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Sunday, 12 July 2015





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Painting 101:

Experiment for success

To have a shape that maintains its identity and is also visually exciting, you should keep the values close within the shape and make numerous colour changes. The logic is that as the contrast of one element is reduced, you become free to exaggerate the contrast of another element.

It's true, if you take a sheet of water colour paper and paint every inch of it with as many varieties of red as you can - light red, dark red, intense-red and neutral-red, does the page have dominance and visual excitement? Take another sheet of paper and paint it all value three (very light), but make as many colour changes as you possible can. Does the page have dominance and visual excitement? Take another sheet of paper and paint it all value three (very light), but make as many colour changes as you possible can. Does the page have dominance and visual excitement?


This exercise can provide you with a wealth of insight into your painting, for it is probably a micro review of how you paint everything. From the total composition to the smallest detail there is a delicate balance of unity and variety. When colour contrasts were limited, value were unlimited. People who limit their palette to three colours are ensuring unity through dominance of colour, but they rarely achieve a spectacular colour, presentation. Those who throw everything imaginable at the paper without concern for unity, create chaos. Let's begin by handling one shape and later address how to apply these ideas to the total composition. First there is the shape a shape that has been created with concern for aesthetics, visual interest, placement, size and charity of statement. Certainly a shape that is the expression of such profound and genuine thought should not be destroyed through careless handling.

A landscape in the Central Province.

One approach to saving the identity of this shape is to decide on a value range (right middle or dark value). Having said that, you are free to explore an infinite number of colour changes. It is quite impossible to exaggerate colour changes so long as the value change are very close.

Intensity shapes

Colour dominance can be achieved by limiting the intensity contrast range within a shape. At one end of the intensity spectrum are the most intense colour possible. Select the most brilliant pigments on your palette and use them full strength. Like most extremes, the results of this exercise have limited audience appeal. One level down from this approach you slightly reduce the intensity of all pigments. Continue with this sequence and you eventually get mixtures of complements that are absolutely neutral gray. All along this scale are colour intensity ranges suited to exactly what you want to express about specific subjects. I strongly suggest you explore the intensity scale, just as you have studied the value scale, and make it part of your painting vocabulary. One approach to mixing neutral and near neutral is to mix a pool of primaries (red, blue and yellow) until all colour identification is possible.

Changing value

Limit the colour range and you can go wild with value changes. As a matter of fact, if you limit the colour, you better go wild with value contrast. Consider about the artists who limit the colours in their work. Are they not the same people who exaggerate, value contrasts in their paintings, working from white to black? It's really quite simple. As you exaggerate the contrasts within one element, you must reduce the contrasts within another. There are many ways to limit the colour range of a shape. You may decide on the colour, say for instance blue, or a limited range of colours (blue, the green and blue violet.)

It is an easy jump from these blues to limiting your colours. This allows you to add greens and violet and occasional touch of red-violet or yellow green. You may decide on a mixture of colours that allow you to make a wide range of value changes and subtle changes of warm to cool temperatures while still limiting the colour range. Yellow ochore, burnt sienna and ultramarine blue form a trial that fits this bill, as does any triad of colour complements.

Transparent medium

For the watercolour it is different because we must keep the light colour a lighter value so as not to make the second wash look green. We are working with a transparent medium. I wish to express a time of that day. One way is the use of 'light' itself, the colour of the light all over the sky.

I change the yellow where the sun is in the sky, using a pure light yellow and as we move away from the sun, I add a little red or orange ever so lightly to this colour. If the atmosphere is heavy, I then add a reddish tone again very light at the horizon.

When painting clouds, the procedure I use is to warm the paper first slightly a very lighter colour than the light as they are white clouds so far away. Special situations call for certain pigments. When painting the sky, for example, you need pure, clean and intense colour. Different kinds of light also call for new colours.


You should bear in mind that in each demonstration the light changes, but the painting procedure remains the same. That's the rule of the game. Observe the painting. I have done of a landscape in the Central Province with a lake. It is titled "Evening Shadows".

As you can see, the background contains a variety of dark shades and light wash towards the horizon. The sky is painted with a mixture of violet and orange, conveying the tranquil mood that prevails at the close of the day.

The trees are painted wet-in-wet to give a pleasing mistiness at the close distance with a mixture of olive green while the two trees and branches of trees merely suggests using dry brush strokes. Notice the lakeside scene with three tiny figures of animals giving a dramatic impression of the sheer scale and grandeur of the natural world. You should experiment to find all the techniques available.

Do practice these techniques although they probably won't come off best at first.

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