Preliminary color study

Preliminary color study, oil on canvas, 4 in. x 4 in. Full size.

Renaissance painters often divided their work in three stages; drawing, values and color. Complex compositions, contemporary knowledge and limited color palettes necessitated some type of a plan before painting saints and angels permanently on the pope’s ceiling.

With some variations, the process usually entailed beginning with a small sketch, which was then scaled up to a full size drawing called a cartoon. Holes were punched in the cartoon and it was pounced on the surface to be painted with powdered charcoal. Next, the forms outlined and then modeled in light and shadow with monochromatic values. Color was applied last. This process isolated each of the problems of drawing, values and color so that they could be addressed separately.

During the last century, many schools of painting arose that questioned the idea of what a painting is. This took painting (and art) off  in new directions, and we have seemed to reach a plateau in painting. All that remains are attempts to grab attention through shock and disgust. Which is not the same reactions Monet triggered when he began displaying his plein air paintings. He saw the beautiful colors of light and sought to express them in paint. His paintings shocked people, but they certainly weren’t disgusting.

Currently, there is a revival among artists who are moving away from the paint what you feel approach of the previous decades. Refreshingly, young painters are interested in drawing, perspective and properties of paint.  Studying painting history, will increase respect for the knowledge our predecessor artists of the past harbored. They too, used technological innovations to improve their art, but not at the pace we experience today. They had time to think, explore, and evaluate each new thing before discarding or adopting it. As technology encroaches upon all areas of our lives, the essence of what makes us human will become more relevant. Art is a vital part of  our humanity, paintings are a way to distinguish our thinking, feeling, human selves. Melding contemporary knowledge, with masterful skills of the Renaissance, is one way to explore this issue.

Renaissance painters had limited options when it came to color. Color was costly and some were rare. Color expresses emotion and evokes associations. Color is complex. One wrong note throws the whole painting off key. Much time and paint can be wasted correcting color on a large painting. It’s good to have a guide to go by in painting and in life, it makes both a little less messy and more productive. Its good to have a color plan in painting.

Recently a friend asked if I would make some small paintings as gifts she could give to associates. Initially I thought of painting twelve small plein air paintings. However, the weather wasn’t cooperating and we were on a tight deadline.

So in preparation for a new egg tempera, rather than go with my faith and figure it out as I go method, I decided to make small color studies of the same subject using only the three primary col0rs of red, yellow and blue.  Basically, I used various combinations of Gamblin Chromatic Black as a blue on some, Indian Red, Yellow Ochre or Cadmium Medium Yellow, all low intensity hues except for the Cadmium Yellow. Mostly, I was going for large shapes, movement and mood.


Preliminary color studies

It’s difficult to see the subtle color changes in the shapes, but you can get a general feel for the mood.

Preliminary color studies

It was an enlightening exercise and I encourage you to try it before embarking on a large painting project.

Which one did I choose?

You’ll have to wait for the finished egg tempera to find out.

Which one would you choose?

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