What color is Caesar purple? By just looking at the swatch of paint on the tube, you can venture a guess, but without having used the paint before, it is difficult to be sure of its color, texture, opacity, drying time, and many other characteristics that influence how you might use it in a painting.
Caesar purple in the tube
For example, the color of some paints leans towards the warm side, while others lean towards the cool side. Some have a pasty texture, while others are more fluid. Some paints are a little transparent, while others are opaque, easily covering any background. And some paints take a few days to dry, while others take more than twice as long. All these factors need to be taken into account when deciding which paints will help you achieve your desired result.
In art, developing a visual memory of different colors and their characteristics is one of the fundamental necessities to being able to accurately transfer images from your mind onto the canvas. Because a standard palette is commonly used and sold (usually in sets of 6, 12, 18, or 24), with practice, these colors become ingrained in your mind after repeated use.
However, while these colors mixed together can create many new colors, they cannot create all colors. As a result, at times you may find yourself limited by the size of your palette. For example, a landscape painter may find that he would like a greater range of yellows, greens, and blues, while a portrait painter may want to add more reds, oranges, and browns to her palette.
When purchasing paints that you have not used before, you may run into the problem I had with Caesar purple. Just what color is this? What properties does it have?
A simple and easy solution is to create a color chart and swatch all of your new colors. I show this 3-step process below.
- Canvas panel (any size)
- Various oil paints
- Paper towels
- Black Sharpie
Step 1 – Creating grids on the canvas panel: I first draw a grid onto a 30 in. x 18 in. canvas panel. Any sized canvas panel will do. A canvas panel is a piece of heavy cardboard covered with primed cotton fabric, and I use it because it’s a cheap option, typically costing just a couple dollars.
Using a pencil and ruler, I draw gridlines spaced 2 in. apart. This spacing is small enough to fit a good number of paint swatches on the canvas, and large enough to fit the paint swatch and any descriptions.
Step 2 – Labeling the colors: Within each 2 in. x 2 in. box, I jot down the paint’s manufacturer and name (e.g., Gamblin cobalt teal). Writing down the manufacturer is helpful because the same paint name, e.g. cobalt teal, can vary slightly across different manufacturers.
Oil paints to be swatched
Labeling the colors
Does color order matter? Ordering your color swatches by hue (e.g., light yellow, medium yellow, dark yellow, etc.) can help in more easily differentiating similar colors. Placing these colors side-by-side allows for quick comparison by highlighting the nuances. However, there’s no need in fastidiously trying to optimize the color order, since it is very likely that additional paints that will disrupt the original order will be purchased in the near future.
Including additional description: While I only note the paint’s manufacturer and name, you can also leave some room to jot down other characteristics of the paint, such as drying time, etc.
Step 3 – Swatching the paint: After the grid is labeled, it is time to start swatching the paints. Be careful that the color being swatched matches its label on the grid…
The method I use to swatch paints is relatively easy and requires very little clean-up. I squeeze a thumbnail amount of paint directly from the tube onto the canvas and use the tip of the tube to smear the paint around, covering approximately one-fourth of the paint’s designated square.
Smearing the paint: Next, I use a piece of paper towel to smear half of the paint. As a result, one half is left untouched, while the other half is smudged out. This “draws out” the paint, allowing for an accurate understanding of the paint’s hue. This is particularly helpful with darker colors such as indigo. As seen below, the paint out of the tube appears very dark and almost black, making it difficult to gauge the paint’s actual color. Only by looking at a very thin layer of it, achieved through smearing, can the true color be seen.
Swatching whites: In oil painting, there are a variety of whites to choose from, including zinc white, titanium white, transparent white, and more. These whites differ in their color, texture, opacity, finish, tinting strength, drying time, and more.
When swatching whites, one of its key properties we want to determine is its opacity. This can be achieved by smearing the white paint across a dark background and seeing how well it covers. I have used a black Sharpie pen to draw a thick line, over which I swatch two white paints. As seen below, Winsor & Newton’s transparent white truly is transparent compared to Mussini’s zinc white. Even a fairly thick dollop reveals the black line underneath.
