Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Four States of Color: How Color Looks Different in Different Art Techniques

The pigment of oil paint can look different depending upon how it is applied. Various oil painting techniques will give the painting a different look and feel. Paint applied thickly will look different to paint applied thinly. The color label on a tube of paint is only part of the story, as can be seen here.

Different Blues from One Blue

Ultramarine & alizarin crimson
When applied as a translucent glaze on white gesso, French ultramarine will possess great luminescence, because of the white gesso shining through the paint layer. The blue will almost appear to glow, like sapphire. If a little titanium white is added to the blue, the ultramarine will not only appear lighter, but this translucency will vanish. This is because adding white adds opacity and therefore reduces luminescence. The close up image shows this treatment of ultramarine and alizarin crimson. The upper row shows a thin coat of pigment. The lower row shows the pigment with white added. Notice the nature of the color changes as well as its tone.

Oil Painting Art Techniques Shifting Color 

Different applications of paint
There are other ways of applying a color. In this image, the upper pigment has been applied thickly. Notice little imperfections and unevenness in the layer. A single paint layer is difficult to perfect because of the white showing through in places beneath.

The solution to this is to allow this paint to dry and then apply another coat on top. This can be seen in the bottom paint layer. Here, two thin glazes have been applied one on top of the other. Notice the evenness of the paint layer and how one evens out the other.

See my Youtube clip that demonstrates how I applied the paint in these four different ways.

Four Simple Oil Painting Techniques

Glazing an Oil Painting for Translucent Paint over Gesso 

Glazing with oil paint
Applying the pigment of any oil color will appear different depending on the technique. A thin glaze applied straight onto white gesso will given it a transparent and luminescent feel. An example of this can be seen in the image of a garden arbor, that looks rather like watercolor washes. The oil paint can be thinned down further with a little linseed oil or artist spirits.

Opaque Oil Paint for Flat Colors 

The opposite of a thin paint glaze is an opaque paint layer. None of the underlying gesso will show through. The paint is dense because a little white might be added to it, or it will be applied thickly. Opaque paint is necessary for flat, bright colors.

Alla Prima in a Broken Paint Layer 

Castlerigg Stone Circle alla prima
This image of Castlerigg Stone Circle in Cumbria shows the application of broken paint layer. The paint is opaque and fairly thick but applied in a rough single layer. This is known as alla prima. Alla prima is difficult to smooth out. The only way round this is to allow the first paint layer to dry before applying another layer on top. This will even out imperfections in the paint layer.

Two Paint Glazes for Smooth Effects 
Smooth glazing with oils
This image of radiation fog over mountains exhibits smooth glazes, as the painting was completed in two sessions. The first paint layer was applied fairly thinly, allowed to dry and then a second glaze applied on top. Often a little linseed oil is needed for the upper paint layer to add flexibility.

Different Colors with Various Techniques in Oil Color 

As can be seen here, a given color can appear different depending on how it is applied. A translucent layer will appear different to a thick layer. Add a little white to increase opacity and the luminescence from the underlying white gesso will disappear. Applying one paint layer over another will create a smooth, almost perfect paint layer. These four states of color can be used to create a desired effect in oil painting.

More Articles about Oil Painting Art Techniques and Color

What are the main oil painting techniques?
My science of color site
Glazing with oils for beginners
The nature of blue pigment
Why is my painting cracking?
What are different alkyd mediums for?
Paint a landscape in 100 strokes

My Terrible Drawings are Ruining my Paintings. How do I See Like an Artist?

Drawing underpins painting, and oils are no different. An inaccurate drawing will continue to niggle regardless of how good the painting technique is. This is why it is important to get the drawing right before laying paint to canvas. But it goes further than this. Drawing begins before even pencil even contacts paper. Here, find a test into how visually aware you are.

