Monday, 12 September 2011

In praise of breaking the rules

This post has been inspired by a comment left in my last post. It's quite long but hopefully not too rambling....

'A tangent always leads somewhere... beyond the known and comfortable! Isn't that what making art is all about... ?... Exploring and growing!   - Bruce Sherman

Bruce I couldn't agree more...

For years I didn't used black paint, after all so much better to mix complimentary colours to get harmonising greys in a painting. ....and black in watercolour...perish the thought! Then a very kind person gave me some paint. Nestling in a box of tube pigments were two tubes, Payne's grey and ivory black. I would pass by these two tubes always reaching for the other colours and staunchly ignoring them.

One day my curiosity got the better of me and I took out the Payne's grey. I think as much as anything the name had put me off as I equated it with 'dull' and 'boring'. What a wonderful surprise awaited..... hold the front page.... Payne's grey is actually a wonderful blue! I took a while to experiment and get better acquainted.

For a long time ivory black was still ignored like the wicked witch in a fairytale. Then one of those days when you want/need to paint but don't have anything in mind arrived. I was just about to pass by that little tube of ivory black once more when I thought hold on I'm a grown up now I may have always been taught never to use black in watercolour but since when did I always listen to the rules? Don't the best break throughs come from always asking what if? What if I add a touch of red in there? What if I use a knife for that stroke instead of a brush? What if I use black...? In a spirit of rebellion I tried it out and started to use it in mixes.

Ivory black is interesting, it's warm, it made me think of sepia. It's a fairly weak, single pigment colour and feels soft like willow charcoal. Mixed with yellows it makes some lovely greens and with blue makes for good 'English winter' (in other words greyish) sea colours.

neutral tint experiment
Fast forward to my last post.... Maggie suggested instead of ivory black that I tried neutral tint. This is another colour that I've had in my collection and not used. I tried a little out in my colour notebook. Oh boy..... this colour is a whole new personality to get to know... To start with it felt very black, leaving the wash standing a while I could see a film of red develop on the top....hmmmmm interesting. A quick check on the colour chart told me that neutral tint is made from three pigments, (red iron oxide, mars black and ultramarine blue) so it must be the iron oxide floating to the top, and the reason for the pink tinge.

At Maggie's suggestion I tried another version of a moonlit sea just using neutral tint and water - no other colours and no gouache. What a disaster! As you can see...

I tried to blot out highlights in the moon and sky with not much success.... the pigment seems to be a stainer (due to the red in it?). So I resorted to scraping through with a scalpel... the khadi paper didn't take too well to that kind of treatment, it rebelled by fluffing up and refused to give me back my sparkle. This could be because I was getting pretty impatient by that time and the paper was still a little damp. In it's defense though one of the qualities I liked about it was it's absorbency. This experiment feels very hard, dark and oppressive - completely opposite to to what I am trying to achieve in my moonscapes which is a feeling of softness, light, and sparkle.

Not to be deterred I thought to myself that the best way to get to know a new colour is to go back to basics an make a colour chart. The pigments are mixed roughly half and half and I have used Payne's grey, ivory black and neutral tint so that the mixes can be compared side by side.

There were a few surprises for me at the end of this. The three colours that stand out for me in these mixes with neutral tint are when it is added to cadmium lemon pale, cobalt turquoise and quinacridone magenta. (I may need to do a separate chart and test sketch to try out the variables of mixing these colours..... another tangent for another day... ). Now that I felt better acquainted with neutral tint, it was time to have another go at the moonscape using it mixed with indigo and ultramarine violet as in the first experiment but without the gouache.

I still had the problem of the paint seeming to stain which made blotting and lifting out very difficult. Again I have used a scalpel to lift out some highlights.

I think I would need to spend quite a bit more time with neutral tint to gain experience in how to use it successfully. I'm not sure I like the red in it (I very rarely use red) preferring yellow/orange tones which maybe is why I prefer ivory black. It was interesting to see how the neutral tint made more of the violet. I think there is a lesson it this for me... when choosing to use a pre-made grey to darken colours I need to take into account the other pigments I'm going to use and which tone of grey will suit them best - to treat the grey as a colour in it's own right, rather than a darkener if you see what I mean.

In conclusion, I've really enjoyed taking some time to experiment and it has been a reminder that breaking 'the rules' every now and again can be a healthy way to explore new possibilities. The time spent on these test pieces will I think really help in the next couple of paintings that I have planned (even though they will be in acrylic)

**** EDIT    Brands used;
                 Ivory black Daler Rowney,  Neutral tint Daler Rowney,  Payne's grey Winsor & Newton

**** Maggie Latham a much more experienced watercolourist has posted her take and a repeat of these experiments here her results are a lot different to mine and she raises some really interesting points. She has made the post a part of her Colour Talk Series which I would reccommend reading.


Unknown said...

Very interesting tangent, Lisa! I do like W&N and Rembrandt Paynes's Grey but, as you say, it's always a good idea to check what pigments the manufacturer has used to make their version of it. I guess the same goes for Neutral Tint. I avoid colours with more than two pigments as they are a sure fire way to getting mud if you mix two of them. I'm quite fond of Ivory Black too, especially with the yellows to give a nice old style green. I really shouldn't encourage you to tangent any more but have you tried Lamp Black and Perylene Green yet ;)

Lydie said...

