Limited Palette With Red, Blue and Yellow

Sometimes when we first learn to paint, it is suggested that we use a limited palette of three primary colors—red, yellow and blue. Some teachers think that limiting oneself to just a few colors teaches us how to mix colors correctly, see value and temperature, and encourages thought and planning in our color choices.

Besides making it easier to learn about color temperatures, using a limited color palette offers more color harmony, the ability to make grays without the muddiness and less confusion because of fewer color choices. I have painted with a limited palette before and I have always liked the feeling of just using a few colors.

Colors in a limited palette can still be warmer or cooler in relation to other colors. Since the eye adjusts to what it looks at, it doesn’t feel as though any colors are missing. There are cool and warm reds, cool and warm yellows and so on. Here is the first on that I created:

Ann Hart Marquis-limited palette

Red, Blue, Yellow, Acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 inches, Ann Hart Marquis

Last week during an artist retreat, we experimented using only red, yellow and blue and white and black. The object was to create different tints, tones and shades of the 3 colors. It was interesting and fun for me to play and to see if I could easily come up with complementary color combinations or triad color combinations.

Ann Hart Marquis-limited palette

Red, Blue, Yellow #2, ,Acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 inches, Ann Hart Marquis

Ann Hart Marquis-Red, limited palette

Red, Blue, Yellow #3, ,Acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 inches, Ann Hart Marquis

Adventures with a Limited Palette

For those of you who know me, you know that I usually spend a chunk of time almost every summer in southwestern France. It inspires me and I get many paintings done while I am there. For various boring reasons I was not able to go in 2012, so I am getting a little antsy about going back this year, so antsy in fact, that I just booked my airline ticket. They don’t get any cheaper after January.

Ideas of what I will paint and what supplies I will take have already started to flash into my consciousness. In 2012 I took twelve 14” x 14”, pre-cut canvases (that is the only way I can fit them in my suitcase). I also gave myself the challenge of taking only three colors of paint plus black and white, to see if I could create interesting paintings. The colors that I chose were vermillion, cerulean blue and raw sienna. Someone had given me a case of raw sienna. I did not try the colors before I left.

Well, as some of you may have guessed, this unique combination did not work. Raw sienna and cerulean blue make for an unhappy green. I needed yellow and as soon as I got it I was happy. Cadmium yellow, vermillion and raw sienna did make an interesting orange. Here are a few examples of my four-color, limited palette:

AnnHartMarquis-tri-image

I like the idea of painting with a limited palette. There are several advantages.
• Color harmony is easier to achieve.
• Learning to mix a few colors is to achieve the desired color, value and intensity.
• You don’t have to carry numerous tubes of paint when you travel or paint outside.

Recently, I came across an article written by Adriana Guidi. She describes the palette that was made famous by Swedish painter Anders Leonard Zorn (1860-1920), which is often known as the Zorn Palette. “Zorn’s preferred palette was of four earthy colors: yellow ochre, vermilion, ivory black and white.” Here is her version of the palette:

Guidi-Zorn limited 4colorpalette

Adriana Guidi, Zorn limited 4 color palette

The top row is simply Yellow Ochre mixed with varying amounts of Titanium White, while the middle row has a little Mars Black mixed in as well. The bottom row is a blend of Cadmium Red Light and Yellow Ochre, again with varying levels of white.

I am attracted to Zorn’s palette, and am thinking about using it in France, although I may have a little trouble with having no blue.

Do you paint with a limited palette or are you attracted to limited colors?

Working With a Horizon Line

Winter is almost over and here in New Mexico, trees and plants are starting to pop with color. Instead of browns and greys in the landscape I am starting to see a few patches of green, orange and even yellow all over the scenery.

Here is another painting that I just completed using a rather limited palette of raw sienna, cobalt blue and red oxide. This combination allowed me to mix interesting pinks, greens and oranges. Once again I have painted a high horizon line. I am still somewhat preoccupied with the horizon line.

Ann Hart Marquis-New Mexico Winter #5-horizon line

New Mexico Winter #5, acrylic on paper,10 x 3 inches. Ann Hart Marquis

Horizon Line

The horizon line is thought to be one of the foremost visual components or clues of perspective in a landscape. It’s the thing we immediately use to interpret the perspective in a painting we are viewing. We do it almost instinctively.

