Recent questions, with answersMay 24, 2022
Two interesting and important questions came in this morning. Since they are about issues that we should all be thinking about I'm posting them, along with my answers, here.
Q1: If I had to pick one thing it would be identifying and mixing the colours for shading sequences, especially for skin.
Q2: Another is understanding how you can work in absolute Munsell terms when the range of values and chroma can’t match the range in most natural subjects.
A2: The questions you ask are key. If one understands the answers they can paint anything, or figure out how to do it — assuming of course they can draw. But that's another matter.
I'm going to answer your second question first.
The full range of oil paint is miniscule.
• Munsell encompasses every color that can be mixed in oil paint.
• If you include each chroma step — instead of skipping every other one as the big book does — there are about 3,200 individual colors that can be mixed in oil paints.
• The average person can perceive about 3,200,000 colors. There are people who can see over 4 million, but let's leave them aside so I can do the math in my head.
Any oil painter is limited to being able to mix only .1% of the color they see in the natural world. And if you spend any time at all looking at paintings on social media you know that most do not come anywhere near reaching full value or chroma ranges. In other words, they're working with a smaller gamut than the tiny one available to a painter who can mix every color. And some beautiful work can be done with compressed value ranges. I'm not saying one has to hit the full gamut. Most cannot though. This is where paint application becomes critical. There are ways to expand the hue and chroma range, to create surfaces containing a ton of information that satisfies the viewer's mind in an interesting way. I'm teaching this to a couple of private students.
So we are limited to a tiny percentage of what is visible, even if we can mix every color possible. The best we can do is include as much of the gamut as we can and need in order to bring our paintings to full realization.
A1: Shading series.
Graydon and I have argued about shading series for years, 10 years maybe. He uses a linear expansion of chroma and hue.
I see different effects in the natural world and in photos, often looking something like this, in skin:
• Local is 5YR 6/3
• Highlights on forehead are 7.5YR at 4th chroma
• Shadows where the cheek turns down are 2.5YR at 4th
I see even wider differences in flowers and fruit, where the hues might arc over 5 hues and the chroma is highest at the lower values and then move vertically when it hits 10. I've only ever seen one subject, a brown cow in a misty field at dawn, that held hue constant. Recently David Briggs settled the debate, saying that he remembers me talking about this phenomenon for years and it's due to the opacity of the object observed. Only completely opaque objects will hold hue constant and expand chroma in a linear manner.
The way I work, whether from life or photos, is to sample the HVCs of the local, the shadows and the lights. This tells me what the hue/chroma arcs are — they are often separate — and I make notes. Once I know the actual HVC presenting in the subject I can mix color strings that describe it and I paint according to the value maps I create. Once the form is constructed and turning properly I'll begin using finishing colors. Since we're talking about skin, there are some really lovely ways to play with hue and chroma. On a recent head study my hue range went from 5R to 5Y, up to 10th chroma in spots. Expanding the hue and chroma range in a subtle way makes for a lively surface full of information.
I've probably created more questions for you. Let me know.
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