Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Theodore Lukits and his Theory of Color

Artist Theodore Lukits (1897-1992) lived in Los Angeles, where he ran a school of painting.

Theodore Lukits (on ladder) and Dean Cornwell (below right)
Lukits had once served as an apprentice to Dean Cornwell (1892-1960). Los Angeles artist David Starrett has made a few short videos to share what he learned from his studies with Lukits in the early 1970s. Youtube Link.

Students were limited to working with white, cadmium yellow pale, cadmium red, a cool red (Ed. note quinacridone red), Phthalo (Monastral) green, and ultramarine blue.

From those colors students would make a color wheel, tinting the colors in the center of the circle with white and darkening them with adjacent colors, but not with black.

Drawing by Theodore Lukits 
As Starrett points out, Lukits placed a lot of importance on understanding drawing and value before embarking on color.

Painting by Theodore Lukits
To start out, students were expected to create 3-month-long graphite drawings of casts, and then they could paint the casts in color, still focusing on value primarily.

Youtube Link. Once they understood value, they painted from still life setups, which were often lit with brightly colored lights.

Painting by Theodore Lukits
Lukits liked painting with strong color oppositions, both of local color and of light colors. Sometimes he would drape a red vase with a green veil, or put two strongly colored objects next to each other.

Lukits discouraged the use of earth colors, which he called "tobacco juice" colors. He argued that you didn't need them because you could mix any color from the few basic hues. (Youtube Link)

Painting by T. Lukits
Lukits himself studied in Chicago under Carl Werntz (1874–1944), William Victor HigginsKarl Albert Buehr (1866–1952), Wellington J. Reynolds (1866–1949), Harry Mills Walcott 1877–1930), Edwin Blashfield (1848–1936), Charles Webster Hawthorne (1872–1930), and George Bellows(1882–1925). He also traveled and studied with Alphonse Mucha (1860–1939) when Mucha was developing the Slav Epics.

Lukits students include not only David Starrett, but also Peter S. Adams, Tim Solliday, and Frank Ordaz.
Previous posts featuring David Starrett


Kyle Henry said...

Interesting color theory. I wonder if this is what Cornwell himself used for mural work in his later years after studying with Frank Brangwyn. A big departure from the limited palette and heavy brushwork of the Harvey Dunn influence for sure.

Jim Douglas said...

It blows my mind that one person could study under Blashfield, Mucha, Bellows, and Cornwell!

A Colonel of Truth said...

The ways to ‘skin the cat’ (of painting) many.

Neha Malik said...


scottT said...

"Tobacco juice"...I've heard of brown sauce paintings. I can imagine the exhilaration of breaking free from the dark academic tradition into the light of prismatic color, but honestly I see too many candy colored canvases today. I know it's the artist and not the palette, but if reintroducing some nice earth colors would help tone things down, I'm for it. Bring back the brown imprimatura and grisaille!

Janet Oliver said...

Watching Starrett dip his finger into the paint nearly gave me a heart attack.

Susan Krzywicki said...

Yummy. And the links to related artists were all gems.

Garrett said...

I dig using prismatics, and even the idea that you could build a simple primary palette that could approximate the whole spectrum. That said, I've been told (and I don't know how true it is) one reason to build a painting with basic earth-tone pigments is that they are more stable together than mixtures of modern pigments. Again, I don't know the veracity of this and it strikes me as perhaps just old-fashioned, but the idea is that ochres, siennas, umbers, blacks, and other fancy dirt dry fast and at a consistent rate, and we know they can mix together well.. Problems arise in the long term if different pigments mixed together dry at different rates.. I guess the allegation is that mixing slow-drying pigments like cadmium with fast-drying pigments would lead to eventual cracking. So the idea was that you would build your underpainting with stable, earth-based pigments and move on to modern mixtures in the upper layers. In practice I don't do this, and you will even find some earth-tones like "greenish umber" are actually mixtures with of synthetic pigments... So it remains a question in my mind, and may only really matters if you think people will be looking at your paintings 100 years from now.

nifilim64 said...

Centuries ago, pigments were more expensive than they are now -- a strange thought, I know! Artists like Valezquez had less that a dozen pigments - mostly earth colors. So they painted with what they had. Pigments like Ultramarine Blue were made from lapis lazuli and were too expensive to use in a thick layer. So, the artists painted in the less expensive (not cheaper!) earth colors, then laid thin layers of expensive pigments over this underpainting. Of course, this led to cracking problems. (Cracking is not a major problem when slow drying pigments are mixed with fast driers. The mixture will just dry as a vector summation of each contributing element) The cracking problem was over come by the "fat over lean" principle. Painters who respected this principle and did not use asphaltum in their paint did not encounter the cracking problem of artists who layered paint incorrectly. The formula was a basic medium: one part turps, one part linseed or walnut, one part resin - such as dammar or copal. This basic medium was diluted with turps in the lower levels of the painting and the dilution was reduced as the artist arrived at the upper layers of the painting. For example, the artist would dilute the basic mixture (1/3,1/3,1/3) with ten parts of turps and if the artist expected ten layers of paint on the canvas. The second layer would be diluted 9 parts; the third layer, 8 parts; the fourth layer, 7 parts, etc. I have a painting,layered this way, done in 1975 that has been exposed, outdoors, to the weather since then (43 years in outdoor weather) and it has not cracked - yet. The canvas is beginning to rot, but the paint film is intact. The dammar varnish coating over the painting, applied in 1976, as evaporated off, leaving the paint film exposed, but no cracks.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful. I had no idea Dave studied with Lukits.

Richard Hescox's friend Mike Rich did, too, around 1981 or 1982. Lukits, then, must have been in his mid-late eighties!

I see some affinity with Paul Souza's method using lights with colored gels. i wonder if there's influence there.