Mixing time

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170428a Giraffe Skin (2017) oil on canvas 25 x 25cm

More practice mixing colours from photographs, this time with slightly more subtle colours than the bright primaries and secondaries I was working on yesterday. I’m getting used to the extra time spent mixing, and I mix all the colours before I start each painting. These colours look passable to me, but probably they don’t look so good for people with normal colour vision.

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170428b Two Mackerel (2017) oil on canvas 25 x 25cm

By putting my paintings into Photoshop, I can compare the colours to the original source photos, measured in RGB. My gold has less red in it than the original image, and the brown patches on the mackerel are more green in my painting. I don’t know how critical those differences are.

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170428c Gold Thing (2017) oil on canvas 25 x 25cm

When I was painted the giraffe skin and mackerels I used up all the paint I mixed, but this gold thing (above) had some paint left over, so I made another gold painting with what was there (below). Copying a form faithfully is just an exercise to me, so it’s fun when there’s enough paint left over to try something like this. Eventually I’d like to be able to mix a palette using a source image for the colours, and then use that to paint my own invented images.

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170428d Gold Objects (2017) oil on canvas 25 x 25cm

Visual impairment work-arounds (Chuck Close)

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More practice mixing colours, working from photos and using PhotoShop to make digital palettes like the one below to refer to when I’m mixing the real paints. I find this helpful, but it’s not a solution for my colour blindness. That would become obvious if I tried to paint anything with more subtle colouring.

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Guide palette

Here’s something else on the subject of visual impairment and artistic work-arounds:

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Chuck Close Self-Portrait 1 (2009) oil on canvas 182.9 x 152.4cm

Artist Chuck Close has a neurological condition called prosopagnosia, or face blindness. He can identify a face as a face, but can’t look at someone’s face and recognise that person. In Eric R. Kandel’s book Reductionism in Art and Brain Science, Kandel describes how prosopagnosia has effected Close’s art work:

“To reconcile the problem of face blindness with his desire to paint portraits, Close developed a new, reductionist-synthetic form of portraiture that combines photography and painting; this style later became known as photorealism. Close first takes a large-format Polaroid photograph of his model. He then places a transparent sheet over the photograph and – in a step of radical reductionism – divides that transparent sheet into many small cubes, each of which he decorates in a distinctive way. Then – in a step of synthesis – he transfers the decorated cubes onto the canvas. Thus, Close achieves a paradoxical result in having a reductive process lead to a complex and richly detailed end result.” (p.172-173)

Kandel’s description of Close’s process reminds me of the “reductionism” and “synthesis” involved in my use of digital palettes, although my results are less interesting. But this encourages me to explore my colour blindness further, because in looking for a work-around I might arrive at a process that’s interesting in itself.

In the mean time, here are some of the colour studies from the last couple of days.

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170426a Plums (2017) oil on canvas 17 x 17cm

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170426b Oranges (2017) oil on canvas 15 x 16cm

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170426e Red Pepper (2017) oil on canvas 16.5 x 16cm

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170427c Blue Donut (2017) oil on canvas 25 x 25cm

And here are some doodles I made using paint left over from the studies.

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170426d Oranges 3 (2017) oil on canvas 16 x 19cm

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170427a Siamese Red Pepper (2017) oil on canvas 16.5 x 15cm

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170427b Red Object (2017) oil on canvas 14.5 x 10cm

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170427d Blue Blob (2017) oil on canvas 11 x 13cm

Colour: Mixing and matching

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170425a Tennis Ball (2017) oil on canvas

Tried mixing colours using photos as a source to match. I never usually do this, but it was interesting. I can see my hues aren’t quite right with these; the tennis ball needs more green to my eyes, and the kiwi a little deeper yellow in the green (as they are, they look like a kiwi/cucumber cross).

Since I can see those problems that means I could still improve my colour mixing before I hit a wall with my cvd. Anyhow, I’m starting to think about my colour “mistakes” in a different way. I often say that painting with colour blindness is like singing for a person who’s tone-deaf, but maybe not every singer has to have great pitch. If I’m being very kind to myself, I can imagine my colour skills like Leonard Cohen’s singing range – very limited, but we listen to him because his wonderful words and songs are his own and nobody else sings them quite like him.

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170425b Kiwi (2017) oil on canvas

Another way of looking at it is I might end up like a Florence Foster Jenkins of colourists, staging my own exhibitions of big noisy paintings with horrendous colours that are painful to the eyes of any discerning person, but at least good for a laugh. That doesn’t sound so bad. And the punks got by on three chords and attitude, so there’s that too. This is a lot of musical analogies.

Getting the white balance in the photos is so difficult, that’s a whole other issue.

