Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pruett Carter's Palette


While I'm on the subject of American illustrator Pruett Carter (1891-1955), I thought I would share some notes about his palette and his use of light and color.

Here's his palette. Ernest Watson writes, "Note that the colors on the palette's edge follow the color circle of the spectrum—from ultramarine through the blues, greens, yellows and reds to alizarin and rose madder. The colors on the inside row are extra or additional pigments to be used for their particular color identity. The earth group—ochres and siennas—are kept by themselves at the top right of the palette."

In his early career, Carter, like Loomis, Lovell, Rockwell, and other contemporaries, worked within the confines of restricted color palettes. These two-color schemes were usually determined by the magazine, which could only afford black plus one other color of ink. This painting, for instance, would have been printed only in black and yellow, so all the cool colors had to come from grays. This discipline produced great colorists when the magazines made the full printer's palette available later on.

During the period that Carter worked exclusively from life, he would pose the models in a section of the studio where he could black out the ambient light and control the illumination with artificial lights only. However his painting area was under a skylight. Between the two parts of the studio, he drew a black curtain, opened just enough to see the models posing.

One other note: as Stuart Ng mentioned in the comments, Pruett Carter taught at Chouinard Art Institute, where one of his students was Mary Blair, a stylist for the Disney films, herself noted for her bold color designs. There's an exhibit of Mary Blair's work at the Disney Family Museum through September 7 which includes a Pruett Carter original.


Gavin said...

Pruett Carter really did end things in the most selfish of ways. Whatever happened, he must have been a complete wreck. Hopefully not a result of a lifetime working in illustration! ;)
Wonderful work, though like Loomis the fashion and idealisation really ages (in such a way that epitomises the era, and golden age of illustration). Thank you for sharing the palette.
Ernest Watson pops up a couple of times. Assuming it's the same Mr Watson, he has a wonderful book on creative perspective.

Tom Hart said...

A late vote here (if any more are needed) to please continue this series on mid-20th century illustrators. I especially love seeing the two color pieces. They are so evocative for me. I'm old enough to remember when these were plentiful, but aside from that personal attraction, they're such great examples of what one can do with a limited (in this case extremely limited!) palette.

On a side note, I'm amazed at how much is being asked for after-market copies of 41 Illustrators (etc.). I'm so glad I took your tip to buy it back in 2011. I'm embarrassed to say what I paid for it then.

S. Stipick said...

Great post. Thank you.

James Gurney said...

Gavin, yes, Ernest Watson is the same guy who co-founded (with Arthur Guptill) American Artist magazine, which was first called "Art Instruction." They also co-founded Watson-Guptill, the art instruction book publisher. Each of them was best known for their pencil rendering, and Watson in particular interviewed a lot of mid-century illustrators. The book "40 illustrators and how they work" is compiled from his American Artist interviews.

Tom, I didn't quite realize until you mentioned it how expensive that book is.

Shaun, Glad you're enjoying it.

Gavin said...

Thanks James - I can't believe the penny never dropped, but now you mention Watson-Guptill, it makes a whole lot more sense! :) I also have his 'Art of Pencil Drawing', and had n't fully appreciated his championing of fellow illustrators.

Always lots to learn on your blog. :)

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see more of these. Sometimes it can be so hard to find this information if you're not sure where to look, and there's always a need for it to be re affirmed in one form of another. Thanks James!

Roberto said...

What’s really interesting to me about this palette is how loaded it is with yellow! Cad Yellow deep, Cad Yellow medium, Cad yellow lemon, Naples Yellow, Yellow Ochre, and Raw Sienna ( I’m not familiar with Ultramarine Yellow, I assume it’s a green); Over ¼ of his palette is Yellow! And he uses just as many Reds (6)!: Cad Red light, Cad Red medium, Harrison Red(?), Alizarin, Rose Madder, and Red Ochre …but no Burnt Sienna!. Very interesting.
Thanx for the post on Carter and his Mono-chrome illustrations, many creative solutions arise from imposed limitations.
And congratulations on your Clementoons adventures. Clements troobles w Miss Boobles reminded me of the old ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ movie. -RQ

Unknown said...

Ultramarine yellow is an old term for zinc yellow (zinc chromate), which was phased out of all paint lines in the late 80s and early 90s due to its tendency to turn greenish. Harrison red is probably one of any number of naphthol reds.

Roberto said...

Wow! So that makes 7 yellows! w 6 reds and three blues... add that to the four green pigments and the range of greens are quite impressive. (almost makes the cad violet seem like an orphan)-RQ

Suzanne said...

Pruitt Carter was married to my grandmother's aunt. Each of my grandmother's grandchildren received an "Uncle Pruett" painting when she died. Recently, I became the owner of my grandmother's pictures, letters, etc. In this treasure trove is a lot of pictures, letters, and magazine articles belonging to him. The piece of art I received is all black and gray, and I know was painted prior to 1938. How can I get more information about my painting....type, value, etc?

James Gurney said...

Suzanne, I would recommend getting in touch with Fred Taraba, a dealer in illustration, or Illustration House gallery's Roger Reed, or the folks at Heritage Auction in Texas. At Heritage's website, they'll have examples of other Pruett Carter works. How exciting that you have many of his letters and papers. If any of them discuss his painting methods, or if you find more preliminary sketches, please email me a copy of them. I'd love to do another post about this important illustrator.

Unknown said...

Following up on my older comment. I made an error saying that ultramarine yellow was zinc yellow. True, zinc yellow was sometimes called by this name, but far more often (85–90% of the time) it meant lemon yellow, i.e. barium chromate yellow, which is still available from a few manufacturers including Blockx and Michael Harding.
Harrison red was toluidine red, PR3, an extremely impermanent naphthol-based red that seems to have been phased out by all manufacturers except for Mir, an obscure artists' oil paint brand made in Spain.