Color Concept

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Color is an important part of painting. Some artists believe it is the most important part. I don’t agree. The reason for my position is that masterful paintings have been achieved using just one color.
Having instructed many students over the years in the basics of creating a solid painting, I have stressed the importance of having a clear concept, a well organized composition, accurate drawing, a simple value structure, harmonious color, technical excellence…and even appropriate framing. All these elements are important, but concept needs to reign supreme. What do I mean by concept? It is what the artist chooses to communicate through the painting…and every one of the basic building blocks mentioned above, need to support that concept.
Color is no different.

This is the painting I’ve been working on this past week. It shows the very beginnings of the block-in stage, after having established the drawing. The canvas is 32″x 46″. Normally, on large canvases, I begin with a full monochromatic value block-in. This time I decided to jump right in with color on the white canvas.

Before beginning the color stage, a set of colors {the palette) must to be chosen, and the selected palette needs to support the concept. The subject of the painting is a sunlit Italian coastal scene set in the month of May. Summer has not arrived, the foliage is still rich and lush.
Being able to create a wide variety of interesting greens was the starting point for palette selection. After experimenting with a variety of blues and yellows, I settled on Prussian blue and lemon yellow.
I have used a limited palette of just the primary colors since the mid-eighties, so that is always the starting point. You may notice from the color wheel, shown above, that the center of the wheel contains three values of gray. The darkest ring contains the three primaries mixed together, and the other two values have white added. I discovered this palette yields an almost pure neutral.
Additionally, for this painting, some extra yellows were added: yellow ochre, and cadmium yellow medium. As you can see, all of the yellows have been mixed with Prussian blue. Cadmium yellow light was also tried but was rejected because of its closeness to lemon yellow.
This is only the second time I’ve used Prussian blue. The color was first discovered in 1704 and widely used, but there has also been considerable controversy as to its permanence.
Winsor and Newton gives it an “A” rating (Permanent), equal to most of their cadmium colors…and more permanent than the popular alizarin crimson…so I am comfortable with that.
Phthalocyanine blue would be a suitable replacement.
Beware however, Prussian blue and phalo blue are very powerful. Both are greenish blues and have tremendous tinting strength. Just a dab goes a long way.
Before finalizing the palette choice, I like to create a chart, like the one above, in order to make sure I have selected the colors needed to achieve the desired concept.
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