Old habits die hard

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170424a (2017) oil on canvas

I’ve said before that I’m trying to forget about colour names when I paint because they don’t correspond with how I see (due to my cvd) and it’s better for me to get the colours onto the palette and forget which tube they came from. Today is the first time I’ve really tried to put that into practice. It’s a nice idea, but it’s difficult to break the habit of holding in my head which colours are which and what they were mixed from, etc. Especially because I have to reach for the tubes every so often to top up the palette.

Working with colour based only on sight is a very unfamiliar process and will take getting used to, but it feels like a necessary step. At first I felt completely at sea, made a few small colour sampler type tests, and then made 170424a. It hardly looks like one of my paintings, at least to me, which is a good sign, I think. (It reminds me a bit of early Paula Rego, also the Cobra artists)

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170424b Yellow Tree (2017) oil on canvas

After that I lurched into stuff that looks like it was made by someone doing a class on Post-Impressionism and Fauvism. I was thinking of Bonnard (I wish!). They’re dumb and heavy, but I learnt a lot from making them.

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170424c Shadow (2017) oil on canvas

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170424d Ball (2017) oil on canvas

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170424e Spider (2017) oil on canvas

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170424f Tree in Valley (2017) oil on canvas

Then I got tired of all that turn-of-the-century stuff and made this little Kippenberger thing. I like the depth of the overlaid drawing. Apart from Kippenberger, the overlaying makes me think of Picabia’s transparencies and some paintings by Jutta Koether.

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170424g (2017) oil on canvas

Neon secondaries: Headless Woman with Curly Straw

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170423 Headless Woman with Curly Straw (2017) oil on canvas 32 x 33.5cm

I started making test brush strokes (in the top left) but it turned into a picture. There wasn’t space for a head. I wanted something to bridge the gap between the cup and the severed neck, but I didn’t want anything too direct or quick for the eye. I like how the curly straw slows down the journey between the two, like a scenic route.

Martin Constable wrote that “… colour is such a devilish realm to pilot” (Turps Banana, issue 14). It’s a good way of putting it, and in those terms, the colour scheme of this painting is a disastrous pile-up of collisions. I’m not averse to “clashing” or “ugly” combinations of hues, in fact I’m curious about them, but two things bug me about the colour scheme of this painting:

  • The tonal composition is frustrating. The biggest tonal contrasts delineate background forms in the top left corner and in the centre, while foreground objects (the hand, and parts of the straw) sink into swamps of mid-tones. Not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case I don’t think it works.
  • The skin on the arm and neck is not only very orange, but is made to look even more so by floating amongst the deep red of the severed neck and the violet expanse of the dress. For me, it’s too orange to read as flesh in an interesting way, and combined with the acid green straw, the whole thing becomes a noisy mess, less than the sum of its parts.

To understand just how orange these flesh tones are, I compared them with samples of flesh tones from other paintings I like, and from the two most orange things I could think of – Oompa Loompas and oranges. Unsurprisingly, my headless woman lands squarely in the orange end of this spectrum. I’ll keep an eye on that in future.

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Colour aside, this picture reminds me of Beryl Cook and Nicole Eisenman (often they remind me of each other), and somehow Jana Euler (I can’t find the painting I’m thinking of, but it’s title is Das ist das Bild, von dem die Leute sagen, es verhext die Menschen im Raum, sie konnen jetzt nicht mehr die Warheit sagen [This is the painting that people say bewitches the people in the room so that they can no longer speak the truth]).

There are direct lifts from Dana Schutz – the arm, the fabric, the cramped composition and general grotesque cartoonish surrealism. The fabric is rendered using a technique I used in drawings when I was a kid. I found it again in Schutz’s paintings and recently saw it taken further in a painting by Sascha Braunig.

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Beryl Cook Stoking the Fire (1985) oil on panel 20 x 32.5cm

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Nicole Eisenman Were-Artist (2007) oil on canvas 154.9 × 127cm

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Dana Schutz RCA (2008) oil on canvas 193.4 x 241.3 x 4cm

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Sascha Braunig Hilt (2015) oil on linen over panel 81.28 × 53.34cm

Pink Blouse Polo Shirt Mountains

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170422 Pink Blouse Polo Shirt Mountains (2017) oil on canvas 32.1 x 39.2cm

Only had time for one painting today. Still experimenting with high contrast colours, but I think it works better when the dark colours are coloured and not black-ish chunks like the mountains here. Also, it surprises me how solid a lot of these colours look, even though they looked very pale to me when I was mixing them. I’m glad to be loosening up about colour. It’s starting to be fun, and I’m beginning to trust my own eyes to guide me to what I like, regardless of how it might look to people with normal colour sight.

Compositionally, I keep arriving at two objects either side with a space in the centre. Not sure what I think about that.

