Perhaps because I am so recently returned from the red rock country of Sedona, I am feeling the need to play around with earth tones in the studio this week. I have not yet begun a painting of the scenery we saw in Arizona, but I am working with that palette in my latest painting which is an abstracted close-up composition of unglazed terra cotta ewers and pots.
I am reaching back to what I learned in my color theory class those many years ago at Skidmore (most of which I have forgotten) as I mix my terra cotta reds and the complimentary greens and blue greys --- one pot will be a warm, dark earth red with a tendency towards blue; another with hints of viridian in it, and another almost white. You can buy pre-mixed tubes of paint with names like red ocher, red oxide, Mars red, terra rosa, red earth, but I am just using cadmium red medium cadmium yellow medium for a warm oranges, and adding hints of ochre or burnt sienna, and using complimentary greens to pull out the brightness of the terra cotta.
For this painting, I have on my palette a warm red and a cool red (Cadmium red medium and Alizarin); a warm yellow and a cool yellow (Cadmium Yellow Medium and Light and also Ochre); a warm blue and a cool blue (warm is Ultramarine, and cool is Cobalt) as well as staples Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna and Titanium white. But then I added a few more --- as far as I am concerned, using only a few or using a lot of paint colors is neither a good thing or a bad thing. Sometimes a few extra colors already in the tube can help you save time you need to get a painting that really sings. In this case, to my basic palette I added Viridian green, Old Holland’s warm grey, a translucent lake orange and before I end this painting I will be mixing something to get black--- maybe two complimentaries like Alizarin and Viridian, or Phthalo blue and umber, not sure yet, but I will be needing some very dark “lowlights,” as my hairdresser says, in this painting. I find I'm constantly discovering more nuances and colors with my mixing, and I begin to think after 55 years of oil painting that the combinations and possibilities are inexhaustible!