I study a lot with Colorists, because my direction for some time has been to use color to the fullest, as a form of expression equal to design, subject matter, and all the other things that influence the appeal of a painting.  I also go back-and-forth (or, perhaps this is just learning) between colors and grays, to find the right balance.  One teacher emphasizes the use of grays to give pure color a stage to sing on.  I think he’s right, and I know I’m struggling to find that balance.

A case in point is this painting I did the other night.  I painted this in my studio via an image projected via television to a connected digital camera. SIDEBAR: Have you tried this?  You’ll never paint from a photograph again, I guarantee it, if you try this method. Projecting with light (be it a TV, slides, whatever) is the best way to see into shadows and get a better representation of the values in a scene.

The column on the left shows the scene from the photograph, in color and in greyscale below it.  The right column is the same, but my painting.  Looking at the grey scale comparisons, I think they’re fairly close.  Yes, the sea could have been a bit lighter, as well as the sky, but in general the values are close to what they should be.  Of course the job of an artist is to interpret, not capture as a photograph, but I’m still seeking for a degree of realism

The color is another story.  I think I really over-saturated the scene. I wanted to push the color, but I ended up pushing every color instead of selectively. I think the painting would have been stronger had I taken this approach–in fact, why not, I’ll paint over this with grays and see how it goes (upcoming post!).

Photograph – Color

Painting – Color

Photograph – B&W

Painting – B&W

On reason I started thinking about color saturation was I spent some time last night checking out the web sites of some of my favorite painters–unfortunately, most of which are not bloggers, so no RSS feeds!   With the “A”s, I quickly ended up on Brent Jensen’s site, whose URL you’ll find in the sidebar of my blog (“Favorite Painters”).  Brent is an occasionally painting partner (when I’m down in Southern California, his home, or when he comes up my way).  We’ll get to paint together at the San Luis Obispo Plein Air Festival in October.  He’s also studied with some of the same colorists, so it’s interesting for me to compare our work.

I think Brent is doing some really wonderful work!  In particular, I am noticing a change in how he represents color (in addition to some really wonderfully loose brushwork).  I’ve copied some samples below that illustrate this.  He’s really carefully controlling color, and has lots of interesting, subtle grays.

by Brent Jensen

By Brent Jensen

So, hear I go: the every-ending sea-saw between gray and color.  I’ll find the balance, eventually.  As always, your comments appreciated on the subject.


3 thoughts on “My Battle: Gray vs. Color

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