Diana Probst, Cambridge Artist

Adding Colour Part 1

Three pale yellow forms with some moulding. They look like the ghosts of oranges.I was asked recently on Twitter* by a new artist about getting into colour. There were a couple of questions that went with it. What is my favourite Acrylic Brand, and my thoughts on Water-Soluble Oils.

Other than finding out what interesting things my phone made of watersoluble when run through autocorrect, I made a bash at answering, but I am going to expand here, because this is one of those really big topics. So, I start with the questions, and then I will ask a few and make a few points of my own. This is a chatty post, but it should cover a lot.

1) OK. I admit it. Citadel Paints. Almost all of my experience with acrylics comes from painting models an inch high. When I first had to learn to paint on a canvas three feet tall, I drove my teacher insane. However, I could also add the highlights on a fold of cloth so that the shadows looked as if the person wearing it was very small and very far away. That is basically what 2D painting is. The Citadel range gave me a selection of paints where I could look at what went with what, and mix in gradients to go from pale to dark. That was invaluable. Would I recommend them for a serious artist? Well, no. They are made for a very particular purpose, and come in annoyingly tiny measures.

three oranges, work in progress in watercolour2) For my thoughts on water-soluble oils, I cannot really do better than the Muddy Colours Blog. That blog is a must for anyone who wants to see serious artists doing what they make. I have no problems with the solvents in oils. I use odourless mineral spirits, and I work in a big studio. However, the big big point on that for me is the mixability. Learning a new medium at the same time as you learn to calculate in colour is a tough call. A new medium that requires precision and understanding of mixing is going to be a frustrating experience, and I am not sure it is worth the risk.

That said, oil paints are a chore. I work daily, and I can keep my paint brushes in a tub of white spirit in a room where I do not have to sleep or eat. I can also leave my easels up with wet paint all over them. Unless you have a dedicated area and you don’t mind having projects that take days, oil paints might not be worth the bother.

Acrylics or watercolours are left to choose from, then, leaving aside things like oil bar (huh?) chalk (gets in the carpet) and pastel (gets in the carpet and your phone jacks). Both dry easily and quickly. Acrylic paint is a liquid that dries to a plastic. It is pretty tough, and you can paint it on most things. Broadly (and I am not an expert) it can be used two ways, as a mass colour, or as glazes. A mass colour is where there is so much paint that it becomes opaque. You cannot see through it at all, and so things like translucence are ignored, but things like shine may still count. Glazing is putting one colour over another so you can see a bit of both. Given the delicacy of the paint film with watercolours, glazing is harder although still possible with them.

Three orange citrus fruit, work in watercolourFor anything that is sane, acrylic is the easier way to add colour, but if you want bright paintings with the paper shining through, then watercolour is the way. The paintings on this paper are a work in progress, in watercolour, of three citrus fruits. It is possible to learn basic watercolour techniques pretty quickly, although the expansion into tools and mediums and styles and papers is wide and frightening. Part of this is because it is an old method, and has been practiced by people who added refinements. Part of this is actually useful.

Right. That is enough for part 1. Part 2, here we come.

*Yes, I genuinely was. Sometimes I make things up, but only for a living.