Color mixing greens, mauves, and secondaries

I’m having so much fun getting familiar with my new oil paint colors and seeing what kind of colors I can mix with them. My basic charts gave me a sense of how they relate to each other in several ways, and I wanted to take that further by doing some color mixing. My goal is to have some go-to color mixes for things like greens, mauves and other low intensity violets, and earthy reds and yellows. I  also wanted to see what kinds of secondary colors my primaries would make, now that I have a more complete palette of warms and cools.

various color mixes in oil paints Apr 27 2019
Various color mixes from my palette of oil paints, focused on earth tones for landscape painting

Because my focus is landscape painting, my hope with this chart is to uncover some great color mixes for the local color of landscape elements as well as colors that enhance them (such as oranges and violets working well with greens).

I get easily overwhelmed by all of the color mixing options when I stand at my easel — there’s just so much potential there! How do I choose when I don’t want to miss out on any of it? But it can stall my progress to seek the “right” answer to questions like this. In my current research on color, I’ve come across a few pastel artists that I love and so I started thinking about their approach to color. Many of them like to preselect their small palette of working colors from their larger supply of choices, which helps them achieve color harmony and stay in the flow while painting.

My intention is to use this chart in a similar way, as a visual aid to jump start my color strategy and mixing before I start painting. These little color samplings are primarily made from two colors (with white), and the idea is to get in the ball park and adjust with additional colors as needed to achieve the value, temperature, and intensity I’m looking for.

This chart of secondary color mixes is a simple and handy one to have. Carol Marine suggests it in her book, Daily Painting, as a way to see how the warm and cool primaries affect the temperature and intensity of secondary mixes made with them. I made one like this when I was starting out with watercolors and referenced it all the time.

secondary mixes from primaries in oil paint Apr 27 2019
Secondary mixes from primary colors and viridian (a stand-in for my yellow-leaning blue), with some earth colors in the last two columns

This green mixing chart is something I learned about after searching for how to mix natural looking greens for landscapes. Carol McIntyre demonstrates a sampling of the huge potential from just a yellow, blue, and two orange hues to modify. My photo doesn’t capture the real effect, but it was a clarifying exercise on how much can be created with so little.

green mixes in oil paint Apr 27 2019
Mixing greens from Winsor Lemon and ultramarine blue, with the addition of Winsor Orange in the second row and Transparent Earth Red in the third row

Charting my oil colors

I recently added several new colors to my oil palette, and to get familiar with them and how they fit in with my other colors I did a few fun and enlightening exercises.

First I charted my colors using a tip by Dianne Mize (shown below), and once I had all of those colors out on my palette I dabbed them onto a rudimentary color wheel based on their relative hue, value, and intensity. This wheel is roughly based on a Gamblin video on navigating color space that I found useful. My chart isn’t a scientific mapping of the colors, but it definitely gives me a good idea of how they relate to each other.

oil color palette mapped to color wheel
Approximate placement of my oil colors on a color wheel

To chart my colors, I used my best impression of their value straight out of the tube and plotted them in rows, adding white to lighten the value. Then I made notes on each color’s hue, value, intensity, and temperature, along with the brand name, color name, and pigment name. I had considered doing the full color charts (Richard Schmid style) but thought that all of the time used to do them would be better spent painting. Diane’s charting tip seemed like a good compromise that would allow me to get familiar with the characteristics of my pigments in a quicker way.

For the tints, I used Utrecht White, which is a mix of titanium and zinc whites.

oil color palette charted
My palette of oil paint colors, charted out with notes to become more familiar with their characteristics

My intention is to create limited palettes from a smaller selection of colors for each painting, at least until I’m more familiar with how they work together. These two tools should be really helpful for choosing those groupings because they give me a clear visual on how the colors lean in relation to each other.

This was also an exercise in not over-engineering a solution to my problem! It was hard to fight my instinct to get very scientific about the exact qualities of each pigment by consulting all kinds of other resources. This would have taken a lot more time and sucked the fun out of it, I’m sure. And it would have removed an opportunity for me to think more critically on my own and trust my own perceptions of the colors.

I’ll use these to assign an order to my tube colors so I can lay them out on my palette in the same order every time. Not that they’ll all be out all the time, but having them in consistent homes will be valuable.

My next project is creating some color studies based on pairs of colors + white to get a feel for how they work together.

