In Richard Schmid’s book Alla Prima he writes “My Advice — my plea to you — is to do the charts for your sake. (Do not use mine.) … Stay alert and see what is happening, not only on your palette, but within yourself.”
Thank you, Richard Schmid, for the inspiration to go back to the beginning again. The experience of carefully mixing the colors and values opened my eyes and mind to the many colors I miss the opportunity to incorporate into my paintings over the last three decades. I also realized how little I knew about the characteristics of each of the pigments. When it came to creating the purples and greens I had to take the charts one step further and explore the possibilities from the extreme of one color to the other. For example, mixing viridian and alizarin crimson. The alizarin chart shows a beautiful mauve color created by the addition of viridian (I don’t know that I ever mixed viridian into alizarin to achieve a purple hue). The viridian chart shows a warm, steel gray when alizarin is added to viridian. I needed to see the full spectrum of the transition between alizarin and viridian so I created an addition color chart on a piece of primed, unstretched canvas showing the transition and the value changes of these two colors.
The beautiful grays created during the mixing for these charts opened another door. I’ve tried to take advantage of the rich nuances of neutral colors, hardly ever succeeding in keeping them clean and rich in their neutrality. I now have a multitude of beautiful neutrals that I can choose from in a control manner.
The biggest challenge is putting the charts to use and not leaving them behind in the studio as merely an enlightening, inspiring and time consuming exercise. My first application for the charts was a painting I had promised as a wedding present. My hope had been that my schedule and the autumn leaves would cooperate so that I could drive to the young couple’s beautiful property in Pennsylvania and paint plein air. Such was not the case and I had to rely on less than fabulous photographs. Even the best of photographs leaves much to be desired when I am striving for strong color, especially in the shadows. Having the color charts surrounding me as I painted was all I needed to convince me that the charts can and will be used for both studio and plein air painting. Without them, I fall back into my old habits of dreadful color mixing.
I have no doubt that it will take many months before I retrain my eyes and my brain to incorporate all the new color mixes into my painting habits. Impatience has no place on my palette any more. This morning, after a heavy snowfall last night, the world atop Polt Mountain was a fairey land of snow-covered branches, golden sunlight and periwinkle shadows.
My first attempt plein air with the help of the charts is not something to brag about, but it is something that pleases me enormously when I compare it to former morning snow paintings. My time was not spent battling bad color on a canvas, instead it was spent focusing intently on the morning light and on the colors (mixing no more than two pigments at a time) that I dipped my brush into before stroking it on the gessoed boards.