We’ve entered 2018, saying goodbye to the holidays and getting back to work. As a painter, you’re the one in charge of everything—motivation, organization, finances, and more. I’m excited to share that I’ll be teaching a spring class at Kennesaw State. It’s just one class in their continuing education department, but I’m taking it seriously and giving my best to the students. This is a little experiment to see how I like teaching and how effective I can be. I hope to use it as a stepping stone for future workshops. If you’re interested and live in the area, keep an eye out for my Oil Painting classes in the Kennesaw State OLLI catalog. We’ll cover the basics, and I’m on the lookout for students eager to expand their skills and venture into plein air painting. It’s going to be enjoyable and budget-friendly.
I’m always on the lookout for new insights, and sometimes a class or video can provide that spark of inspiration. Recently, my wife gave me a gift: the Scott Christensen video, “3 Landscape Studies.” I admire his work, which often features western mountain landscapes in the tradition of Edgar Payne. Many artists have been influenced by him, and while I was initially hesitant to adopt too many of his techniques, I can honestly say that a few of his teachings resonated with me and may have enhanced my work.
He skillfully employs a concise palette comprising Titanium white, Ultramarine blue, Permanent Red, and Lemon Yellow Cadmium. To this limited selection, he introduces two self-mixed colors: a harmonious gray crafted from these primary hues in roughly equal proportions and a warm, yellowish-tan khaki, also derived from this foundational quartet. This approach captivated my attention due to its intriguing simplicity—particularly beneficial for someone like me, prone to occasionally indulging in a profusion of colors.
Notably, the departure from my palette’s staples, such as Ocher, Alizarin Crimson, and Cadmium Red or Orange, marked a significant shift. Christensen’s use of a less saturated red, in contrast to the vibrant Cadmium, necessitates a touch more finesse in imparting warmth to the mix, reducing its dominance. This alteration also allowed for more generous paint application, particularly in the creation of rich, dark tones, a resource often in short supply for artists. For my darkest dark, I employ a blend of Ultramarine Blue, a somewhat desaturated hue from the outset, comprising 60-70%, with Alizarin contributing 30-40%, and a subtle infusion of yellow (2%). Permanent Red, with its lower saturation, demands a touch more paint but blends harmoniously at a balanced ratio of 50/50 blue and red, accented by the introduction of Yellow.
Another important part of his method is pre-mixing. We’ve all heard about it, but I didn’t really take it seriously until I watched this video. I tried it, and I’m happy to say it worked really well.
I’m a sight size guy, so my view is pretty much transcribed onto my board at the same scale— I observe and mix the colors starting with the darkest dark. Then I work on picking out the other dominant colors and building them—I mimic Christensen here, mixing in some of that neutral gay into almost every mix—especially the greens. He says he mixes the gray beforehand and tubes it up himself along with that khaki tan color—I have not tried this but certainly the gray is rather easy to obtain, if you paint as much as most of us you’ll have some leftover from your last outing or on your studio palette—easy enough to transfer into your box before you go out. The khaki is another matter—you’re going to have to mix this purposely or perhaps buy a titanium buff—no big thing.
This method may seem to slow you down at first, but it actually helps you work faster and achieve cleaner, better colors. In my case, it provides plenty of paint, which allows me to apply thicker layers that I prefer. Using a full-size palette knife can speed up the process and prevent overworking the painting (sometimes called “petting”). With more paint readily available, you can use it directly without spreading it too thin. Having the right amount of paint is crucial for creating a successful plein air artwork. Surprisingly, I found that I ended up using less paint overall.
This approach ensures you have the right colors at your fingertips, making it easier to mix them consistently. Often, when working on a painting, I used to run out of paint, especially towards the end, and would end up using any available dark or light color just to keep going.
The result? Vibrant gray tones, less harsh greens, and cleaner, more attractive colors. That’s all there is to it—give it a try!