Until this project showed up in my artist’s life, I hadn’t painted in black and white for a long time. I used to. There was a period of several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and sometimes up to a decade later, when the feelings suggested by old black and white photographs seemed both more personal and more universal than anything I could dream up in bright colours. But sometimes the colour appeared in those black and white paintings too, depending on the idea I wanted to explore.
Twenty years ago we used slides to document artwork so I don’t have digital versions of those paintings, expect for this one. It’s a work that’s been re-documented for resale at the Assiniboia Gallery, one of the commercial venues that currently handle my work.
The colour range is called black and white, but of course it isn’t. It’s many variations of grey, each mixed separately from the component hues I see in the photo’s overall colour mix. For the Unacknowledged paintings I used seven grey colours. Eight greys got mixed to start with, but one of them was too dark and in the end wasn’t used. All were mixed before I started to paint, out of titanium white, ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, cadmium yellow deep, and cadmium red deep.
It’s my usual, very limited colour selection. Sometimes I add cadmium yellow middle, or one of three other reds I like, and once in a rare while when I need to mix a green that can’t be got with ultramarine blue, I’ll use phthalo blue instead. No Asphaltum or Caucasian Flesh or Portland Grey or Prussian Blue or Transparent Earth Red or Viridian Green or any of the other wild and wonderful possibilities available. Everything is mixed with my five to nine or ten hues. I used to buy other paint colours but then wouldn’t use them so I stopped.
I don’t have a very sophisticated-looking artist’s palette, either. I mix the colours one at a time on throwaway paper palettes then transfer them to a piece of stiff cardboard wrapped with aluminum foil. At the end of a painting session, I cover the mixed colours with plastic film to help them stay workable longer. If I need to change to another colour range mid-painting, I can take the plastic-wrapped aluminum foil off the cardboard and file it flat on a shelf under my painting table, then put another piece of foil on the cardboard. Oil paints don’t dry like water based paints, they oxidize. If oxygen doesn’t get into the paint, the set-aside palette can still be useful weeks from now.
Some artists might think that these five paint tubes, and colours mixed in advance, and the aluminum foil palette, look so amateur-hour. Good thing that here in my studio located in remote Val Marie, Saskatchewan, no one is watching.
What are you doing that might appear unorthodox but really, really works?
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