Monday, November 29, 2010

The Palette: Part 1

Hello all! It has been over two weeks since I last posted, but things have been pretty busy on my end. This week I'd like to delve into matters pertaining to the artist's palette. Every aspiring, and even professional artist is drawn to the color choices used by masters past and present. Our curiosity leads us to experiment with various pigments and over time this develops into a very personal, unique set of colors comprising that individual artist's palette. It becomes as personal as one's style. To start this whole shebang off, I'd like to give a little history of the evolution of my palette along with the trials and tribulations of my paintings that led to where I am today. If anything the examples I show of my old work will hopefully make you laugh, not because they are funny, but because they're quite horrendous :)

I've been painting in oils for about four years now, roughly since second semester of my junior year. For those who knew me then, you'll recall how miserably awful my work was. Maybe I was too slow in making the transition from strictly graphic design to traditional, or perhaps (and this is most likely the case) I really just had no freakin' clue how to use color. My fellow illustrator friends were already leaps and bounds ahead of me, completing projects with ease and creating magnificent pieces of art, all the while I struggled in every medium to catch up and at the very least have my assignments look presentable enough in their block-in stage to please my instructors. It was a pretty demoralizing affair, truth be told.

Fairy Tale in a different time period assignment. I did the Frog Prince influenced by Aztec civilization. You can tell right....

Final project for illustration painting class where we could do what we wanted, creating it for the market we wished to be a part of. In my case it was fantasy. This painting was a valuable lesson to not use Crystal Clear as an in between speed drying medium for oils. Ignorance is bliss, but that was just plain stupid!
A note on that grayish border: I currently use this painting to place smaller masonite boards on top of when I gray gesso them. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle everyone :)

Book cover assignment. "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman. I did absolutely no justice to his story whatsoever. Sorry Neil!

In all these you can see the state in which I brought my pieces for critique. In some cases I had more than a week to finish the paintings. Yup, not so much.

But for some inexplicable reason I persisted. Something about colors mixing, happy accidents occurring while I painted (none of which I could replicate at the time), warm and cool harmonies dancing on the surface tempting me ever so gently to carry on. "Go man! Go!" my paintings would egg me on in a very British, Eddie Izzard voice. Suffice it to say, I did not complete a single painting until my last semester in art school, right about when my brain said "Hey dickhead! You need to graduate so get your shit together pronto!"

So I took an oil painting technique class with the awesome Anthony Apesos, whose anatomy book I wrote a review of in a very early post here:
But anyway, I took his class and learned about the history of oil painting and all that jazz, as well as various techniques. I will go in depth with such information in a later post. For now I will only mention his introducing us to the palette of legendary Greek painter Apelles. You can google or wikipedia the artist, but long story short this was the beginning of my long and continuing research into artist palettes in the hopes of finding my own personal palette. Apelles, according to Tony and his sources, used a palette of four colors (very similar to the palette of Anders Zorn actually) consisting of, for our modern purposes: titanium white, lamp black, yellow ochre, and light red (pigment PR101 or 102 depending on manufacturer, also called Venetian Red). According to legend, Apelles was able to paint just about anything with those four pigments. So that was our first big assignment. And golly gee let me tell you, I learned more using just those four colors than being swamped with the full color palettes from previous classes. All the colors that you can mix are optical approximations of the intended color. Everything is relative. When you mix white and black, yes you get gray (Duh!). But when you place that gray next to a really warm mixture of yellow ochre, light red, and white it reads as a blueish tone.

Magic! Literally, in my eyes that was magic. I couldn't believe that such a simple arrangements of earthy pigments could lead to such brilliant results. And to think that a lot of the Old Masters used such limited palettes to create their masterpieces, that just flat out blew my mind! So here is my first big painting ever executed with the palette of Apelles. After the whole thing was pretty much worked out with that palette we were allowed to introduce accent colors (such as Sap Green and Cadmiums).

It's about 18" by 30" I believe. I show this here for the first and final time. It will be painted over with something better, I hope at least.

So I graduated art school, got my BFA in illustration, did a few jobs here and there, got a job, all that stuff. But my urge to know more about colors continued to boil within me. My very first palette was the one suggested to us by teachers. It included Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Orange, Cad Yellow Light, Yellow OChre, Permanent Green Light, Sap Green, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Dioxyzine Purple, Burnt and Raw Umber, Burnt and Raw Sienna, Ivory Black,and Titanium White. A strong palette, but it didn't resonate with me. It was a helluva great starting point though. I began to pay closer attention to the artists I admired, namely Bouguereau and Donato Giancola. The French Academic maestro of sheer awesomeness and the fantastical, narrative driven contemporary master of pure amazingness! Just look them up and you'll see why they require their titles.

But as my tastes in art matured, I began looking further back. Rembrandt, Velasquez, and Rubens are my top three of all time. But there are others like Sargent and Sorolla, Repin and Fechin, Normal Rockwell and other great illustrators who I looked to. The modern masters of figurative arts like Richard Schmid, Dorian Vallejo, Jeremy Lipking, and Robert Liberace all came into my peripheral moreso than when I was a bumbling art student. Needless to say, I have spent a fortune on paints (five finger discount came in handy when I was a broke art student. Don't judge me, I'm not proud). After years of experimenting and dabbling with different colors I have recently come upon a palette that suits my needs as an artist. I present to you the most recent incarnation of my color palette:

Twenty-nine colors in all; 26 straight from the tube + 1 tint + 2 mud piles. In the second part of my palette posts I'll elaborate on why I use these colors, why there are so many, and who influenced me in my decisions. For now I leave you with these last two images done in gouache, when Tony DiTerlizzi was my idol (these two are epic failures as well)