How to Choose a Colour for a Tonal Ground (My Top 5 Pigment Choices)

How to Choose a Colour for a Tonal Ground (My Top 5 Pigment Choices)

Inspired by the dramatic, dark Flemish oil paintings I saw in Antwerp; I’ve just started working on a still life set up of some fab oversized pink peonies. I’m going to begin simply with acrylics then build up the piece using water-mixable oils.

Yesterday, I talked about the importance of a coloured ground and how this very simple step of preparing your canvas, can transform your working method. And I received lots of emails asking
‘How do you go about choosing a colour for your tonal ground?’

Well, the first thing I do is make a decision.

What is the most important thing or the most important problems that I can foresee within the painting I’m going to be working on?

For this still life, judging the values of the flowers and getting the drawing right are going to be the two trickiest areas –  but get them right….and they can pull the whole painting together. Choosing a sympathetic tone for the coloured ground will help me achieve this.

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NEW Beginners Acrylic Colour Mixing Course is Live!


 

Learn more about the course here: New Simple Colour Mixing Course

I’ve designed this brand new, downloadable video course to help you understand the theory behind colour mixing, discover how to mix and match colours accurately and then put theory into practice, creating a series of 4 still life paintings.

You might have been struggling to understand colour mixing for years, sometimes getting it spot on but other times when it goes wrong, have no idea why or how to fix it?

Or maybe you’ve read articles on colour theory but not had the confidence to put that new knowledge into an actual painting practice?

On this colour mixing video course, we take a really simple practical approach, over 5 hours + of tuition, you’ll gain an understanding of the properties of paint, learn the foundations of colour theory and put brush to canvas.

And we’re just going to take it one step at a time, starting with learning the language of colour, everything broken down simply so that the painting exercises and studies give you the confidence you need to develop your colour mixing skills.

I demonstrate using a traditional, 3 primary & 3 secondary colour wheel to teach you a step-by-step approach and working through these progressive tutorials; you’ll be guided by your new colour mixing intuitions, opening up the fantastic world of colour.

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Distracted by Light (how a bowl of apricots sent my schedule out the window)

will-kemp-apricot-still-life

Will Kemp, Still Life with Apricots (detail), acrylic on canvas

I’ve been distracted by an apricot.

It’s not the usual thing that grabs your eye but I’m deep in the midst of filming a new simple colour mixing course and the apricots have got me.

They were the perfect subject to teach colour theory for one of the studies and as I arranged them in the studio, a light, impressionistic, muted blue and orange composition began to form.

Pleased with the setup, I headed down the garden for a tea break.

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The Secret to Painting Realistic Shadows in Sunlight

The Secret to Painting Realistic Shadows in Sunlight

“A Painting is complete when it has a Shadow of a God”
Rembrandt van Rijn

I remember being taught at art college that shadows weren’t really present in paintings until the Renaissance period.

And you’d be forgiven for thinking when you look at some beginners work, that they were from Ancient Greece – they didn’t use shadows either!

In live painting classes in the past, when I’ve mentioned the words ‘cast shadow’, students concentration wains or worse, a look of rising panic crosses their faces as if they’ve been duped into a technical drawing class.

I’m not quite sure why cast shadows seem so mysterious, elusive or confusing. Shadows help to ‘ground’ an object and learning to accurately observe them, is the most effective way of making your paintings look convincing.

And just by switching the name around it seems easier to digest.

Shadows cast.

I want to keep it simple without the complications of multiple light sources or atmospheric perspective that occurs in vast landscapes, today I am going to focus on shadows cast outside, by sunlight.

Shadows cast by a tree, by a building, shadows cast by a chair or plant pot. The shadow that is falling onto the ground, or against a wall, or onto a table.

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How to Paint Green Summer Trees with Acrylics – Video Tutorial

adding shadows to a landscape painting

Green.

Love it or hate it, almost all landscape artists want to be able to paint trees, woods and grass realistically.

But mixing greens can be one of the major issues that can start to throw your landscape painting off-course.

Greens can be an Achilles heel for beginners, and the urge to grab a vivid, bright green from the paint box can be hard to resist.

In the past I’ve demonstrated how you can achieve some surprisingly subtle greens by using some seemingly ‘non-green’ colours such and black and brown.

And I advise beginners to throw out their pre-mixed green (usually this is Emerald Green included in starter sets) when they’re first starting, in order to practice colour mixing with acrylics and develop their own mixing skills and gain colour confidence.

Why?..

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New! Acrylic ‘Simple Colour Mixing’ Course

How to transform your colour mixing in a weekend

With so many different colours available, when starting colour mixing, where do you begin?

You find yourself standing in an art store with rows and rows of paints in front of you, scanning up and down the aisles trying to take it all it.

Exotic names and vivid colours vie for your attention, from a Potters pink to a Green gold, and other names you just can’t seem to even pronounce!

How do you even say Anthraquinone blue? (answers on a postcard please!)

Most modern manufacturers have over 100 different colours to choose from, from mineral inorganic colours to man-made organic colours – the choice is immense…

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Are these 3 Black Paint Myths Holding You Back?

warm and cool black velazquez

Diego Velázquez, portrait of Juan de Pareja, 1650

Are you scared of using black in your paintings?

