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Thread: Color me bad

  1. #1
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    Color me bad

    Okay,

    Anybody have any good references that they like for learning how to match colors. I've been working on some oil paintings lately, and for some reason, my techniques for matching colors is haphazard... at best. I eventually get the correct color after a lot of experimentation.

    So, looking for some good references to speed up the time to mix the correct color. Note: As a habit, I tend to use various grays to currently tint or shade the tube color.

    Dougie

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    Hmmm... is this for generally choosing colours, choosing shadow/light colours or actually mixing the colours from the tubes?
    I don't know how much these might help you on this or if I understood right, but there are places like COLOURlovers http://www.colourlovers.com/ which can help on choosing palettes which may help on choosing oil colours too... maybe.

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    This would be for the actual mixing of the colors. I don't have a problem (in my mind, of course) of getting the values done correctly. It's the actual mixing of the colors. This could be due to also seeing the colors correctly.

    I know that, several times, someone will say: Okay, the reason that your color is off is because there's a slight hint of pink in that cloud. Do you see it? I'm like: "No.. sorry, don't see any pink that you are talking about". Or is someone mentions that, you could add a bit of orange to shift the color slightly towards the reddish hue... don't see it.

    Dougie

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    James Gurney's Color and Light comes to mind. I bought the book two months ago, but I don't have the time to read it carefully and practice. But this is an awesome book that will teach you to look for colors that you normally ignore. There here are a lot of things explained, you know, sometimes the light is warm and orange, but the shadows are blue and cold... This book has become something like standard for learning color and light and a lot of teachers recommend. It has very high reviews on every site and I just can't wait for the summer to read it carefully. Right now, even if I'm just walking or waiting for the train, I still analyze the colors and try to think what colors I would use to paint what I see. This book helped open my eyes. I definitely recommend it and it sounds just like what you need. For $16 on Amazon this a must buy without a second thought.

    Edit: I'm actually not sure what you want It's not a book about mixing colors, even if there is some info. It's about choosing them, choosing the right color for the right situation, idea, feeling you want to convey and so on. For example choosing the right colors so that the viewer can say "ah... this is a morning scene, and this is an afternoon scene...". But as I said I got a bit confused and I'm not sure I understand your question.

    Last edited by Vari; May 3rd, 2011 at 11:21 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Hoppes View Post
    This would be for the actual mixing of the colors. I don't have a problem (in my mind, of course) of getting the values done correctly. It's the actual mixing of the colors.
    How to precisely and perfectly mix and match any color, every time:
    Determine the value of the target color.
    Determine the hue of the target color.
    Find the color on your palette that most closely resembles the target hue, and bring it to the target value, lightening with white or darkening with a darker color of the same hue family.
    If the hue is off (and it probably will be), mix a color of the hue it needs to move towards of the same value.
    If the target color is less chromatic than a full-strength hue (and it usually will be), mix a gray of the same value.
    Use those two or three mixtures to mix your target color.
    The basic principle is that you get much more control bringing all your components to the same value first.


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    Color mixing is tricky. First, you have to be able to relatively accurately describe the color you are seeing to yourself. This is tricky without a good conceptualization of color, and something that many people lack. Second, you have to understand how to reach that color with paint. This is tricky because pigments are complicated and only follow very general principles when intermixed. It's good to learn these general principles, but then you need experience to understand how each pigment you are using will stray from these guidelines. Third, you have to understand what to do if the range of colors in the subject exceed the range of colors in your paints. This one won't always happen, but can cause all sorts of trouble if you don't recognize this is what's happening.

    You may find that you are lacking the ability to describe a color to yourself- especially certain "muddy" colors and warm colors in the shadows. A good way to conceptualize color is to break it down as Hue, Value, and Chroma. Most people are familiar with hue & value, but the concept of chroma (or saturation) is trickier. Try huevaluechroma.com for a very thorough (albeit somewhat overwhelming) intro.

    Elwell has excellent advice on how to mix a color- I would recommend the same method. I would also recommend checking out the first two sections ("Saturaion Costs" and "The Color Wheel Fallacy") on this page over at Handprint.com. Similar to huevaluechroma.com it is a bit intense, but it is the best practical description of color mixing I have found.

    Sometimes you actually can't mix a color that you see, simply because the range of colors we can see is much larger than the range available in paints. Sometimes you can solve the problem by adding a new pigment to your palette, but often it's simply impossible to hit a given color under certain lighting conditions with paint. Understanding what to do if the range of colors in your subject is too large for your paints is complicated- the general idea is that you may need to shift the colors in your painting to compensate and create "relative" color effects. However, this is a larger discussion, and in the beginning I would recommend simply to learn to recognize this problem and avoid it if it can't be solved by adding a new paint to your palette- at least until you are more comfortable with color mixing in general.

