A faff too far

I used to think I was a tonal painter.  All about the lights and darks.  Whilst that is still true, and I take care never to overlook my values, colour plays the main role in my work.

I’ve been feeling like I want to revisit basics with my landscape painting.  No crisis, as such, just a chance to consolidate.  Particularly to make sure I wasn’t neglecting value, and also I want to be more creative with composition.  I tend to go for whole scenes from a distance, usually with lots of sky.  I wonder how I’ll handle a smaller vista.

Colour too, is something I want to explore further.  I like deviating from local colour, but I’m not terribly imaginative when it comes to making up a colour combination.  Thankfully,  we live in a technicolor dream world so I can just look around me – and there are some amazing resources for colour inspiration out there.

So I thought I would paint a familiar scene in a different colour palette.  I probably should have photographed a swatch of each colour side by side for this post, but I forgot.  The colours I chose to work with were quite narrow in range – 4 blues, 3 greens.  I know.  All in various hues and value, but still.   Nonetheless, I like monchrome, I told myself.  And I do.  Especially pen and ink, or watercolour.  Lovely.

I chose a warm red (cad medium) to tone my canvas, only a little 5 x 5 (I haven’t got all day).  Here’s the progress pics:

PicMonkey Collage

I quite like how much red is showing through in the first photo. I work by doing a rough drawing with some diluted paint, then get in the big shapes.  I started with my lights first, so they stay cleaner and preserved, then straight to darks, then mid tones.  Push and pull, push and pull.  In the bottom photo you can see the original.  That bottle isn’t some fancy art supply, it’s Optrex.

And I ended up with this, which I rather like:


Why the hell did I do this to it then?

12695383_1708901625991294_1120138284_o - Copy

The simplicity is lost.  I think I rushed in with this burnt orange colour to pep it up.  I had to get in my own way and not just let the first version sit before I added in a pop of colour.

So now the big dilemma is: repair or wipe before the paint dries?  Or, have a glass of wine and look at it in the morning.  Sorted.


Ok, I’m back

Now I’m feeling better suddenly I have focus (did I bore you with mention I get ill a lot).  Hmmm, so lots of catching up to do – meant to be opening a print shop for hecks sake.  I not expecting a rush of sales, I mean I know the world will keep turning without my art being up for sale, but none of its going to get sold sat in great piles all over my studio either.  So I need to get moving.


I’ve cracked open the acrylics lately.  Mainly because I can’t resist buying the bloody stuff in pretty colours.  Usually I get it out and am all “Ewww, this stuff is so plasticky, pass me the oils”.

A funny thing:  I have an uncanny knack of being to mix whatever colour I want from a very limited palette.  I love the challenge of being able to recreate a blob of paint colour that exactly matches something else  in the world.  I know artists are meant to be able to do this stuff, but it’s one of the things I pride myself on, mainly because I found it so easy and could do it with little practice (unlike drawing or actual painting).  And yet, I cannot resist buying up all the teal, all the geranium rose, especially in acrylic, which I hardly use……what’s that all about?  Ha!

I digress.  Anway, I opened the tubes mixed up a gorgeous colour palette of teals, buff and pale dusky lilac.  And because I can’t bear to waste paint, and, more amazingly I managed to keep it wet and workable for aaaages, I got three paintings out of it, all abstract.  Two of ’em I posted already here and here.  This is the last.  And the best I think.  I’m really happy with this – abstraction does not come naturally to me at all.  I have to work really hard and try not to work from any reference otherwise I get all confused and fussy with my mark making.

I use a combination of brush, fingers and my trusty range of painting knives, and I LOVE the texture that gives when dragged over canvas, and to get going I tone the canvas first then use hard pastel to create some marks and divide the canvas up.  Interestingly, I usually have drawn some circles with the pastel at this stage, with good intention to have them in the final piece, but I’ve not yet managed to keep them.

I feel like I want to explore texture more and more, am even considering splodging on some extra gesso for texture beforehand (and usually I’m too impatient for that sort of thing.

This one was painted whilst listening to the selected works of Solomon Grey.  Do not deprive your ears of this music if you haven’t already heard it. I like painting abstracts to music – it sets the mood.