It is difficult to see in the photograph above, but transparent white is also more fluid than zinc white, and it is slightly warmer in color as well.
Finished! These are all the steps to creating your own color board! Here is mine:
Inspiration: This oil painting was inspired by a recent trip to Crescent Moon Oasis and the desert dunes surrounding it. Located near the city of Dunhuang in western China, the region is steeped in history with the oasis being one of Marco Polo’s stops along the Silk Road. A photo of the oasis is below.
Crescent Moon Oasis
Idea behind the painting: I wanted to capture the heat emanating from the sun-scorched land and the hidden ferocity of the sand dunes. In my mind, I pictured an explosion of blistering lemon, saffron, and crimson melting across the canvas to form a landscape liquefying under the sun. Within this setting, four camel riders struggle forward to reach their destination, Crescent Moon Oasis. Fueled by unrelenting effort, they persevere onwards.
Turning an idea into a picture: The idea of four travelers braving the searing sand dunes popped into my head one night, and I quickly sketched out my mind’s image onto a small 5.5 in. by 8.5 in. sketchbook using watercolors to see how the color scheme and composition would look. Intrigued by the initial doodle, I sketched out a more detailed and bigger 10 in. by 14 in. watercolor to fine tune the color layout.
Making initial watercolor sketches: Making preliminary watercolor sketches prior to jumping into creating an oil painting is a quick, cheap, and easy way to ensure that you are satisfied with the big picture, e.g. composition, color, orientation, rhythm, harmony, and more. Any dissatisfaction at this point can be easily addressed. Once an oil painting is underway, elements such as rhythm can only be judged when the piece is near completion, at which point significant changes are difficult to make. For this reason, an initial sketch is a simple and time saving test to see if the image in your mind’s eye is worth pursuing on a grander scale.
Beginning the oil painting: This painting was done in multiple layers (at least 5-6 layers). The first layer or underpainting is a wash of paint with the goal of simply covering most of the white canvas. I’ve thinned down the paint to the consistency of pulp-free orange juice by mixing in odorless turpentine. The watery paint allows for a nice dripping effect.
A common first step is to use charcoal to sketch out an outline of the piece, as I have done in “Boston Common in Spring.” But because I am using a pale wash and intend to leave parts of this wash untouched in the final piece, the underlying charcoal would remain visible. As a result, I forgo the charcoal and freehand the painting.
Once the underpainting is dry (1 day), I add thicker layers that are heavier and more opaque. These paints are thinned down with linseed seed oil rather than turpentine because I want them to dry glossier.
Thinning paints with linseed oil or turpentine? Linseed oil and turpentine will both thin paint, but oil thinned paint and turpentine thinned paint behave very differently. Linseed oil thinned paint will dry slower (drying time can increase by several days) and be more viscous. Because oil is thicker than turpentine, the resulting paint will have more body and have a melted butter feel. The resulting finish will also be slightly glossy. Turpentine thinned paint tends to be more watery and will dry more matte, with the paint itself having a greater tendency to separate from the turpentine.
Using a palette knife: Must of this painting was created using a palette knife, as seen below. A palette knife allows one to drip thick dollops of paint onto the canvas and create for example, the jagged edges of the scarlet sand dune below. When choosing a palette knife, it is important to pick one that is flexible and bends, as this will give you more control when wielding the tool.
Using unconventional tools: A palette knife and paper towels were used to create the midnight sky. Similar to how I created the sand dunes, I used the palette knife to drop ultramarine blue, indigo, cerulean blue, and cobalt violet onto the sky. To blend the colors, I used small (2 in. x 2 in.) pieces of paper towel dipped in linseed oil. I used paper towels in lieu of paintbrushes mostly for convenience. Due to the multitude of colors, it is easy to over-blend and muddy the sky. If I were to use brushes, I would need to change them or wash them frequently to prevent this. Using paper towels achieves the same effect without the hassle.
