Secrets of the landscape color palette for painters. Painting on-site presents unique challenges outdoors compared to painting in the well-controlled studio environment. It’s easy to see how difficult and frustrating it can be to create even a small painting during those hours outdoors. In the detailed demonstration below, you’ll learn about the method we’ve developed for teaching outdoor painters how to create an ideal landscape color palette. We will start with quickly analyzing colors and local values, then pre-mix all the colors needed for painting and cool drawing ideas to develop a consistent color harmony between the pre-mixed colors.
We encourage you to familiarize yourself thoroughly with the concept of color temperature and complementary colors. A split primary palette consists of one warm and one cold palette: red, yellow, and blue. In photo 1A above, we have marked the prefixes with a “P.” Clockwise from the bottom left, these colors are:
- lemon yellow or light cadmium
- medium cadmium yellow
- Medium or light cadmium red
- Quinacridone pink or alizarin carmine red
- Ultramarine blue
- Cobalt blue.
It may be helpful to think of warm primary colors such as cadmium yellow as “a yellow, a red” and ultramarine blue as “a blue, a red.” It is important for clean, non-muddy colors. Muddy colors can often be created by mixing complementary colors or colors with a complementary component. Over time, you will arrange your primary colors the way you want. We positioned our reds and yellows like a color wheel to reflect our preferences. Once you’ve found the optimal arrangement, please don’t change it. Your brush will always find the right color easily.
After you have arranged the colors, mix three secondary colors from the primary colors on the palette. To save time on location, we recommend that you mix your secondaries in your studio in advance. Photo 1B above shows our cadmium-orange mixture as an example of a secondary color.
You may be wondering why mixing secondaries is important when you can easily buy them ready-made. We believe that the only way to understand the relationships between colors truly is to mix them yourself.
You will gain confidence and speed by knowing which colors produce which tones and how colors affect each other, and this skill will undoubtedly improve your images. Plus, if you take the time to pre-mix your colors, you can spend your time painting outdoors without mixing.
Take your time to mix the abutments. It is very important to mix them so that they do not hang towards one primary side. It would help if you sat right in the middle. When mixing, compare them to pure base colors by smoothing the colors into each other with your palette knife like a trowel or cake spatula in a flat, saw motion. Then place the finished colors on your palette where you can mix them crosswise to develop those nice shades of gray.
Find your subject and set up your gear. Then develop an effective composition and draw it on the canvas or blackboard.
Use your palette knife to mix the colors of your landscape motif. We suggest that you first mix only the largest masses of paint that you can find by squinting. When you mix these colors, you are constantly comparing them in value to your subject. This process is simplified by using a light grayscale, as shown in Figure 3 above. First of all, align the observed value of the large landscape masses to a point on the scale. Then blend the color with a palette knife to adjust the gray level. Try using a grayscale for each painting. It will sharpen your perception of values. In this painting, we have two main masses of colors: green and purple, both of which are secondary colors.
To create a “color chain” of tones in your large masses of paint:
- Drag green (G) towards yellow, as in image 4 above.
- Use the flat side of a large putty knife in a smooth, saw motion to pick up some yellow and bring it back to green.
- Repeat this step until you get a soft change from yellow to green.
- Drag a small amount of green onto the cobalt blue, then move it back towards the green as you did with the yellow.
- Repeat this process until you have a graduated series of colors, each representing different tones of green as it changes its hue from yellow to blue or from warm to cold.
It is what we mean by color string. To get the very warm shade of green we needed for the painting, we then worked some of the pre-blended orange secondary colors into the green color strand.
Then, do the same operation on the other bulk tone – the purple blend, as in figure 5 above. At the bottom left, we placed a bunch of Rosa Quinacridone, which we mixed towards our premixed purple bunch (V) in the center. (To better see the effect of this dark blend, we added a little white underneath.) To shift the purple to the cool side, we blended right in the direction of a pure cobalt blue. Don’t worry about mixing too much or wasting paint. It is the beginner’s Achilles heel, and the sooner you get over this misunderstanding, the better. Paint like a rich person, and it will make your images richer.
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Let’s go further and create some colorful and harmonized gray tones between our two main color ranges. These shades of gray are beautiful. Joaquín Sorolla has called gray “the colors of money,” and he was right. Most of our paintings should be made up of such brightly colored shades of gray, with just a touch of pure color here and there to bring it all together. These are now all the colors we need to complete the painting, and since they all share something, they are all in harmony.
Paint the whole image with only the colors you mixed without adding any new ones. When you add new colors, they stick out like a sore thumb. If you run out of a certain color, stop and mix as you did before. Over time, you’ll get an idea of how much color to mix in front. Our two original spot colors now function as pure hues, while all other blends are gradations of these main hues. At this point, it’s easy to add white to any of these colors to create a tint or highlight or add black to add an accent. If you need a lot of paint to highlight, start with a bunch of white paint first, and then add small amounts of premixed paint, not vice versa. This way, you avoid wasting a lot of white paint. With this coloring mixing advice for your landscape color palette, you are well provided to take on the difficulty outdoors with more art and joy.
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