a neutralized orange? What is ochre but a neutral yellow?. But earth colors can be helpful shortcuts and they do save time. When I went to Spain and Morocco I left all my earth colors at home to save on weight and space. I specifically teach how to do this in my classes. But if I feel I am overusing a earth color -- or any color, really -- I'll yank it off my palette to force me look at my subject more closely. Burnt umber often goes away for long periods for this reason. I don't like to become lazy with any color.

4. Do you recommend a different color palette when painting in different parts of the country? How about different countries?
Different places do demand extra colors. In Oregon for example, like Ireland, it's hard to paint what you see without an intense cool green on your palette. 9What is so ironic is no one outside of Oregon believes the greens we have here so I have to reduce the chroma if a painting is going out of state.) In Chefchaouen, Morocco (google it or look at the photo at top) I couldn't do without an intense cerulean and cobalt. The city walls themselves were slathered with it. That's why I went there. To paint that blue.

5. Do you recommend a different color palette for nocturnal paintings? How do you light your color palette at night?
It depends. Very few people really paint the color of night. Most lean on a reddish blue too much when a muted dark green is closer to the truth. In addition, we can't see color very well at night because of the way our eyes evolved so we tend to romanticize and emphasize what color we do see like a '50s old movie. 9WHich is fine because we are artists, right?) 
When I do paint a nocturne I use what everyone else uses, a headlamp and LED lights clamped to my easel, or I find an existing light source that will illuminate my canvas. But just so you know, I don't paint many nocturnes these days and when I do I am more interested in the value structure than the color. I've learned that if you get the values right then people will buy into the rest. Oh, and maintain the warm/cool relationship. They are easy to invert when painting dark neutrals.

6. Are water soluble oils ever appropriate for outdoor painting? 
IMHO, they are appropriate for nothing. Nada. Nunca. Squat. I view them as an abomination. Mincible oils have all the faults of acrylic and none of the benefits of oil. I won't let them into my classes.

7. Are paints placed on a white palette or on a toned palette?
Again, it depends. I try to teach people to mix on both, or more accurately, to mix the color what they want in spite of the background itself. But I usually mix on a 50% grey.

So Chris and Tim, I hope you both find these answers helpful.


5 reader comments:

Brian Buckrell said...

Really disappointed to read your emotion-based comments on water mixable oil paints. As a highly regarded painter and teacher it surprises me that you are way off base and ill informed on the use of these products. There are student and artist grade paints - same as regular oils. Get some good quality ( Holbein Duo) and use with Gamsol - works the same. Now try with some water mixable mediums and a bit of water - works the same. Lots of info out there. Many excellent artists working with it. Get informed!!!
And as for your comments on acrylics - they don't have faults. They are not what you are used to using. Its like saying watercolours have "faults". Each medium has it up side and its down side. Water mixable oils have many upsides for a lot of artists and you should not be discouraging their use. Said with respect.

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...

Sure Brian, what you say is fair. I should offer more details about my position. I was a bit histrionic with that comment concerning water mincible oil paints. But there are reasons why I won't use them, and can't recommend them, and they have to do with the lack of permanency, lack of disclosure, and the way the paint itself handles..:

1. To make oil and water mix (emulsify) requires the addition of a soap, which is detrimental to the longevity of a paint film. (I have researched this. No manufacture of WMOs will disclose how they do it nor will they offer substantiated evidence to any claim regarding longevity.

2. I have yet to paint with any water mincible oil paint – and yes, I have tried Holbien's and Aqua Duo and W&N with OMS, as well as a few other off-brands you likely haven't heard about – that doesn't immediately gum up after a few minutes of being exposed to air, both on my canvas and on my palette, which makes it impossible to paint alla prima effectively without the addition of so much oil or an oil-based painting medium that I might as well be working in oils from the git-go.

3. Water mincible oils, like acrylics, turn a different color when you use water to thin them. They turn a milky white and then change back to another color after the water has evaporated off, which means making direct color comparisons as you mix unnecessarily difficult. This is my problem with acrylics as well.

All three points negate any so called advantage WMOs supposedly offer the painter.

I apologize if I have unfairly tarnish a favored media of yours and if you can succeed with WMOs then I congratulate you. But you must accept that we don't know how robust the film is (a big concern of mine when I sell work to my collector base) or how long it will last, and there are some very serious questions about the claims being made about the material. If you'd like to do some research yourself I invite you to visit AMIEN.ORG and some post questions. it's a free service. I am an official moderator there myself and out of respect to you will stay out of any discussion that will follow, and you can directly speak to paint manufacturers, museum conservators, material scientists, and even Mark Gottensen himself and get some straight answers. You don't have to accept mine.

In any case I appreciate your comment and welcome more of them in the future. Thank you for reading this blog.

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...

And Brian, again, speaking with respect accorded to your love of your chosen media, I was trained as an illustrator and worked as such at a high level during the '80s in the NYC, Chicago, and LA markets and one of my working media (for expediency) was acrylic. So I understand what acrylics can do. I appreciate the media is better now than it was back then but today's versions still have what I view as limiting factors for making original art. Besides the color change and added difficulties of working wet-into-wet, the actual binder has a lower refractive index than linseed, walnut or poppyseed oil, which is why when you put an oil painting next to an acrylic – assuming ALL other things are equal – the oil painting displays more brilliance.

Between you and me, I wish it were otherwise as I would prefer to work with a water based media. For obvious reasons.



Chris Lally said...

Hey, Thomas! Really appreciate your quick, thorough responses to the questions, especially since the Monterey plein air event so quickly approaches.

I also value your response to Mr. Buckrell's comment on WMOs. I, too, have used them with pretty good success, although only in the studio. Since we plan on trekking out into this stunning Oregon landscape with our easels, however, think I'll take your advice and stick with the traditional oils.

Thanks again, Thomas. I'm sure you'll knock 'em dead at the convention!

Emiliya Lane said...

Hi Thomas - tremendously helpful and insightful info you posting regularly -Thank you for taking time to share your wisdom and talend !
Keep up a fantastic work!