View Full Version : Mother Color

12-01-2001, 07:20 AM
On occasion Bruin70 has talked about his use of black as his mother color. I've been reading a book on color written by Steven Quiller and he talks about using a mother color for another way to unify color in a composition.

He says,"With the mother color system, one dominant color, which will become the theme of the painting, is selected. This color is then mixed with most of the other colors that will be used in the painting." (he notes exceptions)

He goes on to say that any color on the color wheel can be used as a mother color and goes on to give wonderful examples and exercises to follow.

Just wondering if any one else has explored this technique and could share thoughts.

12-01-2001, 08:15 AM
I didn't realise Milt used black in this way (no surprise then his strong defence of the colour) and would never have thought to use black for it except perhaps for a dark subject like a moonlit scene and here I would probably prefer a blue-black instead of black because of the slight perceived hue-shift in low light. I have tried the technique myself once or twice with limited success and generally consider it a special effect rather than the basis for work in general but I do admire and like work I have seen done in this way. I also think it is very hard to control unless you have a firm grasp on the effect you want to achieve (hence my limited success!) The best example I can think of off the top of my head is some of the canopy paintings from Richard Sloane who also uses neutral greys in a similar way to simulate the loss in chroma in low-light situations.

I think this technique is perhaps best used for high-key subjects where light shines in the viewer's eyes or lit dust particles in the air raise and compress the observed tonal range for instance. This could be seen in a view through a window with strong light coming through it or a scene with a low sun in front of the viewer. The hue can also be shifted in such circumstances, usually towards yellow but cool blue-biased scenes can be seen in polar latitudes. I recommended Patrick try using his Unbleached Titanium in this way as a way of using up this colour as it is a good choice for a high-key mother colour.


12-01-2001, 08:40 AM
I'm not so sure that Milt uses "Black" in the same way that Steven Quiller is describing "mother color". Maybe Milt will pop in and tell us. Milt does use the term, but maybe with a different twist than Quiller.

What has intrigued me are the exercises that explain what Quiller is talking about. I hope I can do one of them and put up an image to explain further. I think this is actually helping me understand how I can get the variety of color that I really need with my paintings.

Here is what he said do. [list=1]
Set out your colors on your exercise palette as they would appear on the color wheel
pick one color to use as your mother color
now find one of the points on your color wheel and MERGE that color with the mother color... Like make green be your mother color and choose yellow as you first test strip. You would then do what looks like a value scale to make a line of various degrees of that line being more yellow or more green .... what happens is that you have a whole line of yellow greens
Then select the next point on your color wheel and do the same MERGE...say the next color is red... you will end up with lots of red greens in various degrees of redness or greeness. lol
Continue on doing strips of MERGES with each point on your color wheel ..... try the blues.... the violets... etc. Each color on your color wheel will have a strip where you can see how the mother color mixes in.

I can't wait to see how this works in real life or rather real time painting. ;) What fun.

sue ellen
12-01-2001, 10:36 AM
i find that i really struggle with color! that book sounds really good ..i think i am putting that one on my list! barnes and noble here i come! :)

~sue ellen

12-01-2001, 10:40 AM
This is a very common method of providing unity to the color in your painting. However, it can easily result in boring color. It takes a skilled painter to use this method well. It is an instructive way to "get a handle" on mixtures though. If all paintings are done with the "mother color" scheme, they will tend to have a similarity. It would be wise to explore other ways to create harmony too; such as analogous, complements, split-complements, triads, etc. Then choose the method that best fits the expression of a particular painting. The use of color is one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of painting. It's a never ending challenge which brings me back to the easel again and again.

12-01-2001, 07:10 PM
Exactly, TPS.... actually this is what Quiller also states.... are you sure that you are not Quiller in disguise? Just teasing.... Actually, Quiller only spent a few paragraphs on this and the exercise I layed out. Then he goes on to give the exercises that you use to develop your "color knowledge" further just like you are describing.

I think he wants the reader to understand how we can make this happen and how grays and all the other colors are made.

probably am going to get real obnoxious as I continue to read more and more about color. Not just from this book but a couple of others that I have invested in.

Hey.... join me Sue Ellen and we both can be soooooo excited together. I'll share if you will. :) Einion, TPS, and others.... you'll just have to sit back and smile with me as I have those light bulb moments exploring color! I do soooo appreciate each reply and answer to all my questions.

TPS...funny thing is....now I am going back and looking at some of the paintings that I have done...and guess what, I can see now what kept them from being all they could be....and some of them I can see why they were successful...by chance. Sigh... forgive me... I'm just so excited to be finally "getting it". I know, I know, y'all have been telling me all along, but I must have a very thick head.....it just wasn't sinking in. :cat:

12-05-2001, 10:59 PM
the black mother color is used in the palette to "grey down" and unify the palette. simple as that. you will find this in all great portraitists. using black IS NOT about painting black objects.

the author's interpretation of mother color is no different than mine. ie,,,,,using it in ALL the color mixes. that he uses a particular mother color as a DOMINANT color as well is his preference,,,,,but it is his use of that color in all his mixes that makes it a mother color, not that he also makes it his dominant color.

and yes,,,,you can use any color on the color wheel. but the problem with THAT approach is that you change the nature of all your colors. black allows all your colors to retain their essence.....{M}

12-06-2001, 06:58 AM
*smile* Yes, thank you so much Milt. It's even clearer with your words.

I can't wait to put up the exercises.... Time, Time, Time, so little of it and so much to do and learn. sigh

Mary Kay
12-08-2001, 07:52 PM
Hi Llis,
I first learned about mother color in a different context. I was in a Frank Webb watercolor workshop, and he used this term in one of the lessons. We had to design a painting, identify the whites, and then use a flat wash of the mother color on everything else.

We mixed up the color in a cup, not the palette, so we'd have enough. Subsequent layers were glazed, and you had to dry the paper between layers. It did unify the colors in the painting, and there were many successful paintings that day. You can go back and modify the white areas, otherwise they look flat. I use this technique occasionally, if I can locate an example I'll post it here.

This is a good way to teach the flat wash techniques and glazing.

Mary Kay

Mary Kay
12-08-2001, 08:28 PM
I found a painting that was developed with a mother color...this is a quarter sheet watercolor, 11x14, but not all of it scanned because it's bigger than my scanner. so it's cropped a little on each side. it's also unfinished.

12-08-2001, 08:54 PM
Thanks Mary Kay. Isn't it wonderful when a teacher uses a term and then you finally get to use it in your own work and actually see it work!

Hope you go back and finish that painting. It's looking good.

12-09-2001, 10:35 AM
Hi Milt, which black(s) do you use? ...also, how do you avoid getting the color dirty or muddy when adding it..??? thanks

12-10-2001, 02:37 AM
Originally posted by Mario
Hi Milt, which black(s) do you use? ...also, how do you avoid getting the color dirty or muddy when adding it..??? thanks

ivory and mars are the least intrusive to me. obviously, black will affect the lighter colors more than the dark. so HOW MUCH is variable and done by feel.

if you get muddy, then black might be too strong for you to control. try davy's grey. it's transparent. in fact, if anyone here wants to try black, try davy's grey for starters.

grumbachers raw umber is a very ashy grey brown. no where near as brownish as other brands. so try that also. but it also will kill chroma easily, so be forewarned.

ps,,,,i like dirty color. it just depends on where you put it.......{M}