    Last edited by dose; May 3rd, 2011 at 12:17 PM.
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    Thanks everybody! Very helpful. Elwell... I'll try out that step-by-step method. I usually get the base color right, but it's the tinting/shading of it that screws me up.

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    Thanks everybody! Very helpful. Elwell... I'll try out that step-by-step method. I usually get the base color right, but it's the tinting/shading of it that screws me up.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Hoppes View Post
    Thanks everybody! Very helpful. Elwell... I'll try out that step-by-step method. I usually get the base color right, but it's the tinting/shading of it that screws me up.
    OK, another tip:
    Don't think in terms of one base mixture that you darken and lighten, but a series of separate mixes for each large color area (maybe shadow, halftone, and two or three variations in the light, plus reflected light and highlight).
    Plane change = value change, value change = color change.


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    Boy, again team Elwell/Dose nails it! Leaving me with little to contribute. Dougie I'm assuming this is for plein air? Or is it more for your still lifes, or both? Not that it matters much but my question is what is your current palette?

    Do you ever use a "color finder"? If not make one really easy and keep it in your gear.

    Also my general advice is to avoid the use of the grays to tint...it really kills color, imho. Plus it doesn't let you mix an interesting variety of color based on complements. Another tip is don't shoot for one big puddle of homogenous color, go for an accurate base puddle and modify the edges (I often modify three "corners") a bit - toward warmer, cooler and less chroma toward the bottom. Most passages in nature are made of such subtle variations that these slightly different colors, as long as they are in the same value, can add a nice bit of variety. The additional advantage is you'll have a wider range and begin to discover what the "actual" color of the passage is.

    Another good way to "see" color is to take your eyes just a bit out of focus...takes some practice but it is sort of like squinting to see value. You can also turn your head completely upside down which will really amaze you...color looks quite different - hard to describe - not really different but more clear? IDK why exactly but I have a pet theory. It is sort of like looking at a composition in the mirror.

    An interesting tidbit I picked up somewhere is that you can't see some of these colors until you've mixed them. I think that holds true and relates to dose's observations on pigment vs. reality.

    Anyway, I hope some of that helps. I definitely second Jim's book "Color and Light" if you don't have it already. And of course look at as many paintings as you can in galleries and museum shows. I mean, how far are you from the National Gallery?

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    "Everything must serve the idea. The means used to convey the idea should be the simplest and clear. Just what is required. No extra images. To me this is a universal principle of art. Saying as much as possible with a minimum of means."
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    @OmenSpirits... I guess you got my reference, eh? :-))))) Sorry.. I'm a product of bad 80's music.

    @jeff: this is for both plein-air and still life. Right now, for color, I 1) hold up my paint tube against the color (I mix and tube a lot of my own paints) or I have a white business card with a hole punched throught it. I was taught to use greys using various mixtures of titanium white/ivory black since my instructor, who learned from Frank Mason, was taught that way.

    @ElWell: one of the major areas that I use greys are for the edges of my spheres, etc. It helps push the edges towards the back. This is especially important since the core shadow doesn't reach the edge of there sphere (which causes it to flatten the image). So, my current method is to do the pure color towards the edge, then add some grey to round out the edge, and then add reflected colors into the core shadows.

    I also have Gurney's book... just haven't had time to actually getting around to reading it. I'll have to make sure that I take a look at it again.

    Dougie

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    Yes, edge planes tend to be slightly more neutral on matte and nap (fuzzy/hairy) surfaces. On glossy or metallic surfaces they take on the color of the surroundings.


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    Grays are fine to reduce chroma. They "kill color" in the sense that they reduce choma, but if this is your intention then there's no problem. There is nothing special about them- they behave like other pigments and do not have any special, inherent color-reducing powers that other pigments don't.

    Doug- are you using the Dumond palette?

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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    And of course look at as many paintings as you can in galleries and museum shows. I mean, how far are you from the National Gallery?
    If the OP is in VT, the National Gallery is a bit of a schlep... Boston is a fairly easy trip though... The Boston Museum of Fine Art, Isabella Stewart Gardner, and the museums in Cambridge are well worth several trips.

    New York is of course another art-viewing trip you must try to make sometime, if you haven't before. Also comparatively easy to get to from VT.

    EDIT: Oh, and I seem to recall there's a decent museum in Montreal... just a little hop over the border. (I could be hallucinating though - I went when I was a kid, so I could be wrong about both "decent" and "Montreal".)

