Sunday, January 24, 2016

Subjective Primaries - January 24 - 30 Paintings in 30 Days

Barn Shapes - 24x20" oil on canvas - sold

I got James Gurneys book this week, and it took me back to my days in commercial art school. I have not done much painting with a limited palette, but am open to finding out more about what color can do. In the book, Gurney talks about using a gamut mask to create color harmonies. With this method, it's not only about what colors you put in, it's also about what you leave out. A gamut mask is a shape that is cut out and placed over a color wheel.

Gamut mask, with an intense orange, and less intense magenta and green
This is the gamut mask for the first study. I used pure orange as one of my subjective primaries. For that, it was easy to use cadmium orange straight out of the tube. To lighten the tonal value of this color, I simply added white. To Darken the tonal value, I used burnt sienna, which is a darker and less chromatic orange.

The second corner of the triangle, is my next subjective primary. It is a green, but notice that the edge of the triangle is closer to the center neutral grey than the orange. In color space, this means that the green needs to be neutral. I neutralized pthalo green with burnt sienna for this primary, and then made two additional value stops.

The third corner is a neutralized magenta. I used quinacridone rose neutralized with some pthalo green and a little burnt sienna.

The painting that I worked from was a late afternoon study of light hitting my barn and grainery. The first limited color scheme worked well. The blues in this painting had to be created by mixing the neutral green with the neutral magenta, so they are no where near as blue as the original. The orange and yellow notes rang true to the origional. I think this is a good gamut mask to use to get late light. There is one piece of blue, in the green shadow on the foundation, just to the right of the darkest "doorway" note in the painting. That was the most intense blue I could make.
Gamut mask with intense blue, and less intense magenta and green
I used pthalo blue for my subjective primary in the second study. There are three different values, which I made with white. I used the same neutral green and magenta as in the first study. Notice that the color wheel is the exact opposite of the first study. In the first study, I could only mix blue from the neutral magenta and neutral green. In this study, I could only mix orange from the neutral green and neutral magenta. It makes sense that this subjective secondary is very neutral, just look at the space in between the magenta and green on the color wheel, it's very neutral. I found that there was a couple of moments when I felt this grey was looking orange, but in general, it was pretty dull. You can see the subjective secondary (orange) below the intense pthalo blue swatch on the study below.
 Pigments are different from light. Warm pigments are more sensitive than cool pigments (it's easier to cool a warm pigment than it is to warm a cool color), and white is a cool pigment. After the second study, I was hungry to see if I could make a color study that had just a bit more orange than the grey orange above. I mixed a neutral orange, that was warmer than the neutral orange above, but still very grey. The mixture was burnt sienna, with a pinhead of pthalo blue, and white to lighten it. This was a good learning moment for me, as I was able to capture something of the light, but in a very limited palette.

It was worthwhile to do these studies, I have some ideas for how to do it better next time. One last note, is that my subjective primaries were orange, magenta and green in the first. Orange and green are secondary colors, and magenta is a tertiary. On the second study, Blue is a primary, and the magenta is a tertiary, and green is a secondary. For reds, which is traditionally thought of as a primary color, I had to mix the magenta (tertiary) and the orange (secondary). It's cool stuff to think about. Check out Gurney's book and then visit to make your own gamut masks.

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