Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Mother Color

Students of the craft of oil painting have probably heard the concept of the "mother color." Basically, this is a color that one has decided to use in every color mixture. The idea is that a little bit of this color, added to all mixtures, will harmonize the painting.

I use this technique, but I don't purposely pick any one color. Instead, I take my palette scrapings from the last painting session -- if they are still fresh enough -- and blend them thoroughly. I get some nice greys this way. I can always "push" it into whatever color family I need. I usually don't use it for all my mixtures, though, since sometimes I do want some colors with high chroma.

"Yellow House, Snowfall"
5x7, oil, en plein air

Not for this scene, though. The air was filled with falling snow and an even light. Greys abounded. The scene was almost monochromatic. What a perfect way to use up yesterday's paint!

The day before, my scrapings yielded a big pile of a mid-value, pinkish grey. I was able to push it light enough for snow, and to add Cadmium Yellow Light to get the color of the buildings. (I added a tad of Phthalo Blue to dull it down a bit for the shadowed parts of the house and the potting shed.) Even the patches of weeds and the dark silhouettes of the young sugar maples started off with this "mother color."


daniela.. said...

Hi, I just googled 'mother color' and got this blogger page, love what you do to Canadian nature...can't help wondering what you would do with the Australian (where I live) outback. Daniela

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks, Daniela! I'd love to visit the outback some day. But what a long trip....