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Old 12-14-2008, 11:03 AM
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LarrySeiler LarrySeiler is offline
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Basics in Color and Value for the Outdoor Painter

Over in the Color Theory forum...I started a thread to bring some balance for painters in that community to see how a painter works and thinks working outdoors on location...

I'll paste a couple of the same posts in this thread for I believe it might have value for discussion and people new here in the PA forum and new perhaps to painting plein air...
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Last edited by LarrySeiler : 12-14-2008 at 11:06 AM.
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Old 12-14-2008, 11:03 AM
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Re: Basics in Color and Value for the Outdoor Painter

Outdoors...carrying your gear, painting the effect of light before it disappears requires developing a particular efficiency, something that I will discuss as this thread develops.

There are various ways to learn, various approaches in teaching to students, but a basic intro perhaps common to most outdoor painting instructors is to begin emphasizing the importance of values. Our own well known Marc Hanson breaks a larger board into perhaps better convenient comparabile squares which I'd recommend, and will probably switch to myself. I have tended to demo and have students do such studies on smaller individual 5"x 7" panels. I like how with Marc's approach, you can see them all on one board.

Outdoors...one learns why it has been said that nature likes to throw a lot of lumber at you...and this is because you begin excited about something you saw, but as you paint you observe many more things. THAT is the lumber. The number of choices in direction your painting goes increases, but the painter must remember what initially grabbed them by the jugular. Thus as I have often pointed out, the novice will paint everything they see, but the mature painter learns to discriminate almost as if what NOT to paint is more important.

There are some very useful palette strategies as a persons ability to translate simply many of the complexities observed get under control. This control develops painting by painting...and as I have oft said, it takes about 120 bad paintings to learn something about painting. You can't be afraid of starts...as you'll need plenty of them.

But...back to that efficiency, I reduced my palette of color pigments down to a limited palette, one that anchors to a very rich dark French Ultramarine Blue which I found in Utrecht. So my outdoor palette breaks down as follows-

Utrecht French Ultramarine Blue
Utrecht Cadmium Lemon Yellow
W&N Bright Red
Titanium white (sometimes Flake white)
Utrecht Naples Yellow
sometimes viridian

I've taught my share of outdoor workshops, adult for the most part, but I do get invited every so often to come to a high school and provide the students with an outdoor painting experience.

I love to give them a brief history on the efforts of Cole, Church, Bierstadt, Durand to gather oil sketches and the development of outdoor painting...

Regarding nature's habit of throwing lumber I start by having the students squint the eyes to see the masses, squinting to reduce information on detail...

They mix up four values...a dark, mid and light...plus white, and how dark the dark will be is based on judging the existing larger darkest mass they were seeing, then mixed up a midvalue...then a light value, and finally a white. Again based on what they were seeing.

Values can be judged holding a brush of ladened paint up against the area in question...or using something like a valuator which anyone can make, here I'm holding one up against a large painting of mine in studio-


I do not teach using black to paint outdoors...and a majority of outdoor painters I've associated with tend to concur, but prefer to mix my own darks and create my own grays and neutrals. For one...I want to pay attention in particular to the presence of indirect light and reflected light in shadows and in my darks depicted. I don't see black in nature's light that is pure and unaffected. Also, in mixing my own darks I can easily and quickly lean them toward having a hint of a color or color temperature so that the shadow (for example) doesn't sit lifeless on the painting but contributes to color rhythm, to the believability of the present light...and offers additional contrasts besides value alone.

For my eye...and many of my peers, black pigment tends to kill the color observed outdoors.

Instudio I will us black to a limited degree, or especially if I'm playing with a Zorn-like palette. Outdoors it is my preference not to use it...

Here you see the values demonstration for a high school in far northern Wisconsin I was invited to, two sessions...two different groups of teens, the light had changed and you see a slightly different mood to the gray studies...one that I did for each session to demonstrate-

(all quick demos are painting no larger than 5"x 7")





Here are some of these students working...

a group from our morning session-


and some pics of our afternoon students...


The next thing taught after getting the main value masses down, is to create halftones within each value mass that transition within that value and help the eye move to the next area of value transition...

From there...I demonstrate mixing the dominant color of the scene into the four variations of dark, mid and light...plus white and quickly painting the same scene...

Then add the color halftone version...

A few years ago, on a trip out to western Wisconsin...I took a series of photos and illustrated what John F. Carlson taught in his book, "Landscape Painting" 1929...on what happens to value and color as it goes from near to far to the eye. How values tend toward getting lighter in value, and color tends to cool and lose some of its chroma intensity.

