Sunday, December 9, 2012

Starting with Greys, Toning Down the Palette, and Thoughts on Green

Greys, I, 8x10, oil

I've been playing with Gamblin's Chromatic Black this week, and it's led to some interesting ideas for beginning plein air painters.

We've all heard about doing thumbnail value sketches, but you can also take this approach to the painting directly.  If you have trouble mentally isolating value from color, try doing your initial block-in with grey.  One thing I've found is that this also leads to "nailing" the light and shadow patterns quickly, which is a huge help when painting outdoors.  Rather than wasting time mixing color, just start off with grey.  Mix up a big pile of Chromatic Black and white, and have at it.  It's a lot faster to get the painting going with greys.

In the two paintings accompanying this post, I forgot to take photos of the "grey" stage, so here is part of another painting I'm working on in the studio this week for which I use the same concept.

There's another benefit to starting with grey.  Lots of beginning outdoor painters have trouble controlling their chroma, especially when using a split-primary palette like mine.  (Just as a reminder, split-primary means a cool and a warm version of each of the three primaries.)  Because you're painting wet-into-wet, the grey block-in will mix gently with your next, full-color application of paint.  This will moderate any too-intense colors you've mixed.  Later, if you really want rich color, you can slather on some high-chroma mixtures thickly with a brush or knife.

Greys, II, 8x10, oil
Finally, I wanted to mention Chromatic Black as a replacement for blue.  In both of the paintings above, I used absolutely no blue except for the tiniest bit in the darkest part of the sky.  You can use Chromatic Black with your favorite yellow to make some nice, mellow greens.  For these two paintings, I used Gold Ochre plus Chromatic Black for the greens.

As a side note, I used only the following colors for these paintings:  Gold Ochre, Chromatic Black, and Alizarin Crimson.  Plus white, of course!


josé maría said...

Me gusta esa versión en grises, es más fuerte para mi imaginación.

Jo Castillo said...

Nice, Michael. I've used an acrylic under painting in grays but haven't tried this. Thanks for the hint.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, Jose and Jo. Jo - the oils stay wet, and that helps the greys to mix slightly into the next paint layer. If you use a retarder (or work fast!), you can probably get the same effect with acrylics.

Dianne said...

Excellent advice! I had almost forgotten about doing the grey scale under painting.

Also, nice points on using the Chromatic Black, so often I feel guilty when I slip some in, but like Julia Child said, when your in your own kitchen, it's nobody else's business but your own. If it works, it works!
Thanks for all the help you give.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, Diane! Yes, even if that chicken gets dropped to the floor, you can pick it up, dust it off, and who's to know? :)