Breadcrumbs? What’s with breadcrumbs? I thought this was a blog about painting. Well it is a blog about painting, and I have, over the course of my 40 year career as both a professional artist and educator, come to certain conclusions, many of which I will be sharing during the course of writing this blog. So I thought I would give you some insight into how I roll.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I wasn’t formally trained as a painter. I had to scratch and claw until such a time that the puzzle pieces came together. I don’t accept anything on face value. I need to know why things work, before I can use them. Here’s the tricky one. How can you figure out how something works before you’ve tried it? So in the beginning there was a lot of trial and error utilizing many different approaches. If I now say that approach A works better than approach B, it’s based on my having experiencing both. Believe me, if I knock it, I’ve tried it. I also had mentioned that I had the resource of sharing my discoveries with my students and making sure that what worked for me was universal.
After a while my instincts became keener and I developed (I guess you’d call it) a sixth sense, an uncanny ability to ferret out the truth from the rhetoric. This is not to say that I haven’t gone down the wrong tunnel, but the fact that I’ve developed to the degree that I have, I owe primarily to my instincts. I equate my particular journey from being a non-painter (to the portrait artist and teacher I am today) to having been lost in the forest and following breadcrumbs. By now, I feel like the trees have thinned out a bit. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped searching for better solutions, because I haven’t. I have no agenda and nothing to defend. If I were to discover that mixing Day-Glo paint with egg whites, while standing on my head and whistling the Star-Spangled Banner made me a better painter… up I go!
Anyway, this is the story of how I found my first breadcrumb. When I was in art school, in my first ever painting class, we were given a list of colors to use. We were given no instruction with regards to mixing color or anything else technical. When I looked up at the model, the colors I saw looked nothing like the colors on my palette. Trying to mix the colors was very frustrating for me. I had no guidelines for mixing color. If I would mix of color for skin tone I’d start with an orange and lighten it with white, but the color would be too intense compared to the model. So I would mix the complementary color (like I was taught in elementary school) to gray it down, but it also darkened it. When I added white, it lightened the color but it also made it cooler. When I’d add something to make it warmer, it would change the value again. By the time I mixed something that sort of resembled what I saw in front of me I had no idea how to duplicate it. I found it all very frustrating because I felt I had no control.In the meantime my teacher would walk around the class and say things like, “Don’t you see that green in the middle of the forehead?” I never did!
Flash forward a dozen-or-so years, I was working as an illustrator, doing pen and ink drawings. When I looked at my finished drawings, I felt that I should be able to peel the paper up and underneath would be a painting. Unfortunately, I still had no clue on how to paint. But the desire to paint was absolutely driving me nuts so I had to do something. Whenever I would walk by an art supply store I would go in and look at the paints. I would look at all the different brands to try to figure out which would be the best to paint with. Then I would leave, empty-handed, still haunted by my color mixing nightmares. This went on for about six months until one day I walked into a Sam Flax and I saw a new product, called Liquitex Modular Acrylics (see pamphlet above.) Modular acrylics were based on a new concept. Rather than labeling each tube according to the pigment name (i.e., Ultramarine Blue), the Module Acrylics were labeled according to the color’s properties: it’s place on the color wheel [hue], how light or dark it was [value] and how intense it was [chroma]. I immediately bought the entire set. The logic behind this labeling was so remarkable because it allowed me to modify each property of a color without effecting the other two. Incredible!
Subsequently I found out that the labeling was based on the Munsell Color System, developed by Albert Munsell. Within 2 weeks I had completed my first full-color painting for the National Lampoon. My entire method has stemmed from bread crumb number one.
Until next time…