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    @Dose: Yep... using a modified palette of Dumonds. The difference is that I have water-soluble oils so that they dry a bit faster than traditional oil and I don't have room in my freezer for all of the laid out paint. So, I tube up the base colors and then use those. For the greys, I tube up all of the greys. I also have several of Mason's greens that I use that are tubed. But, essentially, I follow similar application as Dumond/Mason.

    @Queen: I'm in Vermont. Montreal is about 2 hours away. Boston is about 3-1/2 hours. So, both of them work well. The hard part is getting someone to watch my dogs when I take the day trip (let them out, etc).

    Dougie

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    By "kill color" I mean that a color puddle made up of complements is inherently more dynamic (especially if not mixed to death) than a gray that has been "colored". Christensen uses tube grays and even provides a convincing demo of how he can arrive at the correct/identical HVC as one he would mix with complements. It looks good in theory and on the palette but is pretty dead in the painting. Just my two cents.

    Edit: What palette do you use dose? Is it the Dumond?

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    Quote Originally Posted by QueenGwenevere View Post
    If the OP is in VT, the National Gallery is a bit of a schlep... Boston is a fairly easy trip though... The Boston Museum of Fine Art, Isabella Stewart Gardner, and the museums in Cambridge are well worth several trips.

    New York is of course another art-viewing trip you must try to make sometime, if you haven't before. Also comparatively easy to get to from VT.

    EDIT: Oh, and I seem to recall there's a decent museum in Montreal... just a little hop over the border. (I could be hallucinating though - I went when I was a kid, so I could be wrong about both "decent" and "Montreal".)
    Or he could go directly south on Rt 7 to the Clark in Williamstown, MA.


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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    By "kill color" I mean that a color puddle made up of complements is inherently more dynamic (especially if not mixed to death) than a gray that has been "colored". Christensen uses tube grays and even provides a convincing demo of how he can arrive at the correct/identical HVC as one he would mix with complements. It looks good in theory and on the palette but is pretty dead in the painting. Just my two cents.
    I hear you. The trouble is that there is a lot of evidence to the contrary in the form of Dumond, Reilly, and all their descendants using their palettes are variations on them that include the grays.

    Unless there is some other property than HVC that I am unaware of, gray does not have any special properties that other paints don't. (There's also transparency, but cadmiums are oh-so-opaque and they seem to be acceptable).

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    Edit: What palette do you use dose? Is it the Dumond?
    I am a bit of a palette mad scientist

    I'm perpetually changing my approach- I love to experiment. For my current painting I'm using a Reilly-on-steroids palette with a gray string + 7 high-chroma strings (Y,O,R,RP,BP,BG,G). I'm really having fun with this one- I can mix nearly any color extremely quickly. Two weeks ago I was playing around with a palette with no strings, no black for nostalgia's sake (used to be in the "no black" camp as well), and a little pile of white for each color, so as to keep the whites clean.

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    Yeah, I don't know their work well enough but I'm sure you're right - then you have people like Zorn at the other end of things. I just try not to "overmix" allowing for whatever optical blending, micro-complements that may be working in there to provide a little life to the stroke/passage. Probably easier suited to landscape and alla-prima work.
    Joe Paquette (I haven't studied with him but only met, and love his work) uses the "chromatic" palette that is a bit advanced for me.

    That's funny about your "experimental" palette approach. Funny as in interesting and in such contrast to my own. I settled on that limited warm/cool primary palette about six months into my "palette" theory research and haven't changed it up...in about 14 years! I add the occasional "extra" for some chromatic punch (pthalos usually) when I'm heading for the coast or doing some painting in a garden. And I bring in Ivory black when I'm doing still life. Then again, I don't do much figure painting at all...and usually in watercolor the rare times I do.

    I really like the idea of separate whites for each color...nice move there.

    Here's a shot of mine (I feel a new thread comin on!)...

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    Quote Originally Posted by dose View Post
    I'm perpetually changing my approach- I love to experiment. For my current painting I'm using a Reilly-on-steroids palette with a gray string + 7 high-chroma strings (Y,O,R,RP,BP,BG,G). I'm really having fun with this one- I can mix nearly any color extremely quickly. Two weeks ago I was playing around with a palette with no strings, no black for nostalgia's sake (used to be in the "no black" camp as well), and a little pile of white for each color, so as to keep the whites clean.
    I've been trying the same thing. I tried putting them in the Y,O,R,RP,BP,BG,G order, but then I've had a hard time trying to figure out just which hues belonged in the same string. I'm using the brand "Rembrandt", and I've tried spacing them with the munsell system so that they would include the oranges more. I still have no clue exactly where my hues belong in the chart.