What brand of paint do you use for your tests? The Payne's Grey Winsor is not the same as Daler Rowney or Maimeri. These are not the same pigments.
Your study is interesting and shows the importance of these colors often criticized when we learn watercolor.

Judy said...

Interesting, interesting, interesting! My very first teacher, ages ago, used black and different yellows to make greens. I forgot about that. Time to experiment for me too.

Anonymous said...

Lisa, I’m in the middle of something right now, but wanted to ask: are you using W&N neutral tint? I think you might have a different experience on Arches CP 140lb paper…. Have to go, but will write a longer comment tomorrow…

Anonymous said...

Lisa, love these experiments and colour charts! What kind of paper did you use for the Neutral Tint one? Just posted a response to this blog post in ColourTalk:4 on my blog of today…..

Lisa Le Quelenec said...

Hi Michael, thank you for popping over. I've not used lamp black in a painting before. Perylene green is lucious, that's one I was introduced to after reading a Shirley Trevena book (I like the perylene maroon in watercolour too). I'm trying to justify a spend on some more paint as I've seen Winsor & Newton are doing it in acrylic.

Hi Lydie, thank you for raising this point. I've edited the post. I have a mixture of Daler Rowney and W&N. The paynes grey was Winsor and the others Daler. I've not used Maimeri before are they ones that you use? I always admire your crisp clean colours.

Hi Judy, can't wait to see your experiments. Thank you for stopping by.

Hi Maggie, just had a quick peek at your post. It looks really interesting, I'm going to grab a cuppa and settle down for an in depth read.

Unknown said...

Hi again Lisa. Perylene Maroon is the new Alizarin Crimson for me! BTW, Great Art are doing 40% off W&N artists oil, acrylic and watercolour if you don't mind waiting a little longer for shipment from Germany ;)

Lisa Le Quelenec said...

Thanks for the heads up Michael, it's sounding tooooo tempting.

Zoe, ontheroad said...

Wonderful experiments and one I embarked on myself last night (not knowing you did, too) for a Harvest Moon sketch and just because.

However, I used Bockingford watercolour paper 140lb and W&N and Daniel Smith colours.

Although I've always liked the Khadi paper it is disinclined to take the kind of handling other paper does in my limited experience.

So pleased to find these as they are a great teaching and learning experience. So many many thanks.

Jeanette Jobson said...

I love your experiments with colours here. Its such a learning experience.

Its true, different manufacturers and papers give different results it seems.

I will be tackling all things green soon in an attempt to overcome my dislike of greens. Your post gives lots of food for thought. Thank you!

Caroline Simmill said...

I didn't realise you were a watercolour painter Lisa as you are so confident with the acrylics. I do like your sparkle on the water paintings and you talk on the colour tones.

Lisa Le Quelenec said...

Hi Ontheroad, thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I'm not sure if you blog but I'd love to see your experiments, maybe you could email them. I think I will have to try some of my usual paper next - I've just been having a fling with the Khadi it's so different.

Morning Jeanette, it's certainly been a learning curve the last week. Now I'm having the fun of thinking about how to translate what I learnt into acrylic. It's made a few suggestions for my usual medium.
On the whole green thang, a uni tutor told us to always remember that there is a lot of red in natural greens. I've never forgotten that little gem and use a touch of burnt sienna to tone them down. I'd love to see a post on your experiments.

Hi Caroline, I used to paint in watercolour a long time ago then in oils at uni. It was when I left uni that I switched to acrylic as we were living in a tiny flat and His Nibbs hates the smell. I still use watercolour occaisionally, mostly for sketching but I really wouldn't call myself a watercolourist, more a dabbler. Thank you about the sparkle, that is a lot harder in watercolour than acrylic. I think I need a lot more practise.

Lydie said...

Hello Lysa,
I use colors from Maimeri (Maimeriblu range) since last Christmas, when I discovered this brand, influenced by the works and the book of Sterling Edwards that I offered to myself with some tubes of watercolor. I was pleasantly surprised to discover at this time that their whole range is one or two-pigment, even the gray Payne (PB29 + PBk9) which I'm not used to serve me. Only Naples Yellow light and Crimson Lake have more pigments (3)

Zoe, ontheroad said...

Lisa, I'm preparing for surgery and haven't scanned or photographed my experiments, but as soon as I can I'll be pleased to share them.

Best wishes.

Lisa Le Quelenec said...

Hi Lydie, thank you for the info. I'll maybe try those when I need to replace some colours. I googled the artist you mentioned as I was unfamiliar with his work. Interesting stuff and a new way of working.

Hi Ontheroad, I'll look forward to having a peek. Take care of yourself and best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Helen Birch said...

Many thanks for posting your colour charts.
Seeing the brown---->violet mixes has been particularly useful today.

Lisa Le Quelenec said...

Hi Helen, welcome and thank you. I enjoy making these charts they are are so useful. I'm glad they have been helpful to you too.