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Limited but not limited at all

I said in the last blog post that going to an art workshop where we only used the colours of blue, brown and white might be somewhat limited .

How wrong I was.

It was fascinating. The tutor was a chap who certainly knew his subject and got it across to us with ease. The fact that he had brought with him two stunning paintings done in the style he was teaching added hugely to the impetus of this message. Two colours, plus white made for magical work, when he described the “secret” of it.  I’ll explain…… when you use two colours you are limiting your palette (stating the bleeding obvious here), but because you’re doing that the colours will always harmonise because it can’t do anything BUT be in harmony with the other colours since there is nothing to clash. And more strongly than that, it means that you concentrate more on the tonal values because you’re breaking the colours down to their basic components and through that are making them work harder in the picture by making sure the contrasts between dark and light work to full advantage. This is done by looking at the balance of the abstract shapes within the painting and making sure the picture works as an image just by the first layers of paint. This was explained further by the fact that we chose whether our painting has a “hot” or “cold” colour scheme (and since my painting was of tango dancers it was obviously of the “hot” variety, but if they had been ice skaters instead it would have been “cold” – you see the difference?).  And when we’d worked out if the painting was hot or cold, we painted four tones to use as our “colour map” – the lightest tone, the darkest tone, and the two between them being mid tones, but one lighter, and one darker. They were made using the basic colour of brown (being the hot colour) with white mixed with it for the lightest colour, and a tiny bit of blue with white for the lightest mid tone, some more blue with less white for the darkest mid tone, and no white at all but just brown with some blue in it for the darkest tone. Then we could use that as the basis of the four tones for our paintings, starting with covering the whole painting with the mid-tone we weren’t using in the painting (I know this sounds complicated, it was until you started the painting, then it all made sense). When that was dry the rest of the painting was painted with the lightest and darkest shades plus the remaining mid tone, that pulled the whole painting together tonally. Wonderfully so! And as the tutor explained afterwards, it would work with brown and blue because they are based on the primary colours (brown having red, yellow and blue in it). And the colour scheme would work with any two colours where one of the colours is a primary colour (red, blue or yellow) and the other secondary colour is made up of the opposite two colours – for example green (being blue and yellow) with red, OR purple (being blue and red) with yellow, OR orange (being red and yellow) with blue. So, although it looks like you are only using two colours, you are actually using all the primary colours in the painting by the choice of colours you use. Of course you couldn’t make a yellow or a blue if you chose green with the red, but what you did have was a hint of them within the painting because of the way the paint was mixed. Very clever, and elegant I thought, because the paintings looked like they were understated and delicate in their colouring because there weren’t any strident colours fighting against each other. Wonderful effects! I loved it, and loved the painting  of the tango dancers thatI did, although I would do it again to get a more subtle effect with more time on my side.  And would probably choose other colours to do it with as well. 


I had a long overdue business meeting on Monday night. Long overdue since it took a while to sort out a date to suit the client, and me, when we were both free at the same time. He came to talk to me about the spiritual book that he is writing and wants me to illustrate part of it for him, based on a simple drawing that he has done – but I’ve not seen yet – for me to add loads of colour, and my interpretation of it based on a chapter of his book that he will let me have sight of, so that I can  see what I can do it. I sounds incredibly exciting, and I shall look forward to see the image he sends me so that I can see what magic I can put into it for him.


The animal commission that I’m currently working on is coming along nicely although it won’t be only of two colours or with a limited palette of colours, now that I’ve worked out the size of all the pets against each other, certainly not helped by the fact that I don’t have all the information I need in one photograph. It’s really been a mathematical puzzle of epic proportions to work it out. Clients don’t realise the work that goes into making a picture, that is far more than just painting it, I know. They seem to think that an artist waves their paint brush at it, like a magician waving a wand, and lo and behold a painting appears *before your verrrry eyes* Shazzammmm! There it is! And joking aside, there is a lot of technical ability in creating a piece of art, but also we need some good information to be able to produce that work, not magic it out of thin air with no help from the source material. Anyway, now I’ve got the sizes of the dogs and cats and have worked out the best composition for them, I have got it all drawn out on the watercolour paper and got the basis of the first background wash so that I know what is behind, above and underneath them which will aid me in sitting them in the scene and making them look like they are all connected together, and actually in a setting that they were never in. This is where the magic does come in! I don’t actually know if the owner had all the animals at the same time, she may have done.  And they may have all sat happily together infront of the fire of out in the garden together.  But  they will all sit happily together now in the painting, and what she will do when she sees the picture hanging on her wall is a way to remember them all as being close to her heart, and how much she loved them.

2 thoughts on “Limited but not limited at all”

  1. The tonal technique reminded me of some backlit photos I’ve taken in which one or two colors dominate, and the trick in creating a recognizable image is in making sure there is strong light-to-dark contrast, as there won’t be much (if any) color contrast. It can make a striking composition!

    I was hoping to see the result of the painting class! But I am looking forward to seeing the finished painting of the pets too, which will be a wonderful remembrance for the owner.

  2. Hardin – yes it would be very striking using that technique – as your profile photo illustrates to great effect! And just for you since you asked to see it, my next blog post shows the painting in question.

    The pet picture will follow on when I’ve completed it, I’m still working on it.

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