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A Painter’s Space

Painting and colour mixing can be a ”can of worms”. We are going to start at the very beginning and I will suggest how to set up a couple of physical structures to make the process a lot easier. Hopefully we will diminish some of the fear and mystique around mixing paint and give your creativity space.

Firstly we need to address our work area. Some of us have the luxury of a large workspace in which we are free to make as much mess as we want, throwing paint around. Even if you don’t have your ideal space, my point is to remove some of the internal background chatter by taking the time to make one that frees you from concerns about making a mess so that you can paint freely. Throw down some old carpet. Hang up a sheet. Annoying and time consuming as it may be, creating a "free" workspace for me is worth it.

Lighting is a big subject and it is important because light effects colour. It’s as simple as that. A piece I placed in the Southern Cross Arts Festival was turned what I thought was a horrific purple, by the lights. Admittedly I had used plenty of French ultramarine and Dioxazine Purple through the painting, but the effects the light had on it were astounding. I was terribly disappointed with how it appeared and was completely surprised when it won something!

Try and set up your work space where there is fairly consistent lighting throughout the day, and avoid harsh direct light. If I work at night I try to leave the completion of the painting until the next day or do work that is not light critical.

Now lets look at the your paints, what have you got? Microscopic tubes of a range of obscure colours that are half empty? The first suggestion with mixing colours is to keep your palette simple. Choose a selection of colours that meets your needs and work with them until you understand all of their properties and characteristics.

I work with Atelier Interactive when using acrylics and Chroma Archival Oils when using oils and know pretty much what they will do when I add almost any of the colours. This is because I keep my palette simple and work almost exclusively with my selection. The fact that the Interactive paints remain workable for much longer than other acrylics, keeps the process even simpler than it once was.

Generally my palette is as follows and is set up in order from right to left:
Titanium White, Alizarin, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Forest Green, Pthalo Blue, French Ultramarine, Dioxazine Purple, Burnt Umber.The next thing to consider is to purchase decent sized tubes or pots. Mixing colours is mind bendingly frustrating when you just need a touch of ???? and you can't scrape up the tiniest hint. I like the Atelier Interactive range because it gives you more time working with acrylics (you can actually spray mist on the palette which is absorbed into the paints), particularly on a hot dry day. Have lots of paint at your disposal.

Palettes are possibly one of the most important points. Big is better, and three is better than one, and by big I mean 50 cm x 70 cm or bigger. Don’t get caught, like I have seen happen to people a million times, attempting to mix a beautiful clean colour and disaster, …the edge of the brush touches a lump of pigment and ... gone. You were so close to having that mix perfect. That feeling of being "in the zone" is gone.

I use one palette for setting out paints and often a couple of spares, which I use only for mixing colour so that I can quickly move large amounts of paint around without fear of contamination.
Lastly for brushes, I use a small selection of chisels (2,4,6,8,10, 12 and a couple of house paint brushes). Have an entire selection of your brushes in reserve, and have them within arms reach. The first thing I do before I begin painting is to have a look at the state of them and condemn all dodgy ones to the local school. I like to have them within arms reach so I can change brushes quickly without thinking too much.

These are all things to consider before attempting to even make a mark. Some of them may seem pointless and overly pedantic and some of my suggestions may not suit because of space, cash or time constraints, but do your best. It will help, I promise. This whole process is designed to have you feeling freer and in greater control.

Mark Waller is doing a workshop which is coming up on June 4, 2011. 9.30-4pm at Lennox Art Space, next to the butcher's in Lennox Head. Cost is $110 for a day of tuition. Click here for more detail.