Learn to Draw Better with this Test 

As drawing is vital to painting, have posted my Youtube clip here that delves into how visually aware you are. My video includes a test into visual judgment. This means looking at things and making visual estimates on their shapes, angles and coordinates. Judging how things look includes the following by the use of the naked eye (no visual aids such as rulers, protractors, spirit levels, etc.)

The angle of a line, which might be on paper, or the inclination of an object. See how close you were to the mark only afterwards with a protractor. Bear in mind a right angle will exhibit 90 degrees; a straight line, 180 degrees. Is the angle acute? (Less than 90 degrees)? Is it obtuse? (More than 90 degrees). The trueness of a shape.

Is a circle truly a circle, or is it subtly oval? Is the square slightly asymmetrical? Is the triangle equilateral, or is one side slightly longer?

Drawing Tips by Measuring
Judge the position of one object in relation to another. Is it higher? Lower? How far away is it? Use an object as a frame of reference. (Is it half the width of this object? Double the width?) The image shows an example of making visual estimates of size relation. The height of the strut is roughly the same as the space between two. Again, the chair is roughly in the center of the two struts in a symmetrical formation.

Find other measurements that fit simple ratios and fractions within a scene. This is the key to making objects fit in a drawing, rather like a jigsaw.

Do your Eyes Deceive You?
Judge how symmetrical a shape is. Does it skew at one side? Is it lower on one side than the other? Such visual acumen is vital in portraiture and other objects of nature such as butterflies and markings on fur. Awareness of symmetry may hold to key to creating balanced compositions, which includes the arrangement of a bunch of flowers or to design a motif.

Take note of tonal variations of any aspect. What is the darkest area? Where is the mid-tone? Can the scene be divided into basic tones? How many tones would there be? Color can often interfere with tonal judgment. Half-closing the eyes will cut out most bright colors and make tones easier to see.

Learn to See Like an Artist 

How level is a line? Does it tilt a little? Which way? Look also at vertical lines. Is it truly vertical or does it tilt? Difficulty in judging the trueness of lines may explain why some people find hanging a painting difficult or to hang shelves. This might also explain why some drawings appear to lean to one side on paper. Often, over-familiarity with a drawing will cause its errors to become invisible.

When Drawing Begins

Judging if Something is Straight
As explained in the clip, drawing starts before the pencil touches paper. A line can only be drawn once a good visual estimate is made. This might be the center point of the scene or how curved a line is.

Beware of distorted perceptions in drawing. Examples of these can be found in the clip. These can sneak into the drawing in the most subtle ways, causing errors and unwanted focal points. The angle of a door might appear twisted or the struts of a chair too thin.

Common mistakes are often due to the brain’s insistence that something is there when it isn't. Our so-called left brain, where the speech center is located, will assign labels to things. A chair has four legs and a seat at the top. But from certain angles, a chair will appear to have three legs and no seat at all.

Do Your Eyes Fool Your Brain in Drawing? 

The key is to dispel all assumptions about how objects ‘should’ look and simply copy lines and shapes, but this begins before pencil contacts paper. Doing so requires high visual awareness.

The test within the clip will establish how good you are at making visual estimates before putting lines on paper. In others words, whether your eyes fool you into poor drawing.

Take This Test for Drawing Ability 

Good Drawing Underpins
Good Painting
Within this test, you will find ten questions that look at angles, sizes, coordinates and tones. Don’t use visual aids, and resist pausing the video. Answers are given at the end.

Eight or more out of ten and good visual awareness is demonstrated. Five to seven is not too bad, but distorted perception may sneak into your drawing. Four or below out of ten and your visual awareness needs fine-tuning. Don’t worry if a low score is the result, all that is needed is practice. Good drawing is all about making accurate visual judgments before putting down what you see onto paper. This is essential to oil painting.

In many ways, applying the oil paint forms the second part of the project. The first: drawing requires equal consideration. Good visual awareness is the key to good drawing.

Articles Related to Oil Painting

My oil paintings look childish and lack realism
How to shade a sphere
Improve visual memory in drawing
My science of colour website