Blacks, whites, depth and whales

     Ever so often in this column we answer a few questions that have been asked of Wassenberg Art Center instructors. 

     Q.  I’VE HEARD THAT IT’S NOT GOOD TO HAVE BLACK PAINT ON MY PALETTE, BUT I SHOULD INSTEAD MAKE BLACKS BY MIXING OTHER COLORS.  WHY?

     A.  First of all, it’s perfectly all right to have black paint, or any other color, on your palette.  However, people who aren’t sure how to mix colors sometimes use black to darken everything, which seems logical, but doing this can leave your painting with a flat, uninteresting look.

     You can make lively blacks by mixing colors.  Try Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna.  Another good mix for black is Alizarin Crimson and Winsor Green.  You can adjust the amounts of each color to make your black mixture warmer or cooler.

     Q.  I WAS TOLD THAT IN WATERCOLOR I SHOULD USE THE WHITE OF THE PAPER AS MY WHITE.  HOW DO I DO THIS?

     Using the white of your paper, rather than white paint is up to you.  One of the beauties of watercolor is that you CAN leave areas of blank paper as whites, and you can let white paper glow through transparent pigment.  To save the white of your paper in watercolor, plan light areas before beginning to paint.  Then use a masking agent to preserve them, or learn to leave them alone.  If you aren’t comfortable with masking or painting around whites, there’s nothing wrong with using white acrylic or white gesso.

     Q.  HOW CAN I GET DEPTH IN MY LANDSCAPES, SO THINGS LOOK LIKE THEY ARE OFF IN THE DISTANCE?

     A.  A common problem for many people is that they want to paint every leaf on the tree, even if the tree is a half-mile away.  When you are outside painting and you look at a tree in the distance, do you see details like bark and leaves?  No, you only see the shape and color of the tree.  Our minds tell us there are leaves on the tree, but we actually don’t see those leaves.  Just tell your mind to get out of the way and paint what you see, not what you think you see.  Colors should also be lighter and cooler the farther back you go.  If you want to show depth, use warmer colors in the foreground with darker values (values = lights and darks) and more details, and use cooler, lighter colors in the distance with less detail.

     Q.  WHAT ARE THE RULES OF ART?

     A.  I’d like to answer this with a story from Catherine Anderson, a California workshop instructor and author, who says that before a class a student, Mary, handed her a small painting — a beautiful landscape of what looked like a little pond, like nothing she had done before.  “Look what I did!” Mary said with pride.  Catherine loved the painting and praised Mary on her wonderful job.  Catherine thought the painting was finished, but it turned out that Mary didn’t think so.        

     “I wanted to ask your opinion on something,” said Mary.  “”I was thinking about putting a whale in the middle of the pond.  What do you think?”

     Catherine was speechless. It took her a moment to respond.  “God, help me come up with something!” she prayed.  Then she thought about all the art she had seen in museums and galleries — at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, etc. — everything from old mattresses hanging from the ceiling and wrapped in bungee cords to a hearse covered with tar that had all kinds of objects stuck to it. 

     “What is art all about, anyway?” she thought.  At that moment she realized that there really are no rules.  To criticize Mary’s idea would stop the creative process and keep Mary from expressing what she wanted to express.  “Who am I to tell anyone what or how they should paint?” Catherine thought.  She handed the painting back to Mary and said, “Mary, put the whale in!”

     In art, there are no real rules or formulas.  Instructors may make suggestions to guide you, but there are no laws.  Anything goes.  Put the whale in!

By Kay Sluterbeck




Published by on May 2011. Filed under Archives, Art-to-Art Marketplace Guide, At the Centers dept, PaletteBoards Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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