So if the horizon line is too high or low in a painting we lose the brain’s ability to interpret and perceive perspective. Instead, the viewer has to first struggle to deal with where the horizon line is, to see it for what it is and put it in relation with everything else in the composition.

Too high a horizon line, with only a tiny sliver above it and the brain won’t instantly register that area as sky. If it is too low, the sliver below the horizon risks not being perceived as land.

In most cases, a low horizon line works for emphasis on the sky. A high horizon line emphasizes the landscape.

In any case, I hope to be able to abstract the horizon line more in the future.

Taking a Stand

This is the first painting that I did in my new series. All of the paintings in this series come from my imagination. When I started painting this first one, I knew I wanted a group of trees in some kind of orange-ish motif with a limited palette. I started by painting the entire canvas in turquoise. As I remember, I then divided it roughly in thirds for the sky, trees and foreground. Next came the large group or trees in the middle. I randomly drew a few trunks and then built the tops of the trees as I added more trunks. Then I added white/ochre to the trees on the left. The foreground took on a life of its own.

It sometimes takes me a while to come up with a title of a painting. I don’t think that I have ever started a painting knowing what the piece would be titled. As soon as I finished this painting I titled it “Taking a Stand.”

Ann-Hart_Marquis-Taking-a-Stand

Taking a Stand, acrylic on canvas, 20×24 inches, 2014. ©Ann Hart Marquis

Now that I am writing about my paintings I  can’t help analyzing why I painted what I painted and then realizing that some of my titles and paintings have more obvious meaning to me than others. So in this painting I realize that it reflects my, dare I say, personal and political leanings ​toward my personal well-being as well as the environment. I am now writing more about the plight of our natural world, contributing more to environmental causes, signing more petitions, and concluding that I must “take a stand” in a more direct way than I have before.

All of my paintings require that I ask myself and therefore, the viewer, to consider the beauty, fragility and health of our environment.

This painting is currently available.  If you have questions or want to  purchase please contact me. It is 36x24x1.5-inches, acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas with sides painted to continue the scene for a finished look. The price is $575 plus shipping.

Contact me if you live outside the continental USA for additional shipping charges.

Tonalism Painting

When I was in California last summer doing an artist residency I was called a tonalist painter for the first time. My work had never been referred to that way before and I recognized what association was being made.

I very frequently will tone down my colors with grays or sometimes with a color’s complement. For example, I don’t like phthalo blue by itself, but I do like it with some value of gray. Here is an example of a painting that I just finished.

Tonalism painting by Ann Hart Marquis

A Song of Wandering, acrylic and ink on canvas, 24x30x1.5-inches. Ann Hart Marquis

Tonalism

Traditionally, tonalism (1880-1915) involved creating a painting permeated by a dominant tone and in a limited color scheme. Often, at least historically, painters worked mostly in earth colors so black would have been a common color on their palettes.

In tonalism, the palette is minimal, characterized by warm hues of brown, soft greens, gauzy yellows and muted grays.

Here is an example of a painting by the tonalist artist James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903.)

James McNeill Whistler-Nocturn Sun

Nocturn Sun-James Mc Neill Whistler

According to Stapleton Kearns, “Usually the goal of tonalist painting is the production of a mood in a painting rather than the representation of any actual place. The color, design and the mood were the subject rather than a unique and spectacular location.”

Many of my paintings are similar in color to a traditional tonal style.
• I eliminate details for broader brushstrokes and subtle transitions of tone.
• Frequently I use a neutral palette-mainly cool colors: green, blue, mauve, violent, grays, to produce similar tones.
• I also sometimes like high horizons to bring focus to the foreground.
• I like to use glazing techniques, layering thin layers of color over underlying colors
• I like to paint wet on wet.
• I like to start with a warm undertone even if I use black gesso and then layer cool overtones to achieve some tension of color.
• I like the idea of the “lost edge” technique which results in flow of color and atmospheric quality.
• I don’t like to paint specific, recognizable locations, but rather my impressions of a place or scene.

Will I continue to paint in this style? It appears that for my Ireland series I will. After that who knows.