    Last edited by Bowlin; June 3rd, 2011 at 05:02 PM.
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    Warms go on the left, cools on the right Sorry Bowlin! Just kiddin ya!

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    Bowlin, I'd move cad yellow deep over to YR, and raw sienna over below yellow ocher (although there can be quite a lot of variation with the earths, and the Rembrandts are all mixtures). Alizarin or a permanent replacement makes a good RP (Rembrandt's Permanent Madder Deep is a really good substitute), and can be mixed with about 20% burnt umber for a 1st value red.


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    Thanks Elwell! I keep trying to use that BabelColor poster and it's extremely difficult. Yeah, the raw sienna should be closer to the yellow or perhaps a little bit in the YR too. No clue why I put that under the orange, duh. And the cad. yellow deep IS YR! .... I was only trying to avoid alizarin and carmine because of what Gurney said about it's lightfastness, heh. I noticed you used 20% of burnt umber for your alizarin reds and vice versa for your oranges and was trying to figure out how to do something similar. ... Thanks! just hope it works.

    Last edited by Bowlin; May 3rd, 2011 at 09:39 PM.
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    @Doug - I particularly recommend the mixing method that Elwell suggested if you're using the Dumond palette, though you may find you need to add (or mix) a brown in order to lower the value of yellows and oranges without shifting the hue too dramatically.

    @Bowlin - You might find these charts over at Handprint.com useful: artist's color wheel and artist's value wheel. Note that these are for watercolor paints and the charts are in LAB instead of Munsell, so the exact positions for oil paint in Munsell will be slightly different. Still, it will give you a good idea of relative positions of different pigments.

    @Jeff - Yes, I hear you. I often avoid grays when I'm going for a certain effect- particularly the micro-variations you are talking about (though sometimes one of the colors I'm mixing together will actually have some gray in it!). It really depends on how I'm painting, and like my palette I'm often switching styles

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    Dose - Because you have to mix so many colors for all the other values, it seems like tinting strength might be a more favorable choice instead of higher chroma? Just a thought.

    And I'm wondering if colors were somewhat limiting, compared to today, when Dumond started his palette.

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    Ok, I know that as a n00b I really should butt out, but...could THIS help?

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    Hey Doug (thought I'd post this over here instead of the palette thread) - if I had one recommendation to try for helping mix color it would be to simplify your palette. Strip it down to maybe five colors and white. At least try it for a few months until you get the hang of it and are able to mix to your satisfaction. IMHO this helps because you significantly reduce the possible variables and you are forced to do more mixing and adjusting, which will teach you more about how to mix to your target color.

    Think about doing color charts as well...if you had to do classic charts based on your palette it would be a major amount of work. The good thing about all this (for me anyway) is color mixing seems like the most challenging aspect of painting at first, but eventually it becomes pretty intuitive. I know it almost seems counter-intuitive, espcially in plein-air work when speed counts, but fewer colors is faster decision making and more time spent observing and painting rather than hovering over 15 different colors.

    One really good test of your palette is to try to mix say, Yellow Ochre or your green from your more "primary" colors - if you can you don't need it. I eliminated Cobalt Blue for that reason - it was just as easy to mix it. Same with Yellow Ochre had a bit of a "dead" quality - just too flat for my taste at least. This also allows for subtle variation that I think is a positive. Nothing worse than all trees, no matter the species or light basically having the same color throughout all your paintings - a tendency born of having "tube" or pre-mixed greens.

    I have a great deal of respect for the others who've posted, and I know they use some pretty advanced palettes, but that is just what I would recommend - at least long enough to see if it works for you.

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  38. #29
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    Thanks for the response, Jeff... the palette that I posted was actually all of the colors that I use... not just in one painting.

    For a typical landscape painting, I would use:
    White, mid-gray, dark gray, terre verte, purple (Alizarin Crimson/Ultramarine Deep mix), and yellow ochre.

    However, I will have to do the charts again (did them a long time ago).

    Dougie

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    Ah, I see...not to be critical but that seems an odd palette for plein air work to me? Jim Gurney is the guy that finally got me started in oils and plein air, he told me, "Keep it simple..." and used a pretty limited palette in the field. That is the summer I took a workshop with Matt Smith, Kevin Macpherson, John Budicin, and other PAPA members in Colorado. They pretty much all had the "limited palette" thing going, as did Scott Christensen when I studied with him, though he adds 3 grays as well (which didn't work for me personally).

    IDK, maybe it will free you up a bit to focus less on your palette and more on seeing and mixing? It was hard enough for me to "break through" and I'm sure it would have been more difficult if I had a complex or pre-determined palette. Anyway, just my two cents, not trying to preach or advise really, just sharing.

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