Thursday, August 23, 2012

Only the Shadow Knows

Here is a snippet of the painting. 
As you see, the shadow is very dark--too dark!
Can you see my frustration in the brushwork?

Work on California Dreaming continues, though the painting has taken a turn on me (like I had nothing to do with it). I'm not sure where the piece will go next. It’s that darn shadow. I'm struggling to nail down the right colors and values and I haven't found the magic combination.

All these years of mixing paint you'd think I would have figured it out by now. Yet more often than not, finding the right color and value is akin to herding cats. What makes it so difficult? Color is affected by surrounding color. You can mix up a shade of “shadowish” on your palette that looks perfect, but once you put brush to canvas it’s suddenly too dark, too light, too green, too gray, or some other color catastrophe.

Coincidentally I watched my student Morgan struggle with the same thing this week. Studiously she mixed and mixed—serious brow furrow in place—adding a dab of blue, a dribble of medium, a little more cadmium red, a touch of white. Her shoulders relaxed as she achieved the perfect color. She smiled and moved the brush to the canvas to place the perfect glob of paint.


Big sigh. "That's not what I wanted!"

Mix, mix, smear, scrape, mix, wipe, rinse, swirl.

“There! That’s much lighter.” Confidently she dabbed the canvas with the amended color.


“That looks almost the same as the last color!”

After about the fourth “OH!” we started to laugh about it. Finally, she found what she was looking for.

At one point I told her, "Mix it beyond what you think you is right. Make it lighter, darker, cooler, or warmer."

Hmmm. Maybe I should follow my own advice.

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