Color Studies

Judith Reeve, “Coming Front”, 8″x 12″, oil on board, 2020

This summer and into the fall, I painted around 80 small pochades, mostly about 8″x 12″ or 6″x 16″. I looked at this push as a way to find relief from the pandemic. At least while I was engaged outside, I was not brooding over an impending disaster. To my surprise, this intense effort thrust my work to a new place. It is impossible at times, not to feel like you are on the same plateau you have been on for years. Sometimes you need a jolt to effectively propel you in a new direction.

I found these quicker studies allowed me to experiment with new color arrangements. It forced me, to not “repeat” myself, but find a new way to express the more elusive colors. These are the neutrals, semi-neutrals and grays that are difficult to put your finger on. They don’t have a straight-forward expression of color. In a sense you could effectively use multiple combinations to achieve a likeness. And that was the point. Working these pochades in succession, I was able, through trial and error, to capture these colors in new ways.

Judith Reeve, “Building Clouds”, 8″x 12″, oil on board, 2020

The beautiful clouds that we have had lately, have provided a good example on which to experiment with these elusive colors. These full clouds contain wonderful grays that vary in color temperature, containing deeper violets and blues as well as warmer, neutralized passages. These cloud bottoms or overlapping layers of cloud cover, are bluer near the horizon and move to a warmer gray, following the arc of the sky to its apex. The reverse occurs in the lights in which the pinks rest near the horizon moving to a neutralized yellow and ending in a more pure white near the apex. Some of the color combinations producing a gray- blue to violet; a warm neutral to a gray green; and a warm yellow, violet gray-that I found interesting:

  • Cobalt blue + English red [iron oxide]
  • Blue violet + Green blue
  • Blue violet + GB + Red orange
  • Blue violet + Green
  • Purple + yellow [cobalt yellow]
  • Viridian + English red
  • Viridian + Blue violet
  • Blue green (cobalt + my GB, Henri used this in his Triangular Palette and I found it worked well with reds that tend toward orange such as English red or light red) + English red

Last month I read Edgar Payne’s, Composition, and he developed a method where he would create a neutral for the palette that he was working in. This neutral, which was a combination of several mixes of pure color, was mixed and laid on the palette before the work was commenced. Then this neutral was mixed into the pure colors to effectively neutralize a pure color combination or to help in modeling the half-tones or transitions between the light and dark passages. I have used this in my studio work, but had not really applied this to outdoor work. When one is modeling something close at hand, I could see that this method could simplify the value transitions one sees in forms, especially along the shadow edge. But working outside, I am never really too close to anything, to model the forms this minutely. But what I found was that this neutral can pervade the landscape in a broad way.

Judith Reeve, “Evening Valley, October”, 6″x 16″, oil on board, 2020

I found that this neutral resides in the middle ground area across the tops of the forms such as the trees or hills. This is where the light is not so warm as the foreground and not so cool as the receding planes on the far hills or trees. Adding this neutral sparingly, allows the eye to travel uninterrupted toward the horizon. And this makes sense. That middle area transitions a color along its scale, moving from say, a yellow, through the neutral center of the palette, to its opposite on the other side of the color circle, that being violet. [Refer to Sloan’s, Triangular Palette and the use of Scale]. This makes total sense, that what appears as a warm yellow in the foreground, will appear more neutralized, through atmosphere, in the middle ground, and finally join its complement in the far distance. Although, intellectually, I knew this, it was another thing to apply a simple insight by Payne to bring it home.

There are other things that I found through these experiments that will remain within the unconscious and hopefully, will pop up to the surface when they are needed. This is the real goal of experimentation- to create a range of experience that can expand one’s technique in the moment of artistic engagement in the world, as well as, heighten that lived experience and bond it to the creation of a work of art.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

One thought on “Color Studies”

  1. The colors are subtle and different in each one. Your colors and feeling of light is always masterful. It’s amazing to see you take it even further. Beautiful!

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