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pigments

A review of a book recommended by Robert Henri in his book “The Art Spirit”

Denman Ross’ book “The Painter’s Palette” is subtitled “A Theory of Tone Relations: An Instrument of Expression.” Ross’ primary purpose for writing the book is

Thinking of musical instruments and the laws of Counterpoint and of Harmony,
the question comes up whether it may not be possible for the
painter to convert his palette into an instrument of precision
and to make the production of effects of light and color a well
ordered procedure, a procedure which everyone can understand
and follow.
“After more than twenty
years given to the consideration of this question and to experiments
in the use of set-palettes, I am fully persuaded that it
is perfectly possible to make of the painter’s palette an instrument
of precision, an instrument which will serve him both
as a mode of thought and means of expression. He will then
use his palette very much as the musician uses his voice or the
violin or the piano.

Ross’ book is only sixty-four pages long and its main portion discusses the several palette systems or layouts possible for creating Ross’ desired “instrument of precision.” It is a technical discussion of the effects created by the artist’s pigments. The fundamental effect derived from the pigments is tone; a term including in its meaning both value and color: value being the quantity of light of a tone; color being the quality of the light of a tone.

Ross discusses in part one of his book the scales of values; in this case, he divides the scale between white and black into nine divisions: black, low dark, dark, high dark, middle, low light, light, high light, and black.

[ There are several sites on line where one can create his own scale of values; but
I prefer the RGB Gradient Maker.]

In my case,I have found that the scale of values used determines the focal distance of a painting; therefore, I use a twelve step scale; this gives me a four to five
foot focal distance for my paintings. I keep at my easel a printout of values
in relationships of one step, two steps, and three and four; really, it is five
as there is a white background. When painting, I will fit an observed value
into one of these relationships. My eventual goal is to be able to feel the desired
value step and not keep doing the mechanical comparisons: when painting or
drawing there is a perceived space from front to back of the overall scene and
between the object’s parts, between objects, and within the totality of the painting.

In part two, Ross breaks the color scale into the well known twelve step color wheel; he lays out two parallel lines of the twelve colors: one row is violet to yellow and below it is a row of yellow to violet. He does this in order to more easily to discuss values, warm and cool, and mixing pigments. Of the colors, violet is the darkest and yellow is the lightest; red-orange is the warmest and blue-green is the coolest; violet is neutral on the warm/cool scale as is yellow; the warm scale runs from violet through orange to yellow; the cool scale runs from violet to yellow through green.

Ross’ layouts of colors in its ultimate configuration, in my opinion, would
require a door size sheet of glass in order for there to be space not only for the
layout of pigments, the creation of the pure colors, and then the creation of
the needed tones; fortunately, Ross does provide progressively smaller palettes.

Personally, being a person of limited means, I prefer to layout my palette
according the areas being painted in the work session and the colors I anticipate
being used. Before reading The Painter’s Palette, in response to a video about Manet, I started laying warm and cool versions of each color I plan to use; I had begun a study of a figure in a painting using this system; but, upon reading Denman’s book, I changed my palette to a layout of two lines of pigments: on one side is the row of the warm pigments I want to use and on the other side is the row of cool colors. Hansa Yellow Medium is my warm yellow and Nickel Azo Yellow is my cool yellow.

Even though the study is not yet finished, the portions wherein I have used the dual row palette demonstrate a major leap forward in my understanding.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I am using Denman’s system on the legs.

One of the biggest problems I have encountered is that the color I am mixing changes color as I look at it. Also, I am taking Henri’s advice to focus on the dominant tone when determining the nature of the minor tones.

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Recently, I was given Robert Henri’s book “The Art Spirit” by a member of an oddball group of elderly conversationalists: we meet every Sunday on the Tate St.
sidewalk at the flower pot for coffee and donuts. (The donuts are free as they
frequently are delivered by an employee of the Salvation Army who is tasked with
distributing to spots throughout Greensboro extra donuts that are left over from
feeding the homeless.) We are all retired or almost retired who have time to
blather on Sunday mornings./

Henri’s book is, as the title page declares, a series of “Notes, articles,
fragments of letters, and talks to students.” It is a book that belongs in every
artist’s permanent library – between the times of having to sell down one’s library to make ends meet. The book stands among those few books that are able to fundamentally alter an artist’s understanding of painting. As it is nearly impossible to immediately implement in one’s art work every new idea one reads, one out of necessity returns to the books to gather more understanding.

For over twenty years I have managed to keep in my permanent library two key books: John Sloan’s “The Gist of Art” and William Morris Hunt’s “On Painting and Drawing;” each of these books have numerous underlinings and margin notes which increase in number with each reading. My copy of Henri’s book already has several underlines and margin notes even though I have only sat down and read of it a couple of times.

The reader can read Henri’s book cover to cover or browse by sections that interest him or focus on sections and paragraphs that pertain to the artist reader’s painting difficulties despite having a laughable art degree from today’s post-modernist institutions. (I swear one can get a better art education by attending classes at his local artists’ guild.)

Henri is generous to other artists of his era by mentioning two books on painting which he himself thinks are vital for an artist’s understanding: “The Painter’s Palette” by Denman Waldo Ross and ” A Theory of Pure Design: harmony Balance Rhythm,” also by Ross, Both books are downloadable as PDFs with a Google search. The latter book written in 1907 and the former in 1919. These books are in the lineage of Kandinsky’s”Concerning the Spiritual in Art” and Joseph Albers’ “Interaction of Color.”

I will cover the two Ross books in later book reviews. The books are available in PDF format:
“The Painter’s Palette”
” A Theory of Pure Design: harmony Balance Rhyth,”

As a colorist, I am disgusted by the color change acrylic paint undergoes as it dries. the image below demonstrates the change:

RGB representation of the scale of raw sienna to raw umber plus two steps just before gray.

RGB representation of the scale of raw sienna to raw umber plus two steps just before gray.

The color scale is based on the RGB scale of Raw Sienna to Raw Umber: the A corresponds to Raw Umber; A# and B are two steps below it short of gray. Raw Siena is analogous to C.
This means I will have to return to oil paints. I will finish the two I am currently working on, but most of the work done in the past four years is worthless.

The early twentieth century artist John Sloan wrote a book on art and painting titled The Gist of Art; it is a book which should be in every artist’s permanent art library.
For me the most important chapter in the book is “Painting”; specifically, the sub section labeled “The Color Triangle.” Sloan describes the color triangle as follows:

[He] “found the Dudeen color triangle introduced by Charles A. Winter, a very practical color diagram. The triangle represents color mixtures in pigment form more accurately than does the circle.” [page 119; The Gist of Art]

While the chart from Sloan’s book does not show the full range of pigments available today, it provides the basic information upon which the astute artist can build a representation of his newer palette. One innovation could be to create a similar chart using the color index name number now found on artists’ pigments (you will find a complete guide to these numbers in that indispensable tome The Artists’ Handbook by Ralph Mayer).

Mixing_Triangle

My former method of mixing a color was a tedious process of mixing to the exact top color then mixing down with its complement color: a time consuming process which made for very few colors bing put down in a painting session. Now, a series of oranges can be mixed up and down a color chord (e.g., orange to blue which can be understood to be one color) using mars violet and a range between yellow ochre and raw umber: you can see how to mix a color such as mars brown using mars violet and oxide of chromium. The line between two pigments is also a chord.

So, one now can walk into an art store and look at a mixed pigment, such as viridian in acrylics, look at the mixture, purchase the base pigments, go back to your studio, and using the color triangle create the commercial hue and, at the same time, have a greater range of greens.