I put this thread together called, "The Progression of REGRESSION in color and values" which illustrates...
http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/show...ht=Progression

To finish this segment...here is this basic approach demonstrated in another workshop...but takes it thru the color process as well...

The four values, dark...mid...light and white (5"x 7")


halftones mixed and added...


here translated to color, mixing up a dark, mid, light and white of the dominant colors...



and with the halftones...


A next advanced step with this process is to include the color temperature variations observed, the general principle being if the light is warm, the shadows are cool...if the light cool, the shadows are warm-



To sum up, the bottom line when beginning to paint outdoors is efficiency. At first you will feel overwhelmed, and my first experience after painting in studio for near 17 years building onto an existing reputation was to feel as though I knew nothing about painting whatsoever!

By limiting your pigments, values in the beginning...you will learn to organize and translate more simply. You will learn to hone in and lock on to the primary reason, the focal point of why you were compelled to paint.

In time...as you add more and more paintings under your belt...your confidence and ability to order and develop a routine of efficiency greatly increases. You will know when to add additional values, and have confidence to begin to explore other palette ideas, strategies or concepts.

I'll share a few of those in posts to follow...meanwhile...here are a number of works of mine I describe as value driven. That is, I premix my palette with dominant colors in variations from dark to light...and think in terms of neutrals. More often than not, I choose such where I want softer, somber, quieter control...








you can see how grays seem to push the mood of these works...
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Last edited by LarrySeiler : 05-06-2009 at 11:23 AM.
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Old 12-14-2008, 11:04 AM
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Re: Basics in Color and Value for the Outdoor Painter

I painted in studio for near 17 years building a reputation in wildlife art before taking my paints outdoors for the first time. I painted with acrylics over those years...and found myself return to oils since they endure every weather condition and all four seasons, plus the three dimensional aspect of oil themselves holds more light and the color reads more intense.

I've had my share of influences over the years, but about three years ago I really started to study the writing and ideas of Edgar Payne, and Emile A. Gruppe. I turned to Payne and Gruppe for one as mentors instead of the oosey goosey (thanks Jim! ) university paint professor/advisor I was assigned...to challenge myself in directions to explore. See...I decided as an instructor/teacher of art to begin later in life working on a masters. In my 50's I don't have patience for people that bury their blank canvases in the sand of a beach and meditate over it, hoping to dig it up a week later and proclaim some eco psyche babble finishing to their alleged painting.

I was given permission to work alone...via internet connection to report, and visited the campus during summer months, camping and painting on sites, then bringing my work in. I think such permission was also their way of keeping me from being a worrisome problem for their undergraduates...

At any rate..."Composition of Outdoor Painting" is a wonderful book by Payne, and I recommend it for anyone serious about painting outdoors. I found a seventh edition copy for $48 here...
http://www.derusfinearts.com/booksmain.html

Older editions were quite expensive, so I was glad to find my copy there, and its often been said if you can only get one book on outdoor painting, this is the one.

Another that was quite helpful was John F. Carlson, who wrote "Landscape Painting" 1929...

That book can be purchased in soft cover form for about ten dollars on amazon...

It will at first be a disappointing book because it is all black and white, and those new to painting will probably in disgust put it on a shelf. I did that myself when I was newer to painting outdoors. Who doesn't want color, and tends to think you can't learn anything without seeing such?

I pulled the book off my shelf about six years later...and discovered Carlson was a teacher's teacher. Great stuff on color and values, and seeing outdoors.

Back to Payne...he mentions a number of things worth considering...and I won't quote exactly, but could pull it off the shelf. I'll generalize in the sense of what has stuck and been of value to me...

One...Payne argues that the eye sees color about 200 to 300 times more intense with the help of nature's light than what man made pigments can imitate. Secondly he argues that the eye sees about 400 variations in values, but that at best the artist can mix up 40-50 of them.

What that said to me was quite freeing. Not in the "loosey goosey" sorta way...but for one that had put in 200-300 hours per painting to maintain my competitive edge for 17 years, just how I was going to go about a painting where light gave me perhaps 1-1/2 to 3 hours tops...was a real mystery. I knew it could be done, because there were painters like Edgar Payne, Emile Gruppe, Edward Redfield, and many others as well as contemporaries.