Or secretly feel they are the missing ingredient to your work?

If you don’t use black whilst mixing colours you could be missing a trick.

A tale from two masters:

John Singer Sargent and Claude Monet used to go out and paint together.

One day, Sargent is said to have left his paints behind and asked Monet to lend him his to work with. “Where’s the black?” asked Sargent.
“I don’t allow myself to use black.” replied Monet.
“It’s against the impressionist theory. In nature all colours are made by mixing.”
Sargent refused to understand how anyone could paint without black.

It’s a matter of taste…

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Is Green Ruining Your Acrylic Paintings? (video)

Ballet rehearsal-Degas

Edgar Degas, Ballet Rehearsal, 1834 – 1917

Green paint is like peanut butter is for dieters, dangerously addictive.

I don’t quite know why, maybe the freshness, the feeling of a landscape, the memory of nature… whatever the reason it’s a bad one.

Step 1. If you buy a starter set of beginners paints throw away the green that is included (usually this is Emerald green)

It is usually terrible and very unforgiving when trying to create harmonious colour in painting.

“Can’t I use it to tone down red? or use red to tone down the green? I know about complementary colours, I’ve only just bought it, I can’t throw it away!”

You must.

Still got it?…

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How to Mix Pink & Purple Paint with Acrylics (video)

Mixing red and white acrylic paint

It seems straightforward.

Red and white make pink. Simple.

However, a quick look at the undertone of a few red paints can show you how mixing the perfect pink can easily allude you.

A cadmium won’t allow you to make a hot pink, this video will show you how.

This is not due to a lack of mixing ability, just the wrong paint colour for the desired result.

Mixing a bright purple

The right choice of red will influence your ability to make a bright purple and Part 2 of this video (at the end of this post) will show you how easily purple can go muted and grey rather than bright and vibrant.

This is due to the ‘muting down‘ effect of complementary colours.

It’s all to do with the colour bias of the pigment that are hidden in paints…

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The 3 Tricks of Complementary Colours you can Learn from Van Gogh

complementary colours Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh, Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, 1888.

Complementary colours

Two colours, placed side by side, will appear differently depending on which colours are used and what they are placed next to.

The effect of this interaction is called simultaneous contrast.

Simultaneous contrast is most intense when two complementary colours are juxtaposed directly next to each other.

For example, red placed directly next to a green, if you concentrate on the edge you will see a slight vibration.

Your eye doesn’t like resting on the edge. The two complementary colour in their purest, most saturated form don’t sit well together, however, if you want to try and focus your viewer gaze on a particular part of the painting a knowledge of the ‘attraction to the eye’ can be used to great effect…

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How to Choose a Basic Colour Palette for Acrylic Painting

basic acrylic paint palette

“I am a simple man, and I use simple materials: Ivory black, Vermilion (red), Prussian blue, Yellow ochre, Flake white and no medium. That’s all I’ve ever used in my paintings.
L.S.Lowry

A great deal of things in nature are actually very muted, it is often the difference between light and dark and warm and cool colours, rather than the use of a bright colour.

If you want to paint subtle still life paintings, choose muted earth colours.

If you want very bright, vivid abstracts, you might need some more man-made pigments that have a higher colour saturation.

My suggested basic acrylic colour palette is somewhere in-between. It allows bright colour mixtures as well as subtle. The pigments are all light-fast (will not fade over time) and are a mixture of series (the price labelling system of paints) so the cost will be kept down….

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The Hidden Hues of Colour Mixing (video)

Why can’t I mix the right colour?

Imagine a time of poster paints and sugar paper. Of bright colours, chubbie crayons, green grass and blue skies. These were perfect painting days apart from one thing I almost forgot to mention….brown sludge.

Lots and lots of brown.

Your teachers told you ‘mix yellow and blue to make green’, red and blue to make purple.

You listened, but the problem was still there.. you created brown sludge.

What were you doing wrong?

Nothing, you were just given the wrong paints…

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Colour Mixing Basics with Acrylic Paint (video)

How to mix the colour you see. Basic principles

This video is a basic introduction to matching a colour using 3 primary colours.

The palette used was Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Red Light and Ultramarine Blue. The brand was Golden Heavy Body Acrylics.

The basics of colour mixing are discussed in How your hairdresser can teach you to mix colour

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How your Hairdresser can Teach You to Mix Paint Colours

colour mixing primary colours

“All colours will agree in the dark.”
Francis Bacon

How to Mix Colour: The Basics

Learning how to mix colour can be daunting, colour theory can be off-putting, but understanding the basics is key when starting to paint.

A knowledge of colour theory is helpful, but in practice nothing beats actually mixing colours, however, you need to start somewhere so let’s start with some basic theory. I’ll be going into some advanced techniques in later posts.

Please note: New Colour mixing course for beginners is now live!

How your hairdresser can teach you to mix paint colour

I’ll be honest, a few years ago I knew nothing about the hairdressing business until my wife opened her hair salon above my gallery, I can now tell you the difference between a champagne blonde and a beige blonde..(0.4 if you were wondering) but the main thing I hadn’t realized was the similarities between hair colourists and painters.

If you want to learn a fast track to understanding your paintings next time your at the salon have a chat to your hair colourist…

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