This Article is About
spontaneity
glasgow school of art
learnings
precious time
haste
colours
dilemma
Keeping Spontaneity In Your Painting Without Losing The Control
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Keeping Spontaneity In Your Painting Without Losing the Control

I have been painting professionally now for over 25 years in a variety of styles, figurative, abstract and what I refer to as modern Impressionism. I remember that after graduating from the Glasgow School of Art I mistakenly thought I had arrived and was a fully fledged artist. Wrong! Even into my middle thirties I subsequently realized that I was just beginning and that there is always so much more to learn. During my period as an artist I have had the honour of painting probably some of the worst paintings known to mankind and looking back I see that there were areas of my craft that I didn’t control or even have the knowledge to control when I was younger. Reflecting on this I thought I would write down some of my “learnings” and offer them to others in case it helps.

I’d like to talk about the aspect of colour. Not colour theory, warm/cold colour contrast or anything else like that but simply an economical way to get your painting off to a good start and keep your colours “together” throughout your painting.

Let me just tell you a little more about my painting disasters first and maybe you might recognise something of this in your own work. You see, my early paintings were full of energy and were quite daring I suppose but there was something missing, or rather three things missing, one of which I want to address in this article. The colours were thrown down on the canvas all right but somehow they didn’t ring together. I’ve reflected on why this was the case. In my haste to keep that energy and spontaneity I wasn’t paying enough attention to the colours and tones themselves. I was using precious time mixing my colours between brushstrokes and, because of this, and the need “to get on with it “ quickly, I was also rushing my decisions. “That blue beside the yellow isn’t quite right but it’ll do, keep going,” seemed to be the kind of thought I was entertaining. Does this ring true with you perhaps?

How do we overcome this dilemma? The need to get your ideas down before they slip away while controlling the visual impact of the painting? Well I’ve since stumbled over another approach to this. It isn’t perhaps new, but I have to say I discovered for myself and now find it to be essential to my working methods.

In effect I decide on and mix the types of colour I want in my painting before I even begin. I always have premixed colours of the type I like to use to hand and vary the tone or colour accordingly very quickly during the painting without all the chore of starting from scratch every time I want to integrate a new colouration in my painting.

Let’s assume I want to paint a landscape and so, for the sake of argument, I decide to make the predominant colour green. I first take one of my empty plastic pots (any kind of plastic airtight pot will do) and I half fill it with white. I then proceed to add bits of colour, little by little to mix an “interesting” green e.g. I may put burnt umber, ultramarine a bit of red and of course a green or two of my choice. When I’ve played around and finally mixed something that I like, I take a brush load of this and put it into a new pot and start to work on a new colour, in this case perhaps a different green. I also keep an eye on the tones I’m mixing so that I’ll cover this aspect of the colour in readiness for the painting. Again, a large dollop of this is used to begin my next colour and so on. In the end I have six or eight different colours in varying tones which are all intermixed ensuring they will harmonise. This then is the basic palette for my painting. I can very quickly alter the tones and colour when I’m working to suit my needs or further intermix the exciting colours I already have without having to break my rhythm.

If you’ve not already tried this approach I highly recommend giving it a try, I know that it has certainly worked for me.


Street Talk

I am no artist although I always wanted to be! I found this really interesting. Thank you for sharing!

Reply
  about 9 years ago

Thanks Heather. I think it's often the case that the reality of being an artist is different from what most people think. It really is "99% perspiration and 1% inspiration!"

Reply
  about 9 years ago

I think I knew that which is why I'm still not an artist... sigh...

  
  about 9 years ago
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