Go ahead – overwork it. Make some mud. I’m kidding of course. I only like mud if I’m slinging it. Ha! Mud, and I’m talking about over the top of your boot mud, is what you can find yourself in quick if you aren’t careful. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve muddied a canvas, I’d be living on a beach earning 20% off my investment returns.
Having recently created some very beautiful canvas mud I had to ponder how I’d gotten there. I’d painted a scene using the wrong first color. Scraped it off. Tried again. Nope. Nuts. Scraped it again. Channeled my inner Monet and tried again. Sadly Monet was out for the day. Nope. Scraped again. I think it was the fifth time before I was able to lay down the right first color. Ugh – mud.
Did you catch that? The “right first color”. What is the right first color? The right first color is what you use to build on to get to the final right color. Sometimes the right first color is the final right color. You are trying to lay down an initial color so fun, so cool, or so hipster you never have to go back and tweak it later in the painting. Wouldn’t that be nice?
We all know that colors are not seen individually but rather in relationship to their surroundings. You mean, green isn’t really green? Well, yes it is but no it isn’t because that red barn next to the grass is reflecting into the grass and vice versa.
Laying down the right first color for that barn/grass scene is important because all of your future color choices will build upon it. You want the initial color choice to point your future choices in the right direction. Make it easy for yourself to get where you are headed.
I “re-learned” this in a Don Sahli still life workshop. (If you ever get a chance to attend one of his workshops, I recommend doing so. It’ll rock your art world.) There I was, drawing in my oranges using blue. Don walked up, shook his head and said, “You realize you’ve just made this 10 times harder than it needed to be to get to the final right color.” And I was like, uhm, no? He explained that using the right first color (in this case maybe a yellow ochre/cad yellow medium to draw the outline) helps establish the final right color relationships. But since I’d used a blue – I now had to overcome my initial decision by using other colors to reset the canvas and then begin creating right relationships….
Getting the right first color is akin to trying to avoid making a U-turn in traffic. Let’s say you’re on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago during rush hour. Can you make a U-turn? Yes, but wouldn’t it have been easier to have gone in the right direction the first time? Yes it would have. You may still find yourself in traffic but at least you’ve reduced some of your stress so you can enjoy the ride.
So the next time you’re about to put that loaded brush on the canvas, I’d ask that you take an extra second to mix the “right first color”. Make it easier on yourself. You’ll thank me later.
Until next time: Connect | Engage | Unleash