Sunday, July 14, 2019

Grey and the Colorblind Painter

Seven Miles Out
12x9 Oil - Available Here
The rocks in ths painting exhibit a variety of greys in the sunlight.
After reading my post on greys, can you see how I painted the sunny passages?

Hello, my name is Michael, and I'm a colorblind painter.

Well, not completely colorblind.  As I wrote in an earlier blog post, I suffer from a degree of protanopia, or red-green colorblindness.  About 8% of all men and 0.5% of all women suffer from it.  But for me, I don't consider it a handicap.  If my eyes tell me I'm seeing grey, I don't paint it just plain old grey—I can't trust my ability to mix a true neutral—but I push it into some color family.  As a result, my greys are more interesting, perhaps, than those mixed by a painter with normal vision.

A reader asked how I decide which way to push a grey if my less-than-perfect eyes can't discern its color family.  To help me avoid odd juxtapositions of color, I need my greys, however subtle, to display a color bias that I can actually see.  Here's how I handle that.

If the grey is in sunshine, I first determine the color of the light source; anything touched by it will show a bit of that color.  (I'll tell you how I determine the color of a light source in a future post.)  Let's assume the light is yellow.  Next, I mix a more-or-less neutral grey, often just ultramarine blue and burnt sienna plus white, which makes a warmish grey.  I then add yellow to push it toward the color of the light.  I may tweak this as needed with other colors, but I aim to maintain the influence of the light source.

Whatever the resulting color, this sunlit grey has to look, well, grey.  One trick to making a grey look even greyer is to surround it it with more intense colors.  By the way, white is a useful modifier for light greys.  It will not only cool down a grey that has become too warm but will also help grey it down even more.

On the other hand, if the grey is in shadow, I assume it will be influenced by the complement of the light source—I am thinking here of simultaneous contrast—or of the sky color spilling down into it.  Again, let's assume the light is yellow, so the complement is violet.  I'll take that same warmish grey mixture (ultramarine blue and burnt sienna, but with little or no white) and add violet.  If I can determine that the shadow color is a little more influenced by the sky color, which is usually a blue, I will add some of that, as well.

To get even more interesting greys, I use broken color as I apply paint to canvas.  One of my favorite recipes for painting fog is to scumble pale tints of cool red (cadmium red plus white) and cool green (phthalo green plus white) over each other.   For painting a broad area, I lay down large patches of these two colors, alternating them as I go.  Then I go back and very lightly drag a loaded brush of the complement over each color.  For grey rocks along the coast, I may paint the rocks pink to start, then add greens and blue-greens to grey down the pink.

When I'm working in pastel, I take the same basic approach.  I do have a small set of greys (warm and cool) to scumble over passages I want to grey down, but I rarely start with a grey if I am painting a grey shape.  Instead, I usually first layer complements or near-complements to get a grey, and then use my grey pastels, if necessary, to grey down the passage more.

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