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ADDING COLOUR FROM A LIMITED PALETTE


The difficulty with adding colour is, there aren't any rules to it and it's very hard to know if you're getting it right.”


Artist Bob Booth explains the thought processes he uses to add colour to a painting. If you are following our lesson you will no doubt find this information useful when you begin to add colour in stage 3. Your main concern is the integrity of the painting and its composition.

The painting pictured above is not yet finished and we asked Bob to explain how he adds colour after he’s finished his monochrome stage of a painting: detail highlighting red in painting

There is a very limited amount of colour being added to the warm and cool tones of the monochrome stage. In the image to the left, there is some yellow ochre in the area near the goat's head, I’ve added a little bit of red to the violin and this little girl sitting. That’s basically the additional colours that have gone in. Red was the first colour added. I was looking for parts of the painting where it would work to have this warm colour. The violin was already a warm colour so I added it there.

As this painting isn't finished, I’d add some more warm colour on the left side of painting (see image below). If I don’t, it’s going to throw out the balance of the whole painting. I think that is the principle you have to keep in mind all the time, you don’t paint the girl's dress because it is red as much as, ‘this is something that needs to balance out in the composition and will work well for the painting’.  There’s lots of red on the right side of the painting, so I need to consider adding red to the other side, to balance it (see image above), rather than, ‘what is this thing here and what colour would it be?’.  It’s a question that’s not helpful. To add more life to the painting, I would add more blue by mixing paynes grey and white.

The difficulty with adding colour is, there aren't any rules to it and it's very hard to know if you're getting it right. When a painting needs some cool, I find myself adding paynes grey and white, but when I put it on I think, ‘oh dear that isn’t right’. So I’d wipe it off, then I’d put it somewhere else where it would really work. Although I still can’t identify what the subject is, I can see how much more it balances the painting. Often, when you do get the colour in the right place, it suddenly tells you what the subject is as well, which I find quite surprising.

I think  the whole system operates on a complicated, subconscious and intuitive level, where you know more than you know, and you can see more than you can see. When you make a mark, suddenly something inside you tells you, ‘this is a good thing to have done’.

This dog here (see image to the left), was simply a space that I hadn’t done anything with, it was obviously a light space that worked, so I left it as it was. It turned out to be a dog. It seems like a stupid place to have a dog wrapped around somebody's head, but it worked really well like that.

Basically, the principle of following the paint and focusing on composition rather than the subject, means you can keep going and going. You can continue like that without trying to intervene, staying one step behind the painting. If you’re prepared to keep developing in this way, a painting can go as far as you want it to go. You get to a stage where you have this looseness, flowing colours, mystery and depth. That’s how you want it, although you could keep going and building it up, you decide to stop. You can keep working with this process as you’ll always find a way forward.

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