The dark outlines remind me of late Picabia, and the whole thing looks to me like schlocky cartoon expressionism drawing from the well of Baselitz, Kippenberger, Schutz, Ocampo, etc. I’m not deliberately appropriating that style, more just responding to (a) my colour blindness, which I think makes me favour high contrast brightly coloured paintings, and (b) my impatience, which makes me tend toward fast imprecise brushwork.

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Francis Picabia Cinq femmes (1942 app.) oil on paper mounted on canvas 101.5 x 75cm

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Georg Baselitz B. für Larry [B for Larry] (1967) oil on canvas 250 x 200cm

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Martin Kippenberger Rückkehr der toten Mutter mit neuen Problemen [Return of the dead mother with new problems] (1984) oil on canvas 160 x 133cm

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Dana Schutz Mollusk (2008) oil on canvas 55.9 x 63.5cm

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Manuel Ocampo An Altar To Aesthetic Misfortune (2010) oil on canvas 190 x 200cm

High-contrast colour

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170421a Red Insects (2017) oil on canvas 20 x 30cm

Trying to discipline myself to mix colours either dark or light, and not so many mid-tones. Some weird compositions here, but I didn’t take the time to repaint much because that would have slowed down the painting, and the faster I go with these, the more I learn about colour in the process.

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170421b Rainbow and Shooting Star (2017) oil on canvas 13.5 x 13.5cm

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170421c Rainbow with Buttercups 12.9 x 14.3cm

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170421d Yellow Arch with Snow and Dung (2017) oil on canvas 32.4 x 23.7cm

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170421e Prisoner Gets Three Years (2017) oil on canvas 36 x 31.6cm

Rainbows

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170420a Rainbow (2017) oil on canvas 15 x 20cm

The return to colour continues, with some rainbows. Previously when working with colour I was pre-occupied with hues and my inability to differentiate some of them. Here are some of the things I neglected to think about then, but I do now:

  • Tonal relationships are as important as hue. One won’t fly without the other. If the hues look wrong, it might be the tones that need to change.
  • There doesn’t need to be an all-over pattern of varied hues, tones, or marks. It’s okay, and often beneficial, to allow some “empty” spaces / solid blocks of colour.
  • Not everything has to be coloured. Often it’s good to include grey, brown, black or white.
  • Try not to think of the paint in terms of the colour labels on the tubes, or conventional colour theories – these don’t correspond with my colour vision deficiency. Better to get colours onto the palette, forget which tube they came from, and work with what I see.
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170420b Rainbow Shadow (2017) oil on canvas 15 x 20cm

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170420c Bee and Rainbow (2017) oil on canvas 20 x 15cm

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170420d (2017) oil on canvas 13 x 15cm

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170420e Rainbow Pin-Ball (2017) oil on canvas 14.5 x 16.5cm

Lots of Kippenberger and Guston echoes here, and that’s still okay with me.

John Greenwood and John Pound

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John Greenwood Toying (if Carlsberg did perfection) (2016) oil on linen 30 x 35cms

John Greenwood’s recent paintings are starting to look like John Pound’s 80s/90s work on the Garbage Pail Kids collectible cards. I have some fondness for both. They’re also in the (good-trashy) ball park of Peter Saul and Ed Paschke.

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John Pound

Colour revisited (tiny)

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170419a (2017) oil on canvas 7 x 9.5cm

Had a long strip of canvas off-cut, so I cut it into lots of small pieces. Used them to try painting in colour again, mostly encouraged by the people at the Berlin exhibition saying they’d like to see my paintings in colour and that my colour blindness might prove to be “interesting”. I really enjoyed making these, and was finally able to forget about what I “knew” the colours to be (based on the labels on the tubes) and just concentrate on what I see. These photos aren’t great – I forgot how difficult it is to get colour accuracy in photos.

I’ve been looking at a lot of Kippenberger lately, and it shows in some of these, but that’s okay with me.

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170419b (2017) oil on canvas 7.5 x 9.7cm

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170419c (2017) oil on canvas 8 x 10.3cm

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170419d (2017) oil on canvas 7 x 8.5cm

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170419e (2017) oil on canvas 7 x 10cm

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170419f (2017) oil on canvas 7.5 x 10.5cm

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170419g (2017) oil on canvas 7 x 9.7cm

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170419h (2017) oil on canvas 7 x 10cm

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170419i (2017) oil on canvas 7.5 x 10.2cm

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170419j (2017) oil on canvas 7 x 10cm

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170419k (2017) oil on canvas 9.5 x 7.5cm

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170419l (2017) oil on canvas 7 x 10cm

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170419m (2017) oil on canvas 9 x 8.5cm

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170419n Transfusion (2017) oil on canvas 19 x 15cm

This one is my favourite. It’s larger than the others, which gave me more space to vary the marks and forms. The black and white painting I’ve been doing lately informed the way I used tone in this picture.