Notes from the Studio

Painting with Primaries I

In a prior post (DVD Review: “Three Landscape Studies” by Scott Christensen, August 22, 2010) I wrote that I would report on my experiments with a palette limited to three colors plus white and black.  Frankly, there have been a few duds and some paint-overs with my more extensive palette.  I’m not giving up on it, however, because I really like the concept.  The following 8x10" oil sketch, using primaries, worked.


These are the colors I am using for my primaries:

  • Grumbacher RedOak Glen en plein air
  • Old Holland Cadmium Yellow Lemon
  • Old Holland Ultramarine Blue
  • Old Holland Titanium White
  • Grumbacher PT Ivory Black

While these colors differ somewhat from Christensen’s palette I am following his basic theory and practice.  Only one brush was used, a filbert #4.

This late summer setting is in the little mountain community of Oak Glen, in southern California.  While Sharon Rachal painted the beautiful old stone school, I tackled a thoroughly green scene with a charming old shed.  As we were cleaning up, Sharon, with a twinkle in her eye, noted I had painted the restrooms.

I selected this view because of the challenge it presented in mixing warm and cool greens in a green-dominant painting.  Could I make the greens advance and recede properly?  Could I make the shed advance even though it was a cooler green than the surrounding foliage?  Could such a green scene be interesting?  When faced with a scene to paint, not only do you need to edit out the superfluous distractions, but you need to identify a set of questions or conditions that keep you focused.

I mixed big piles of basic dark and warm light, using these to tint and tone other mixes.  There is quite a bit of Grumbacher Red in the sun-lit portion of the green shed.  The angle of shadow on the shed is critical to the painting and is repeated in the foreground grass as well as by a tree branch.  Note a slight break in the shadow on the shed, which slows the speed of the line and reduces its severity.

This 1.5 hour plein air sketch afforded me greater understanding of primary colors and how to mix them.  It also proved a plein air painter can travel lightly by using primaries.

Comment on or Share this Article →