Sweeping the painting: At this point, the painting is too wet, and any additional paint applied would smear and mix with what is already on the canvas. As a result, I let the painting dry for a couple days. During this time however the painting, like any film of oil, is very sticky, and tends to collect dust. Before painting any additional layers, it is important to remove these dust particles, otherwise they will become embedded within the painting. I do this by taking a dry bristle brush and lightly sweep the painting, as one would use a broom to sweep the floor. A brush with stiff hairs is best as the hairs need to be strong enough to dislodge any particles that may have gathered. A short video demonstrating the technique is below.
After a few more touchups, the painting is done.
To Crescent Moon Oasis by Lily Z. Miao
- Assortment of oil paints including Rembrandt Artists’ Oil Colors, Winsor & Newton Artists’ Oil Colors, Gamblin Artists’ Oil Colors, and Schmincke Mussini Oil Colors
- Utrecht Alkali Refined Linseed Oil
- Weber Odorless Turpenoid (Link)
- Palette knife
- Various brushes
- Canson Disposable Palette, 12 in. x. 16 in.
- Yarka St. Petersburg Professional Watercolor Set (Link)
- Strathmore Sketch, 400 Series, 5.5 in. x 8.5 in.
- Canson Arches watercolor block, cold pressed, 26 cm. x 36 cm. (Link)
Art takes on many forms, from the musical to the written to the visual. Yet, at its heart lies the insuppressible human need to express the feelings of joy, suffering, hope, bleakness, courage, doubt, and all the other desired and undesired emotions of human life. The essence of art is the ability for one person to feel in his heart, legs, fingers, and toes, the entirety of what another feels. Art then, becomes an emotional dialogue between person and person, and a way of understanding that the human condition and all it encompasses rests within us all.
It is essential that the artist, the conveyor of emotion, chooses the best artistic form to transmit his feelings to others so that little is lost in translation. Traditionally, one artistic form is chosen; but at times, combining multiple forms allows for a better expression of feeling.
Lhasa Mencur, a British composer, and I have decided to pair his musical composition “Snow Tear” with my watercolor painting “Winter.” The minimalist and hollow sound of the musical piece evokes feelings of coldness and gentleness, which are echoed in the cool-toned winter landscape. By appreciating the two pieces at the same time, there is a melding of the visual and auditory senses, allowing you to see what you hear and hear what you see.
This oil painting depicts a scene from the northeast corner of Boston Common, the city’s central park. While walking through the park on a particularly sunny day, I noticed the sun weaving through the trees, creating a meshwork of light and dark on the grass. In my painting, I attempt to capture this interplay between sunlight and shadow.
Materials: - Utrecht Studio Series Stretched Cotton Canvas, 11×14
- Rembrandt Artists’ Oil Colors, 10-color starter set
- Daler-Rowney Georgian Oil Colors, assortment
- Canson Disposable Palette, 12×16
- Utrecht Alkali Refined Linseed Oil
- Weber Odorless Turpenoid (Link)
- Winsor & Newton Artists’ Willow Charcoal (Link)
- Winsor & Newton Artists’ Workable Fixative (Link)
Set-up: I paint using a French box easel, which conveniently serves as a standing easel, table-top easel, and sketch-box all in one. I use a variety of fairly small, synthetic brushes, and oil paints from Rembrandt and Daler-Rowney. The mediums I use are turpenoid and linseed oil.
The painting: I first sketch out the painting using willow charcoal. Any mistakes are easily erased by wiping with a tissue. I prefer willow charcoal to vine charcoal, which is more difficult to “erase” from the canvas. Once the sketch is complete, a quick spray of fixative prevents any accidental smudging. Next, using turpenoid-thinned paint, I begin putting down the initial layers.
I continue adding layers, and begin to use thicker paint. At this point, I let the painting dry, as the canvas has become too wet and will not hold any more paint without smearing. I prop the painting up using a bottle of hairspray, and set it by the window to minimize the flow of toxic fumes into my room.
After the painting has cured for a day, the paint is sufficiently dry, and I continue to add more layers.
The almost finished work is below. Once the paint completely dries, which may take between several weeks to several months, I will apply a layer of varnish. This will protect the painting from the environment, and also provide a glossy sheen that will intensify the colors.