Tag Archives: art supplies

Oil paint with 7 colors…yes you heard me right!

The title of this post says that I paint with 7 colors (plus white). Actually I paint about 90% of my pictures using only 3 colors.

Take a look at the painting, “Leonard Street Barn.” This was the first painting I ever did with just the 3 colors. As you can see, there is a wide variety of color, both in the lights and in the shadows. It took me only 1 hour to complete this painting on a 9″ by 12″ canvas board. Try counting the colors you see. I did this in a class taught by Jim Connelly. That was when I learned how to truly understand color and when I first began to have actual control over it. Let me explain.

Prior to limiting my palette of colors, I had a whole heaping basket of oil paints. I had several reds, yellows, blues, and of course the whole gamut of earth tones like Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna. It was so confusing to know which colors to grab, and it seemed like the more I used, the more I got confused and my colors failed to blend together well visually on the canvas. Color can be overwhelming.

But all you need is the ability to make black to be able to create the majority of your colors. How do you do that, you might ask?

Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, and Indian Yellow (or something similar). I can make a perfectly balanced black with mixing just those 3 colors. Add white and you have a gray scale.

Take away a touch of the blue and you have something more brown. Remember brown is really a dark orange, so without the blue you are left with more red and yellow (red and yellow make orange). Simple as that. Take away a little of the red and you are in deep dark green territory. And of course, less yellow means you are in the purple area. Add some of that white and you get your colors. Forget buying Burnt Umber.  Make it.  In fact, a little Ultramarine Blue added to a Burnt Sienna makes the Burnt Umber.

As you can see, you have control now, while automatically allowing for some harmony. Think about it…if you are only using 3 colors, your painting will retain harmony no matter how crazy you get!

Now you might see the holes you have to fill with that palette. What you truly need is a warm and a cool of your blue, yellow, and red. So I have a Cerulean Blue to go with my Ultramarine. That is especially needed for skies near the horizon. Mix the two and you have a Cobalt Blue, so forget buying that one again. I have a cool yellow with a Lemon Yellow and a warmer red with a Cadmium Red.

What is the 7th color? I have a Viridian Green because that is just so unique and rich of a color (you simply can’t make it). Add the Ultramarine Blue to it and you have a great many more deep blues. A touch of Alizarin Crimson with them and you have crazy purples. This 7th color is only for very specific colors and I use it rarely. The main use is for the aqua colors of the Caribbean. Truly, I paint 90% of my paintings with just the 3 main colors.

I suggest you do what I did in the beginning. Put a swatch of paint from all your various tubes on a piece of paper and label them.  Then create all the colors you can from your limited palette.  Make all the greens, from dark to light with the addition of white, etc.  You will soon see that you found your Sap Green right there at one point. That means you do not have to buy another tube of that.

I did that with about 30 tubes of paint. I found each one on my color chart made from my 7 colors. I no longer needed to buy anything but my 7. Did I mention I am cheap?  So not only did it make it easier for me to find the right color, but it saved me money! To me, that is worth the effort right there. And along the way, you will find that you gain more and more control over you colors, and therefore your paintings.

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My best friend, my paint brush

Have you ever watched an artist gaze intently at his/her paint brush?

Maybe you overheard your junior high school art teacher whisper oh so quietly to their old wooden handled filbert brush while sitting in the corner of the classroom.

No? Well I know for sure that I am not the only painter with a special relationship with my paint brush. To confess, I actually have more than one brush that I am intimate with. In fact, I have a whole harem, including synthetic brushes and my Eastern European sounding foreign comrade, the Kolinsky sable brush (I even have him in two sizes). 

I am sure you may wonder why the paint brush is so important to artists. Other tools such as paint, easels, canvas, paper, and thinners can affect the quality of a painting. However, the paint brush will directly impact the styel which is unique to the artist.

My paintings just would not be my paintings without my flat or bright style bristle brushes. I will explain this more, but first I have to admit that my relationships with my paint brushes were not always like this. And like most relationships, it has evolved over time.

At first, I simply had a paint brush. I needed one of those to dip into the cup of paint in order to get the paint onto the canvas or paper without getting my fingers all dirty. They meant nothing to me and I would just discard them after misuse, lack of care, and abuse on the canvas. Buying a paint brush was easy too. I would go to a staore, find a size I would like, find the cheapest version of it, and pay for it. Boy those were the days!

As I got older and was able to financially afford higher quality materials, I thought that better paint would change my world. I once thought that a better golf ball would make my drives straighter also, but buying higher quality equipment will not make an athlete into a professional. Buying higher quality art supplies will not make an artist a professional either.

The paint brush, though, becomes part of an expression that makes an artist who they are. It does not make them necessarily a better painter, it just makes them who they are. Of course better paint and canvas can make a better quality painting, and watercolor artists would do themselves a great injustice if they used inferior paper. But each paint brush is designed to handle paint differently. My soft sable brushes are reserved for creating smooth blending for portraits. I use my synthetics to spread large washes of color in the beginning of my painting process.

And I rely heavily on my bristle brushes to create the visible brush strokes. These strokes are what I feel make my paintings interesting and are what I hope the viewers come back to again and again as they discover the variations and patterns, once the intitial emotional impact of the painting fades.

So what type of brush should an artist buy?

Looking at the paint brush section at an art store makes you think you are buying a hunting license. Do you want hog bristle, black sable, mongoose, or white sable? And what about the types of brushes? Do you want a flat or bright? How about a round or filbert, or maybe a fan brush? Is there anything wrong with synthetic brushes? I mean they usually are cheaper, so are they of less quality?

Unfortunately there really is no good information out there to tell you. Believe me, I looked. It really comes down to trial and error. But as you try different brushes, you grow as an artist. Then before you realize it, you start to forge a relationship and your style begins to emerge. Each brush stroke has meaning and only your brushes can help you make that stroke what it needs to be.

Next thing you know, you are alone in your studio, whispering oh so gently to your number 6 bright hog bristle brush!