Limited Palette —Big Results

Languid Creek
Languid Creek

Anders Zorn, the famous 19th century Swedish painter is said to have painted most of his work with a very limited palette—ivory black, cadmium red, yellow ocher and white. Blue is the big missing ingredient and in my book it’s pretty important, but I’ve been looking for something to give me a fresh approach, so for the last month or so I’ve done several paintings using this formula. For rainy days it’s ideal, the overall grayness that comes with the use of black can really unify the look and color. I’m finding that ivory black is not as potent as I thought it might be and that the darks although a bit dull and colorless are easier to control. A few things that don’t work are large buildups of black by itself and just like any plein air work you must hold those darks back so you can use them up front otherwise you loose a lot of dimension.

This first painting is from Vickery Creek—a very nice spot here in Roswell GA, with a myriad of different subjects —one of my go to places. This was my first try and the greens here are all pretty much the same. More about that later. Here is an example of the darks getting a bit too dark in the background, mostly the the right of the tree.

This second view was painted during the recent Marietta/Cobb Museum Paint Out and is an alley about a block from the museum. It was the first painting I did that weekend and the most successful. It has good contrasts of cool and warm grays plus some notes of pure red and black that work. I was delighted to win the Mayor’s Prize with this 12 x12″.

These final two paintings were done just a week ago —10/3-4/15 on a very dark and rainy weekend. The first is a small 9 x12″ of the alley on Canton Street in Roswell and the second of the Irish pub Mac MaGee’s near by. The orange that I think helps the alley painting is the shellacked mahogany board showing though. The red painted pub was also a natural for this color combo. I intend to keep at it. I think it’s perfect for the right subject. I can’t say it’s really taught me anything other than I no longer fear using black—something painter’s will warn you of. Mars black might be a bit stronger hue wise, and certainly redder but ivory black shades down to an almost blue gray so you can substitute it for blue in many occasions. The range of greens is limited too—I’m pretty good at varying my green as a rule but with this set up the only thing you can do it mix ocher and black at varying degrees plus ad some red to dull them up. I can say that I do paint faster, just less choices and the work is more tonal —not a bad thing.

Reflections in the Alley
Reflections in the Alley
Parking Lot in the Rain
Parking Lot in the Rain
Mac McGee's
Mac McGee’s

 

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