Porthminster, acrylic on canvas, 7 x 7



This post is part of a series on some of the resources I use to improve my skills.  You can read the introduction to this series here.


Ooooh, I get such a geeky pleasure out of this topic, I just find it so fascinating.  I’m not going to go into the science behind how we see colour.  It’s better explained by those in the actual know.  But understanding how to work with paint and mix colour is critical to a successful piece of art.  Yes, you could buy every colour available in your chosen medium, and sometimes it makes sense to invest in a particular hue if you always end up using a lot of it in your work, but that’s for later on, when you know what you’re doing.  The thing is, a lot of follow-along-and-paint-with-me tutorials use specific colours that you feel you need to use, and if you watch a lot of tutorials you could end up buying a lot of paint for different projects that don’t come together to form a cohesive palette.


Having a grasp of colour theory isn’t just about mixing paint and knowing yellow and blue make green.  It’s about understanding triadic colour ways, complimentary splits and being familiar with words like chroma, saturation, and value.  If you want your art work to be cohesive, using a considered colour palette is essential.

Most advice, whatever your medium*, is to start with a simple palette, usually consisting of red (one warm, one cool), blue (one warm, one cool), yellow (one warm, one cool), and,  if you’re using oil or acrylic, white.  With these colours you can mix practically all the colours you will ever need.  It’s such a practical skill to have, to know what you’re going to get if you add lemon yellow (cool ) to ultramarine blue (warm) or cadmium yellow (warm) to ultramarine blue.  And then what happens if you add a smidge of alizarin crimson to it?

It’s one of the most useful skills I’ve developed, being able to mix my colours.  For a long time, I only ever used typical standard palette, which forced me to mix my own colours and which I know if I don’t write down in a list here that’ll be irritating:

  • alizarin crimson (cool)
  • cadmium red (warm)
  • lemon yellow (cool)
  • cadmium yellow medium (warm)
  • cerulean blue (cool)
  • ultramarine blue (warm)
  • plus white
  • plus burnt sienna, considered an earth colour, it leans towards orange and mixed with ultramarine blue makes the most amazing greys.

Mixing your paint, making some colour charts and understanding how far you can push your colours will also help you understand that certain hues have different qualities.  Some are very opaque, others more transparent.  These too have an impact on your mixes and ultimately how you apply them in your work.  And if you don’t learn a bit of colour theory you’ll always be limted!  Plus, you’ll save a ton of money only buying minimally.

I have added to my colours as I’ve got more experienced, and perhaps I’ll do a post of it and link it here when it’s written.

Anyhow, that’s as much as I’m going to say, otherwise I’ll just be repeating what these fabulous experts share:


Carol Marine gives an excellent demo of how she mixes her colours in her Saturation and Colour Mixing tutorial. It’s a few dollars, which is about about £6, and worth the money.  In fact, I’ve bought most of her tutorials on this page, and I have her book Daily Painting.  It covers painting but also colour.  I love this woman.  I got such a lot out of her book and videos I wrote and told her so.  And I don’t do that sort of thing.  She replied too!


Craftsy – I purchased Master Palettes: Exploring Colour Mixing with Scott Gellatly  I remember this had some great visuals of the colour wheel.


Betty Edward’s book Color.  I really like how she explains stuff.


Not essential but the Colour Mixing Bible by Ian Sidaway is useful, particularly when your eyes stop seeing or your trying to mix a colour that’s so subtle you have no idea where to begin – I found it quite good to have to hand as a reference.  There’s also a lot of info around paint properties.


Will Kemp’s Art School has some great videos (free and paid) which I found so useful when starting out, particularly Painting a Jug with Two Colours.  It gives great insight to a beginner what you can achieve with so little.  He also has an enormous amount of resource, including a section on colour.


Paint manufacturers also have lots of useful guides on their websites.


*   soft pastels are a different kettle of fish, in that you need a good amount of variety by comparison to have an adequate palette…..however, even if your primary medium is pastel, I really recommend you spend time mixing paint -after all, you’re handling paint in it’s purest form and knowing how to glaze and scumble one pastel over another is a skill enhanced by understanding colour in more detail.  I speak from experience peoples.