Putting on Your Chef's Hat

Here's an older painting of mine I've always liked a lot. It's The Roof, oil on canvas, 20 x 14" and was painted from life just down the road from my studio in Baltimore. I live in a very hilly section of town and love being able to look down on a roof top. The real engine of this painting is the contrast of warm and cool colors against each other. Obviously the big decision was that the architecture would be cooler than the foliage in the background. The forest in back acts like a giant trampoline that bounces your eye back to the front if you wander too far into the distance.

The trick with color is that one has to see many colors at once, much like hearing chords in music. I wanted to keep the architecture always cooler than the leaves, but still vary its temperature vigorously. It's always a question of a color balancing act.

Here's the large palatte in my painting studio that I bragged about in my last blog post.

One of the secret weapon a painter can use is the biggest possible space to lay out what I call spreads of colors (don't know anyone else who uses that term, though I'm sure someone out there does). A big palatte to work on helps.

I'm working on a huge sky today for a different painting but it uses most of the same pigments as The Roof. The large puddle of color at the top of the picture is approximately 12" wide and is a mixture of two complementary colors, burnt sienna pigment with ultramarine blue. Both are considerably lightened up with titanium white.

I've been careful to mix a little more sienna into the left side of the spread and a little more blue into the right. I mix way more of the color than I think I'll be needing so I can experiment and play around a little as I go. Below that puddle is another of a darker and cooler blue grey. It's the same pigments as the above puddle but with some raw umber added in. I'll be adding more white and still other hues to it to create a second giant spread of colors. The key is to keep building a wide array of options for you to choose from for painting at hand.

Color mixing is a lot like cooking, only with cooking once the spice has been added to the soup you can't take it back out again. With a big palatte, you can try out all the possible combinations of ingredients right there on the palatte. The ones that work get lifted up onto the canvas. The ones that don't stay put.

Sometimes I think I should wear one of those big puffed out white chef's hats in my studio. What do you think?


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