Monday, April 6

Creating Harmony in Your Paintings Using Only Primary Colors

Today's Image
The Three Primaries

I made Today's Image of the three primary colors because today’s OrbisPlanis Art Blog is about going back to basics: using only red, blue, and yellow as your palette.

Why am I blogging about this old art subject? Well, as I said in one of last week’s blogs, art blogging is a continual learning experience, and that also, by the way, includes art and painting.
I’m happy to report that I’m open minded enough to keep learning (and trying) new things all the time.

In one of my earlier blogs, I mentioned that the limited palette I was using at the time—this is with acrylic paint—was making all my paintings look oddly the same somehow even though the motifs were as varied as beaches and deserts. This was with a palette of about eight or nine basic hues including burnt umber and Payne’s gray.

That was because if you viewed my paintings side by side from a distance (not that far either, maybe 20 feet/6 m), you would think they were almost the same painting because the hues and values were so similar in each painting. At least I thought so. I wondered why, and was pretty sure it was the limited palette that caused it.

It couldn’t possibly be the artist :-)

So instead of learning more about limited palettes, in my infinite wisdom I took the opposite approach and un-limited my palette by buying more acrylics. And with all those acrylic colors available, I was the paint vendors’ favorite customer. It didn’t matter to me if almost every artist says you should use a very limited palette, usually no more than seven or eight colors, especially if you're learning. I, however, was going to use as many colors as I pleased.

But as all mature humans know, things have a way of changing.

Isn’t life funny?

What changed for me was instruction from someone who knows about painting and forced me to use the most limited palette there is. Not forced actually, it was more like, “do it this way, ” and peer pressure.

Currently I am finishing a painting that is the first one I have done using only the three primaries. I am please with the result. The colors, some of which I never thought I could mix myself, actually look good.

I recall from some of my recent studies about how harmonious a painting looks when rendered with a limited palette. I think this is especially true of some of the Impressionists’ work, such as Claude Monet’s Regattas at Argenteuil. See how beautiful the colors are together? That’s harmony from using a limited palette.

I have learned that choosing the correct red, blue, and yellow is key. I’m using Cadmium Red Deep, (French) Ultramarine Blue, and Cadmium Yellow Deep (Gamboge). (Disclaimer--I'm talking here about using acrylics and watercolor on a white support, and not oil, pastels, or any other medium.)

So, we’ll see how it works out using a limited palette and how harmonious my work can become. I know there are some colors that are just not possible to mix using red, blue, and yellow, but I will resist the urge to pull out my Opera Rose!


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