Study in composing values #4

As my final study in the lesson I’ve been following on composing values, I wanted to choose a reference photo in the same vein (yellow-orange flower) but different style of composition. In the photo I selected, I really liked the background. But in my painted study, I felt like it was too busy and used it as an opportunity to see what it’s like to paint over an area with a whole new color.

composing values study of sunflower Jan-31-2019
Final study with simplified background

I was surprised by how simple it was to change the background! Although it helped that I was changing it to a cool dark grey…replacing it with a more intense color would have likely been rough. I’m not totally sold on the simplified version, but I think it at least separates the flower and leaves from the background area. The thing I don’t like about it is that it feels like dead space back there. It may have helped to put in some temperature changes, leaving it basically the same value.

It feels very counter-intuitive because I tend to prefer simple over busy, but my definite favorite from this set of four studies was the one with the cluster of packed-in sunflowers. Sometimes having my expectations upended is a very delightful thing.

composing values study of sunflower Jan-31-2019
Before simplifying the background
composing values study of sunflower Jan-30-2019 block-in
Initial block-in
composing values study of sunflower Jan-31-2019 greyscale side by side
Value check: the biggest difference I see is in the background, where I averaged it into a single value

This lesson has been awesome for walking me through the process of doing a painting from start to finish. I get such a kick out of seeing it go from the initial block-in (when I just have to trust the process and believe it will get better) to the completed study. It’s a great next step after my 100 Starts project because it builds upon the same approach of defining the shadow family and the light family.

The biggest thing I could work on with this process is to stop overthinking and overworking these studies. I’d get a lot more experience in by doing more of them, more quickly. I’d also probably enjoy the experience more by lightening up about it and not trying to be so exact!

Study in composing values #3

composing values study of tulip Jan-28-2019
Gotta stand way back to tell what’s going on in this one

When I chose this photo to work from for my next study in composing values (another that Dianne provides with her lesson), I thought it might be easier than the sunflowers one I did last time. It was and it wasn’t…the shapes were simpler and there were fewer colors, but I actually found that made it more difficult for me. It’s almost like with more simplification, it was harder to make a compelling painting. The petals are smooth which I didn’t enjoy painting as much, and the macro nature of the photo makes it a confusing image for me to look at.

And what I love about this is that it forced me (well, the choice was mine to paint it, so it was a self-imposed force) to try different things and compare the experiences. I wouldn’t have chosen the sunflowers reference image on my own because it was so complex and I felt intimidated by it. And I probably would have chosen the tulip photo because it seemed more straight-forward, but I found it wasn’t engaging to paint. This is where my Upholder tendency pays off. And probably why I enjoy classes and workshops so much — I can get things done on my own no problem, but I don’t necessarily choose the thing that will push me forward.

I finally remembered to take a progress shot: the block-in shows the in-shadow and not-in-shadow families. If I were to do it again, I’d try making the shadows of the tulip less intense and a little lighter, and actually would bring up the overall value range so it’s not so dark.

composing values study of tulip block in
The initial block-in of in-shadow and not-in-shadow

Study in composing values #2

Continuing my series of studies in composing values with a cluster of sunflowers as the subject. This is the most complex image I’ve painted so far. After blocking in the shadow and light families I felt pretty wiped out, and took a break until the next day. I’ve always been a Power Through! type, whether it comes to a job or a personal project. But I’m working on relaxing that mentality somewhat, while not letting the days slip by without progressing toward my goals.

composing values study of sunflowers Jan-24-2019
I wasn’t sure if I’d pull this out of total-chaos territory, but the accents of cooler colors really helped pull this composition together.

Taking a break for a day on this study really worked in my favor and I came back to it on day 2 with more confidence and enthusiasm about it. It also helped to have some notes written out from Dianne’s lesson. Writing out the steps allowed me to think more logically about the process, which is useful to me at this stage in my learning. It’s super easy to get overwhelmed by a subject this complex, but taking it step by step alleviates some of that and gives a path forward rather than bouncing all around. For example, by putting the dark colors in first, it keeps white out of them so that they’re richer. By adding colors with white later on in the process, it pulls them forward and enhanced the illusion of depth.

I used white sparingly in this study, since the reference image was overall very warm. It allowed me to play with cooler accents and contrast of warm and cool. It’s funny, but my single favorite part of this one is the swipe of grey in the center of the lower left flower. It’s so small but I just love it! I’m on the lookout for more opportunities to do things like that.

composing values study of sunflowers Jan-24-2019-greyscale reference next to study
Happy with my value check! (Reference photo on the left, my painted study on the right)