The freeing came when you see that Payne's summation on our poor proximity by nature itself, its limitation over us. Thus, we all begin painting at a deficit. This might produce a debate or argument, but in a sense all attempts to paint realism no matter how good is but a refined degree of the abstract. If the best artist living could suggest perhaps that pigment represents an honest representation of light/color's intensity but still 200 times less that which light does in actuality...then the work is still by nature an abstract effort of that reality.

I think for the first time in about 25 years of painting to this point, I gave myself permission to relax and consider the logic that to expect more than what pigment is capable of leads to a potential insanity! hahaa...

So, then one has to wonder about Payne's ideas of a limited palette. Not as limited as I have limited myself with the past three years...but, as I read more of his book...I came to recognize about a half-dozen palette strategies to become familiar with, to assign myself and play with.

One is quite intriguing...a split-complementary palette. Goes something like this...



Say that blue is your dominant color...you would then put a good pile of blue paint out on your palette...and two other piles of paint. The split complementaries which are found either adjacent side of blue's complement orange, thus...yellow orange and red orange. Plus you add a pile of white.

You then paint your entire painting using just these three colors plus white.

If you think in terms of the traditional red, yellow, blue colorwheel or RYB... then an abstract way of thinking how to go about using the split-complementary pigments is to use them as substitutes for RYB..

In other words...your red for this painting will be red-orange. Your yellow will be yellow-orange...and it would be using yellow-orange with the blue that you create your range of greens for example, using the red-orange to apply control to the green made...(like you would red to green as a complement neutral).

You will see a harmony and mood that exerts its will over the painting.

I taught this palette strategy to my artist/son Jason...a world renowned master caricaturist doing high end caricaturing. By high end...you'd have to see his work in many magazines, cover art...

Here is his blog...
http://www.jasonseilerillustration.blogspot.com/

one of his efforts to play with the split-comp was this tribute he did for famous monster artist Basil Gogos, which he gave to Basil...



Jason chose yellow-green as his dominant, and cadmium red and violet as his splits...
(see- http://jasonseilerillustration.blogs...+complementary )

Here he did Tim Burton using the split-comp...


Here are a couple of my plein air split complementary oil studies...

Sherman Tank...


Here a nocturne I painted outside Chicago's Art Institute...along with my son, both of us having this crazy notion of taking the "L-train" at 10 pm at night and painting downtown Chicago. We painted from about 11pm until 1am...meeting some very interesting people. I chose a split-comp, my dominant color being yellow-orange-


Here, a rock face just north of Marquette, Michigan on the west shores of Presque Isle rock...


and one other to demonstrate...a point looking out over the east shores of Preque Isle park...


Finally on this topic of the split complementary palette...I have a few videos where you can see this demonstrated...on YouTube...

Split Complementary Palette Explained
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YU6_08YFAFw

Painting Strong Falls In Oil
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJN5zfgpdMA

Painterly Approach in Oils
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afAtQvWuTSs

hope you find this informing to one more way of working

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Last edited by LarrySeiler : 12-14-2008 at 11:36 AM.
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Old 12-14-2008, 11:05 AM
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Re: Basics in Color and Value for the Outdoor Painter

Finally...one other strategy that I was introduced to reading Payne's book, and played now quite a bit...and is perhaps one of my more routine approaches, is what he called "pigment soup" or known workshop/painter Ted Goerschner calls a "mother color"

The idea simply is to give each color on your palette a common color, a common denominator...that is drawn over and into each pile of pigment and mixed in. Each color of your palette so mixed with the common color, imbues a will of a fixed harmony that you can see already existing on the palette before you even begin painting.

The common color does not HAVE to be a color per se, it can also be a grayish neutral...for example.

To demonstrate, I mixed up a random color here... a neutral bluish-green...



After painting in the mother color, I then painted the primaries as the color comes out directly from the tube...and next mixed those up for my secondaries, and you see them surrounding now the dominant soup color. I'll be working my way outward.



Next I mixed a bit of the bluish-green neutral soup/mother color and with the primary or secondary to get the next color, and finally to finish off this colorwheel...that last color mix will have white (as a tint) added to it.




This is extremely useful information I believe, for the artist that takes to the field with a limited number of pigments to keep his paint box lighter and paint time more efficient. I think it often escapes the imagination to consider the broad gamut of color that can be achieved from so few colors, and when painting to finish a work in so short an order as nature dictates, knowing the much of what is possible with the few is valuable.

Again...that was one randomly mixed color...and there are endless possible random colors even from three basic primaries as I use...

