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

  1. Bart Westgeest says:

    Very interesting post Ed. I like the way you analyse your painting very much. It is hard to remain critical and focused, but necessary in order to progress.
    It’s brave to post the picture and painting for comparison, but you have done very well indeed.
    I agree with your conclusions, not much to add. The paintings of Brent are indeed more grayish, giving the effect you probably are looking for, but then you would like to find your own balance.
    When looking at the picture and the painting comparison one could ask whether you could benefit from a slightly more refrained approach – if I may say so. The colours and shapes.are in general more expressive than in the pictured scene. But that is ofcourse also a matter of style and preference.

    Thanks for the inspiring post.

  2. Hi Ed,

    This is a great post! I similarly struggle, though my dragon is color vs. value. I am often so enraptured with color that I end up working in a small value range. This is why painting is the pursuit of a lifetime there is so much to master, good thing it’s a labor of love!! To my eye the only thing that may have been pushed too far in your example is the intensity of the blue in the water especially in the distance. It will be interesting to see what you do with this. Love your work!!

    Happy Painting,

  3. Hi Ed,

    Happy and surprised to see your post on grey vs. color which included a reference to a few of my paintings. The interactiveness of your blog is fantastic. Wish I were more computer literate. Look forward to painting with you in SLO in October if not before.


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