Lim­it­ing the Color Pal­ette

Over the years, Cara Brown has re­fined her color pal­ette to cre­ate more co­he­sive paint­ings

International Artist - - Contents - Cara Brown

Over the years, Cara Brown has re­fined her color pal­ette to cre­ate more co­he­sive paint­ings

The way I see it, there are at least two facets to an artist’s re­la­tion­ship with color. First there is a love af­fair. Those of us who use vi­brant color in our paint­ings are likely to be smit­ten by it. View­ing and be­ing sur­rounded by color is nour­ish­ment to me—i can’t imag­ine liv­ing in a black-and-white world. Color con­veys emo­tion and en­ergy; it is mys­te­ri­ous and very per­sonal. Color is life. Sec­ond, mak­ing paint­ings re­quires an artist to work with color in a very prac­ti­cal way. In­ter­pret­ing what I see in the phys­i­cal world and in my ref­er­ence im­ages into paint­ings means I need an un­der­stand­ing of my ma­te­ri­als— no­tably paints and pig­ments. The color that ends up in my paint­ings is based on my choos­ing, com­bin­ing, mix­ing and lay­er­ing paint. When I be­gan paint­ing in water­color I col­lected tubes of paint based on rec­om­men­da­tions by my work­shop teach­ers or art in­struc­tion books as well as those that ap­pealed to me in art stores or mail-or­der cat­a­logs. If I liked it, I bought it. I doc­u­mented this ini­tial col­lec­tion in a painted “in­ven­tory” that in­cluded 61 dif­fer­ent tubes! Lim­it­ing the paints to use in my paint­ings wasn’t in the realm of my imag­i­na­tion for a long time. I still don’t limit my­self too much. My cur­rent water­color pal­ette has 32 wells— all filled, plus blobs of ad­di­tional paints in the cor­ners here and there. To­day, I mostly don’t plan the col­ors that I’ll use in a paint­ing. I start out with which­ever col­ors strike me in the mo­ment and end up with a se­lec­tion of about a dozen dif­fer­ent paints for a given paint­ing. The paints that end up in that se­lec­tion are based solely on my in­tu­ition. But in re­cent years I’ve made the de­ci­sion— be­fore I sit to paint—that I’d limit my­self to a spe­cific set of paints. In one paint­ing, it was only three paints. Lim­it­ing col­ors makes for more co­he­sive­ness and har­mony in a paint­ing. With fewer col­ors pop­ping up in dif­fer­ent places all over a paint­ing, the set of col­ors more read­ily cre­ate a world of their own. Work­ing with

a lim­ited pal­ette also pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity to prac­tice re­ally see­ing and mix­ing color. As you at­tempt to mix a color your op­tions are re­duced, which in a way can make things eas­ier. For ex­am­ple, if I’ve lim­ited my­self to just three pri­mary col­ors: ph­thalo blue, hansa yel­low medium and quinacridone rose, and I want to mix an olive green, I start with the yel­low, mix in a tiny bit of blue, which re­sults in a vi­brant light green. No amount of ad­di­tional yel­low or blue will trans­form this color to an olive green, which means that I must need to add some rose to the mix­ture. I find a cer­tain sim­plic­ity and an un­ex­pected free­dom in paint­ing this way. There are three main ways to com­bine paint/col­ors in water­color, any and all of which can be used in any paint­ing. Artists of­ten pre­fer one way more than the oth­ers. We can ei­ther: Mix paints on the pal­ette to come up

