Thursday, November 20, 2014

Grayed CMY Experiment

Here's a color experiment that I tried a couple of days ago.

I set up for an outdoor gouache painting in Laguna Beach, California. I limited the colors to intense versions of cyan, yellow, and magenta, plus white.

I picked the most highly saturated or high-chroma versions of them that I had: Holbein Prussian blue [PB 27] (I could have used phthalo blue if I had brought it), Winsor and Newton lemon yellow (I could also have used Cadmium Yellow Light), and Holbein Carmine red (Naphthol), plus Caran d'Ache white.

Using these ingredients, I tried to paint a grayed-down painting out of them. I didn't want to allow any bright colors in the final image.

What a fun and strange feeling that was, like trying to drive a racing car in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Just touch the accelerator and it wants to blast off. Each of those colors has so much firepower, but I had to put on the brakes at every stage, restraining each color by using the other two as a complement.

No matter how hard I tried to achieve quiet, neutral colors, one of those strong colors wanted to dominate.

This challenge is the reverse of starting with a limited palette of pigments and trying to stretch those colors to be as pure as possible, such as in the painting above, which used a limited palette of weak colors: raw sienna, Venetian red, cobalt blue, and titanium white.

For more about limited palette experiments, see previous post on Limited Palettes.


Tom Hart said...

Very interesting post! I love and completely get the race car analogy. One rather picky question: Is there a particular reason why you refer to cyan and magenta rather than blue and red? Are they more accurate or better terms? (I always wonder about that when I see those terms.) And is there a corrolary for yellow? If not, do you know why?

James Gurney said...

Great question, Tom.

I've learned to regard cyan and magenta as distinctive separate basic colors, co-equal with blue and red, but just different hues. All are equally valid hue names.

On the Yurmby wheel, blue is halfway between cyan and magenta, and red is halfway between yellow and magenta.

Yellow remains yellow. It occupies a special place at the top of the wheel because as a hue it has the lightest value in its full intensity form.

Johan said...

I paint with Cobalt Blue, Cad Red and Cad Yellow + White these days. Sometimes I swap the Cobalt Blue for Cerulean Blue, The Cad red for Cad red deep (because it is a cooler red)

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jeff jordan said...

Looks like you got to pretty much the same place from opposite sides of the spectrum. Really like the one in Laguna in particular--probably just a Cali bias.

Anonymous said...

James I thought it might have been you at some point in the past who steered me to the below pasted little dissertation by the Woolf's on "...correct primary colors." It seems to serve to answer Tom's question.
But in any case it is to me a short , concise summary explaining why cyan and magenta are distinctive and separate hues to be regarded on their own. And resulted in me buying Primary Magenta and Primary Cyan oils to play with. I hope the address posts correctly;

S. Stipick said...

Interesting turn the comments have taken here. It's so fascinating to see how exploring color space, regardless of paradigm preference (munsell, yurmby, Goethe, etc...) is something artists, professional and amateur alike, feel is absolutely critical. By the way, I believe it is too and have had countless wonderful conversations based around this exciting topic. To YURMBY or not to YURMBY? Is the ubiquitous nomenclature of Munsell so important? What exactly is the proper hue of red, blue, yellow on the common color wheel? Etc.,etc.,etc. I have drawers upon drawers of paint tubes all filled with various paints from manufacturers in search of what works for me. It is all so enjoyable to explore.

To revisit the concept of tinting strength as Mr. Gurney was referencing. Despite my sincere love for the nuclear strength of the Thalos I found a yellow (about a 2-3Y) that makes the Thalos quiver in fear. Vandium yellow or Busmuth Yellow by Windsor Newton. It completely blew my mind, but the first time I used it i found myself loading up the Thalo (usually just the tiniest amount is needed) to tame this wonderful pigment. I was amazed, because I never expected that out of a yellow let some most other pigments.

Warren JB said...

Interesting to see and hear about the limited palette coming from the other direction, so to speak. Like Jeff I notice how the approaches give similar, but different, results.
I'd like to ask: is the use of lemon yellow (and perhaps napthol red) as opposed to cadmium a case of what was to hand, or a choice based on your previous thoughts about pigment toxicity?

Unknown said...

A really interesting post, James. I like the idea of having a minimalist palette for plein air trips, but wondered if you found it a lot slower process than painting with a broader palette? Certainly looking at the results I would never have known you had used only these colours.