Over the course of playing with this strategy, I came up with my own variation...born of the fact that after a paint session I scrape all my paint off my palette to one side-



...and I want to make use of it.

The paint scraped I refer to a mud...and usually about a mid gray value. More often the mud tends toward a greenish hue...but the appropriate color can be mixed to bring the mud where you want it.

I then use that mud as my soup to drive the next painting...

One version of that drive is what I call a Mid gray neutral mud palette.

Instead of pulling one color or neutral into each color put out on the palette...I paint the main masses of the scene or subject with the mud, first giving the mud a dominant color I sense squinting my eyes at the scene. I bring it to about a mid gray...and then mix subsequent color and values directly wet into wet into this base soup. Wet into wet...

I have found this last version the quickest most efficient manner of painting a subject at last light of the day...the last hour, and have time to finish the painting.

Let me give you some examples now of results coming from this palette...

This one is called Nippy Last Light...and was painted with my mud palette, mixing darks and lights, color directly into the mud wet into wet...



This too, the midgray neutral mud blockin...


and finally...

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Old 12-14-2008, 11:48 AM
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Re: Basics in Color and Value for the Outdoor Painter

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Old 12-14-2008, 11:54 AM
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Re: Basics in Color and Value for the Outdoor Painter

Larry,
Thanks for posting this thread. I am finding it enormously helpful!
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Old 12-14-2008, 11:54 AM
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Re: Basics in Color and Value for the Outdoor Painter

Wow! Thank you so very much, Larry, for taking the time to put so much of your hard-earned experience into one thread - it'll take a while to absorb all of it, but it'll be such a pleasure! I'm too much of a noobie to offer much in the way of discussion, just trying to take it all in.
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Old 12-14-2008, 11:59 AM
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Re: Basics in Color and Value for the Outdoor Painter

thanks...appreciated..

I have a WC Industry Partner forum in the Artwork From Life main forum, which is a collected archive of near 80 threads for members to peruse thru and refer. How-to's, step by steps...illustrated/photo demos and so forth. If you find this of interest...take advantage of what is free in that forum as well. Of course, take advantage of all the wealth of knowledge given in this...one of WC's best forums IMO...from so many giving approachable good artists

take care...

Larry
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Old 12-14-2008, 12:47 PM
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Re: Basics in Color and Value for the Outdoor Painter

Thanks for posting all this valuable information Larry! I know you've gone over it before, but nothing like a refresher to pick up on an overlooked tidbit or nugget to stow away for later. I gotta say too, that while I believe I've seen almost all of these works, the next to the last painting of the lone tree overlooking the meadow is one I haven't seen before and its a beaut!!

I ran across that painting and said "WOW" when I saw it! Of course, I say that about a lot of your work, but that one is especially moving!

Thanks again,

Randy
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Old 12-14-2008, 02:01 PM
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Re: Basics in Color and Value for the Outdoor Painter

thanks Randy...

I was jogging late in the day by my son's home we were visiting...ran by that lone tree rural scene...which helped pick up my pace a bit...and as soon as I got back to his place, grabbed my gear and was gone!!! haaa...

thanks again, very kind....
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Old 12-14-2008, 02:49 PM
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Re: Basics in Color and Value for the Outdoor Painter

good for the back to the basic. NHL goalies always have to revisit these types of things!

B
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Old 12-14-2008, 05:51 PM
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Re: Basics in Color and Value for the Outdoor Painter

haaa...nice way of puttin' it, Ben!!
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Old 12-14-2008, 06:03 PM
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Re: Basics in Color and Value for the Outdoor Painter

Being a fan of simplicity and big masses I like the simplest block in here the best. I think when teaching people they gravitate to the finished out "noodled" ones and ignore the simple block- ins. When I do demos now I keep everything simple and tiny so the student doesn't feel left out of the noodle fun. Then I demo on their painting the same way. Three simple values and shapes. If they add detai,l I take it out or make them work smaller, until they can't detail. In six hours they have 7 to 10 promising blockins from each student and ( hopefully) a grasp of the concept. Rather than one or to over rendered student happy mess's.
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Last edited by Bill Wray : 12-14-2008 at 06:06 PM.
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Old 12-14-2008, 06:06 PM
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Re: Basics in Color and Value for the Outdoor Painter

sounds like an effective way of getting strong fundamental points across, Bill...thanks for sharing!!!
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Old 12-14-2008, 06:07 PM
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Re: Basics in Color and Value for the Outdoor Painter

How do you manage to post while I'm still editing?
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