Thursday, 26 November 2015

Flemish Colour Charts

When I began to moving into the world of colour with traditional mediums I found these charts to be incredibly helpful. They cover a full range of the colour spectrum and how they are to be mixed. The final charts themselves are not the only thing that are useful however. The actual process of painting them teaches one a lot about mixing and the qualities of paint. Mine were done in oil, but one can use any medium they like.

The original name for this practice is Flemish Colour Charts, dating back to the art practices of the Belgian Dutch such as Jan van Eyck. The charts were an important part of the practicing process throughout the life of the painter. I originally heard about these from Richard Schmid's Alla Prima. This is what he has to say about the charts:

"To that end, I was introduced to a rational palette of colors and shown how to mix each of the pigments methodically with all others (only nine). The purpose was to see, understand and remember how they behaved. Then I had to blend white into those mixtures and render each out to five values"

Indeed, each chart is composed of a main colour that is then mixed into every other colour one by one. White is then added to each mix to create steps from the original mix value to an off-white tone. The first chart is just each of the colours blended with white. Here's a list of colours (oil) that Schmid recommends:

Cadmium Lemon, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Yellow Ochre Light, Cadmium Red, Terra Rosa, Alizarin Crimson, Transparent Oxide Red, Viridian, Cobalt Blue Light and Ultramarine Blue Deep.

If you can't find some of these (they might also go by different names depending on the brand) feel free to replace them with a closely corresponding but different pigment. I replaced a few myself.
A portrait by Richard Schmid

Here is one more excerpt from Schmid on the usefulness of these charts:

"Surprisingly, the charts took only two weeks to complete, and when I finished I knew more about my paint than I had ever thought possible. It was an astonishing experience- imagine being taken into the kitchen of a great chef and shown everything he could do with flavors-that was what it was like for me! There was nothing tedious or boring about doing the charts; each was a revelation of power that awaited me when I did start painting"

I second that, Mr Schmid.

Friday, 6 November 2015

The Joy of Details

Sometimes even a small detail can put an artwork into a wholly new perspective. Especially paintings by the old masters are full of these little artistic gems. They are a joy to discover!

"Conveying a Child's Coffin" by Albert Edelfelt, 1879

One of my favourites is in the Edelfelt's work above. I've always interpreted the tiny boat and people in the distance to depict a couple being rowed to their wedding ceremony. This happy event is in stark contrast with the grim family despairing over the death of a child. This sort of delicate touch can quite easily add a full layer of extra substance to a painting.

"The Committee on Moral Books" by Jehan-Georges Vibert

Sometimes the details are there simply for amusement. For example in the painting by Vibert a third inquisitor is hidden in the dark background in front of the bookshelves, enjoying a book profusely.

"An Artist in-His Studio" by John S. Sargent

Such details are not just limited to works of fiction. They can also be educational. In the Sargent's self-portrait above we can see his full palette which is thought to be exactly how he ordered his paints. A fascinating look into his process indeed and all this through such a little detail.

Do you have any favourites that exhibit attention to detail?