Saturday, December 17, 2016

New Colors on the Palette

I don't do a lot of experimentation with new colors.  I have enough trouble trying to understand the ones that are already there and being used.  Recently, though, I tried two new (for me) tubes from Gamblin.  I've been converted: these two add a lot of capability.

The first one is Chromatic Black.  For years, I have rarely used blacks from a tube.  They are color-killers: they're often muddy and they create a dead hole wherever they're heavily used.  Instead, I've mixed my own blacks out of Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber.  Now Burnt Umber is really a very dark, muted yellow, so mixing it with Ultramarine Blue produces a dark dull green, but by varying the mixtures, it can go from bluish to brownish, so it's been pretty useful.  One of the problems is that it dries to a lighter and flatter finish and requires a coat of varnish to bring out the depth of the color.

Over the past couple of years, I've been experimenting with limited palettes.  One notable palette was used by Anders Zorn, a Swedish painter, and consisted of ivory black, white, yellow ochre, and cadmium red medium.  Occasionally he added other colors, but those four were his mainstays.  This worked because he had one yellow (yellow ochre), one red (cadmium red medium), one blue (ivory black), and white.  Yes, most blacks are really dark blues - if you don't think so, then mix them with yellow.  You'll get green, almost every time.

The problem with ivory black, though, is that it's made of a carbon base of ground and burned bone.  This is what makes it muddy, and that muddiness is why I rarely used it.

Gamblin has brought out a new color: Chromatic Black.  Rather than using some sort of carbon base, it's made from blending two dark colors that are on opposite sides of the color wheel.  Since they're almost exactly opposite, they largely cancel each other's color tendencies out and leave a very dark and muted "black".  The two colors are Phthalo Emerald and Quinacridone Red.  Both are synthetic colors and have a purity to them that earth and carbon colors don't.  The result is a black that doesn't suck the life out of the painting.

What's really interesting is that it is actually a dark blue.  Yes, red and green can sometimes make blue.  Mixing white with the Chromatic Black gives a clear but muted blue, quite different from the muddy blue you get from mixing white with ivory black.

So.  Chromatic Black is a pretty cool color.

The other new one is Gamblin's Naples Yellow Hue.  Naples Yellow is an old color dating back to the 1600's, but is rarely used now because it's lead-based and very toxic.  It's been replaced by a variety of other mixtures and varies greatly between manufacturers.  I'd always considered it just a convenience mixture of white plus cadmium yellow, and since I already had both, why buy a tube?  But in a recent life painting session, one of the other artists had Naples Yellow on her palette and I was intrigued.  So I got a tube and tried it out.

Turns out, it's working very well for me in the skin tones.  Gamblin's version is made with zinc white and cadmium yellow.  So it's a muted yellow with a rich texture and surprising depth.  It has given me some beautiful muted greens that are clear, quiet, and useful, with no muddiness.  Mixing the Naples Yellow with Chromatic Black gives a particularly nice green.  It's also good for pale caucasian skin tones.  I'll go into that in another post soon.

Some of you may have been using Chromatic Black and/or Naples Yellow for years and know this stuff already.  Bear with me: I'm still learning, and these two colors are going to be affecting how I paint figures from here on out.

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