When habit wins…

One of my favorite days of the year is the Friday after Thanksgiving. Not for the shopping, but for the decorating. At 9AM, the tree goes up; by 1:30 it looks like Christmas exploded all over the living room, and by 5:30 or so the 1st round is over.

Christmas studio

This year, I decided to decorate the studio, and even swapped out my old plastic water container for a festive holiday cup. Or not. The shiny new cup is pretty, but it doesn’t swish brushes properly; the rim doesn’t catch drips the right way, and the porcelain”clink” is all wrong. So, the festive cup can hold my stash of chocolate, and the perfect plastic container can resume its water-holding duties. Sometimes, you just gotta go with what works!

Who knew that the water container could be so important to the creative flow??
Who knew that the water container could be so important to the creative flow??

 

Working from a small palette

When I started painting watercolor, I bought a big palette with 24 paint wells. That would be plenty of space, right? Oh, no – I filled those 24 wells and wished for at least 10 more! There are So. Many. Beautiful. Colors, and I wanted to try them all. So there were little dots of paint in the corners of the mixing wells, and the larger corner wells often held two colors.

Can you guess what my painting experience was like? It was filled with indecision – cadmium orange, or quinachradone sienna? New gamboge or nickel azo? Which red??

I haven't used the palette on the right in months...
I haven’t used the palette on the right in months…

Fast forward to March 2016, and a three-day workshop with Thomas Schaller. His suggested list of colors was very different from what I’d been using. I had signed up because I loved his luminous color blends though, so I was going to use his colors. Diving into my tackle box of paints, I found I already had all but three colors!

Tackle boxes are perfect for holding lots of paint tubes!
Tackle boxes are perfect for holding lots of paint tubes!

Once all of those colors were in a temporary travel palette, I started wondering how they mixed together, and how they were different from the colors I already used. So the triad studies were born, and for the first time, I really paid attention to what colors I was using, and how those colors behaved in washes, mixed in the palette, and blended on paper.

The current palette of colors...
The current palette of colors…

Months later, I’m still painting out of that small temporary palette, and love it. The wells are small, so I’m constantly squeezing in fresh paint. The mixing areas are small too, so more blending is happening on the paper instead of in the palette. Out of 20 colors, there is only one green that I rarely use, and will probably replace with another blue. But which one? Prussian blue, cobalt turquoise…

Note: current colors (all Daniel Smith) are new gamboge, raw sienna, quinachradone gold, cadmium orange, pyrelene red, perm. alizaron crimson, burnt sienna, transparent red oxide and mars yellow. Bottom row is sap green, chromium green, cobalt teal, manganese blue, lunar blue, cobalt blue, french ultramarine, imperial purple, shadow violet and verditer blue.

A surprising study

A lot of my time in the studio comes in one or two hour blocks, usually during the evening on “school nights” (I work full time). I’m not sure how other artists work, but when I get going on a painting, I like to have the option of staying with it for three to four hours.

So what to do with those short time periods in the evenings? My “little landscapes” fit this time slot nicely, as they generally take 45 – 90 minutes to complete. I also do a lot of color blend studies.

The top row is transparent red oxide & cobalt blue mixed with various yellows. Bottom row is burnt sienna & cobalt mixed with those same yellows.
The top row is transparent red oxide & cobalt blue mixed with various yellows. Bottom row is burnt sienna & cobalt mixed with those same yellows.

My favorites are “two and one” triads, where the two sides remain the same color, and the center changes each time. The color is dropped onto wet paper, and more water is added to get the paints to really move. This is a great way to learn how different colors behave when wet, and also how they change as they blend and dry.

Red oxide and cobalt blue, waiting for the “wild card” color.

As I was working a triad of transparent red oxide, cobalt blue (side colors) and mars yellow, I was surprised at how the yellow behaved. Unlike most yellows that turn green on contact with blue, mars yellow held its own, shading more towards grey.

The first blending of red oxide, cobalt blue and mars yellow
The first blending of red oxide, cobalt blue and mars yellow.

As I tipped the paper side-to-side to blend the colors more, it was fascinating to see how the colors reacted to each other.

Tilting the paper side-to-side forces the colors to blend more - and faster - than if left alone.
Tilting the paper side-to-side forces the colors to blend more – and faster – than if left alone.

In the final, dry study (top of post), there are lovely mixes of earthy browns and greys, with undertones of the blue and yellow – and even a hint of violet. Knowing how these colors mix, and having a page full of reminders, is invaluable when I have the time to spend on a “real” painting!

Lunar Blue

I absolutely love this color from Daniel Smith. A mix of Mars Black and Phthalo Blue, it doesn’t granulate so much as it separates. The small bits of black fall away from the blue gradually, as a wash dries.

Tonight in the studio, I did something I rarely do – planned. Deciding to work with a very limited palette, I chose four colors: Van Dyke Brown, Cadmium Orange, Verditer Blue and Lunar Blue.

Fall scene color studies

Why these selections? Wanting to paint a moody fall sky, I needed a warm and a cool grey mix – but I also needed warm earth tones for the foliage and foreground.

Fall scene in four colors

For the sky, I mixed two puddles of V.D. Brown – one with Lunar Blue and another with Verditer. The trees are blends of all four colors. For the foreground, I wet the entire area, then brushed in straight Cadmium Orange. A bit of Verditer across the treeline and some Lunar Blue on the bottom finished off the scene. Now it just needs a title…

Fall scene detail