with a new color al­to­gether. Com­bine paints by in­tro­duc­ing dif­fer­ent col­ors, straight from the tube (or pan) into wa­ter on the pa­per, al­low­ing them to mix right on the paint­ing, or we can glaze or layer color over those al­ready painted to shift ex­ist­ing col­ors. Of the three, I am a mixer. I see a color in my ref­er­ence im­age and I at­tempt to cre­ate it— ac­cord­ing to my own per­cep­tion, in­cli­na­tions and pref­er­ences—by com­bin­ing two or more paints on my pal­ette, which I then ap­ply to my pa­per. Though I al­ways at­tempt to mix the “right” color at first, it’s rare that I don’t find what I’ve painted lack­ing in some way af­ter the first ap­pli­ca­tion, prompt­ing me to paint a layer of the same (or an­other) color. This is part of the beauty of water­color; be­cause of its in­her­ent trans­parency, we can eas­ily shift color, tone and feel­ing by glaz­ing mul­ti­ple col­ors over one an­other in our paint­ings. In this sense, “miss­ing the mark” with color can make for more richly col­ored and in­ter­est­ing paint­ings. The more pig­ment, the more color—which brings more in­ten­sity and im­pact to our work. When I get the feel­ing some­thing is miss­ing or off, I ask my­self what it needs— con­sid­er­ing var­i­ous op­tions of what to add in. I al­most al­ways find my way to the color that lands that part of the paint­ing. Though I’ve al­ways lay­ered color like this—to build rich­ness and depth in my paint­ings—i’ve be­gun in­ten­tion­ally lay­er­ing sin­gle col­ors, one over an­other, in or­der to al­low each one to shine through. Artists who are still find­ing their way with com­bin­ing col­ors are of­ten con­cerned about mak­ing “mud.” Lay­er­ing fresh, clear color is one way to keep the col­ors in our paint­ings fresh. In the ref­er­ence im­age for my paint­ing Flour­ish, the flow­ers in the lower third of the im­age were in shadow and the col­ors cap­tured by the cam­era were dull. Not want­ing to

repli­cate dull col­ored flow­ers, I ap­plied the col­ors in sep­a­rate lay­ers, en­abling each color to be seen on its own. The five main flow­ers of Flour­ish were painted with Daniel Smith Man­ganese Blue Hue, Daniel Smith Hansa Yel­low Medium and Win­sor & New­ton Per­ma­nent Rose. I used sev­eral ad­di­tional col­ors in the sur­round­ing ar­eas of the paint­ing too. In sep­a­rate lay­ers I painted the three col­ors one af­ter the other. Per­ma­nent rose went wher­ever I saw rose, or vi­o­let or peach— any color that had a rose com­po­nent to it, then Hansa yel­low medium where I saw yel­low, peach or green, fol­lowed by man­ganese blue hue for all the blues, vi­o­lets and greens. For the brown­ish col­ors at the cen­ters of the roses I went back to mix­ing col­ors on my pal­ette first, but I stuck to the same three paints for co­he­sive­ness and con­sis­tency. Re­gard­less of whether we mix, layer or com­bine color on our paint­ings, the most im­por­tant in­gre­di­ents are: lis­ten­ing to our in­tu­ition, al­low­ing a sense of ex­plo­ration and pay­ing close at­ten­tion to the re­sults we’ve achieved—and whether or not we liked what just hap­pened. This is the only way to find our own voices—what we have to say with color.

Rest, water­color, 29 x 29" (74 x 74 cm)Depicted are end of the sea­son grape leaves with the last bit of fruit. This was the first paint­ing I made with an in­ten­tion­ally lim­ited pal­ette. I used a split pri­mary pal­ette—two each blue, red and yel­low: cobalt blue, cobalt teal blue, pyrrol red, quinacridone rose, lemon yel­low and new gam­boge (all Daniel Smith paints).

Ju­bilee, water­color, 29 x 41" (74 x 104 cm)First of the sea­son roses are al­ways the most ex­u­ber­ant. Ju­bilee por­trays them in all stages—from tight buds to a faded, floppy flower. The lim­ited pal­ette here was in­spired by a mix­ing chart ex­plor­ing mix­tures with cobalt teal blue and in­cluded new gam­boge, quinacridone coral, quinacridone rose and Sen­nelier He­lios Pur­ple. All the warm and muted col­ors were mixed with just these paints. I needed to add in ph­thalo green (yel­low shade) to mix the deep greens; cobalt teal blue in­her­ently re­flects light and it will not mix to make dark col­ors.

Global, water­color, 22 x 22" (56 x 56 cm)In this paint­ing I took the op­por­tu­nity to be­come more fa­mil­iar with a few of the paints in my paint box I rarely use. The egg­plants in Global were a com­bi­na­tion of in­dan­throne blue, quinacridone vi­o­let and quinacridone burnt or­ange, plus a bit of cobalt green (all paints Daniel Smith). As a re­sult, I’ve swapped in in­dan­throne blue for ul­tra­ma­rine in in my most used pal­ette. In the fo­liage, I used a range of greens and yel­lows.

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