Give me 4 for the Road
I really don’t talk about my art much here, or how or why I create it. Not sure why, I just don’t know enough about it to be out trying to act like an authority on something.
I try not to give advice, I find it better to speak of experience, and folks can take what they want from that.
So let’s talk art for a little bit, and specifically colors. I love them! Since my very first little paint set I just loved squeezing out the paints onto a pallet and mixing those things together. I have no idea how many paints that cheap little paint set had in it, but I know it had to have at least twice as many colors as I use now. I thought then that the more paints you had the better you would be, or at least the potential to be better increased.
Many people feel the same way, and some for good reason. They probably know what to do with that magic color they just found at the local hobby store. Me, not so fortunate. I bring home the most awesome tube of color that I could find, and like I was talking about the other day, you could tell in my next painting exactly which store I went to to buy that “perfect” color.
Growing up I painted some, but what I did the most was drawing. Pen, pencil. It’s what was around. I did not have a lot of
disposable income, so drawing on anything I could find was the way I honed my skills. A paint by number kit for Christmas at some point was fun, and loved the results, but it was only a temporary detour from my love for the line.
It was my drawing skills and eye for detail that landed me a job at Hallmark in the 70’s, training to become the Master Engraver that I am today. I loved it, and it paid well. Taking 2D art and creating something 3 dimensional, giving it form, and depth, creating that illusion of reality with edges and shape.
Though it was the draftsman skills that paid the bills, I found painting a wonderful release from reality, a place where one could go for a time to escape the chaos of the world around. Taking a large white canvas and throwing color on it, step back and feel what develops. Finding shapes, colors, textures all mixing to bring my imagination alive.
At first I stayed away from painting what I saw, but rather painted what I wanted to see in a world of crazy fantasy inspired by the times. I don’t know if the times changed or it was me, but the imagination took a sabbatical and I began creating from reality. (which at times can be just as odd)
In this mixed up world of art where breaking the rules is the norm, and following them is like the worst thing in the world one could do, there was this rule that I always stuck to since the beginning of time…
“Do NOT to use paint straight from the tube!” Okay, Okay already.
I took this rule and etched it deep into my psyche and still to this day I get this feeling that if I put straight paint on my canvas someone is going to come up to me and put “cheater” on my forehead. And the number of paints on my pallet was limited only to how many I could find. That and the size of my pallet…
In 2011 I met a man that would change my pallet, my art, and my life. A quiet man, who spoke with his art and his actions. He took that crazy art store of colors, literally shipped it to a needy artist in Africa, all save 4 simple colors. 2 cool colors, and 2 warm colors, and said “go little grasshopper!” And I went.
“Why?” Is it easier with 4 colors, what are the advantages, and how about the drawbacks?
At the time I thought Rick was crazy telling me that I was going to be painting with only Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, and Ultramarine Blue. Sure I had heard the stories about “you can make every color using just the 3 primary colors”, but I thought that was like an Urban Legend or something… not reality. But I was about to find out. That or have the most gawd awful paintings the world has ever seen. (and there are some bad ones… not mentioning names)
I began my seemingly impossible task of creating art with my new pallet.
It was/is a challenge, but I must say after a while you begin not to miss the fact that you have no tubes of green paint on your pallet. I had to go so far as not even to put one in my back pack so I wouldn’t be tempted at first. I love some of those greens that they have out there, and when painting in the area I’ve grown up in, the summers cannot be recreated without every single shade of green being used!
What I began to see immediately in my art was something that I didn’t pay attention to before, (being self taught in this world
of color), and that was a harmony in my work. When they first spoke of seeing this in my paintings I had to step back and compare. And the more I became familiar with these colors, learning how to mix properly, making some of those colors that we find in our world, the more I began enjoying them, and the challenge of creating the art that I do with my limited pallet. It is very rewarding, and freeing at the same time for me. I don’t have to look to hard to see if I have all my paints before I leave on an outing. I just count them on one hand. Simple, even for me!
I use the same pallet for winter as I do for summer spring and fall (or is it autumn?) In each color I use a little bit all 3 of my primary colors. Whether the red I use is alizarin, or cad red depends on the temp I am trying to achieve at the time. But I always put a red, blue and yellow in all of my mixes. It’s that harmony I am still trying to achieve in my work, along with knocking down the tone a bit.
So is this another one of those “rules” that I have to live by, do or die type thing? No way! I really have no qualms about using a yellow ochre or a viridian sometime. I know they are very useful colors, and I’m sure my art would benefit by throwing in an extra tube of something or two, and I’m sure I will. Rick told me when he went to paint overseas he added another blue to his pallet. I wish I could remember which one, but if and when I travel across the water I’ll know.
In the meantime my goal is to become well versed at what I do. I have a long ways to go, and a short time to get there. No idea how short.
I love my 4 color pallet, it’s simple, easy to pack up, and I can still make a total mess of things with these 4 as I did with 44.
This would have been Rick’s “Golden Year” Born in ’57 and 57 years old.