Color Exercise for Printmakers – Layering colors for maximum variations and values using a limited palette of three pigments

A color Exercise for Printmakers: 

Layering colors for maximum variations and values using a limited palette of three pigments.

Knowing only two characteristics of your pigments and understanding how to use that knowledge allows you to predict the resulting colors with each applied layer. You will be able to achieve the color schemes and express the moods you desire as the end result of your printing process.

  1. What are these two characteristics?  

    2. Where does the pigment live on a circular color chart?

What is the degree of opacity/translucency of the pigment?

In this exercise we are using three fully saturated pigments.  By that I mean three pigments that are on the outer perimeter of a circular color chart, primarily made up of two primary hues without being obviously neutralized by a third primary hue.   I have used a cool yellow (aureolin), a warm yellow (gamboge) and a cool blue (a thalo blue called Joe’s Blue).  This is not a print.  I have mocked up this example using glazes of watercolor rather than layers of pigment run through a press.

The purpose of this exercise is to focus on learning the basics of how pigments affect each other when layered one over the other.  The same pigments when mixed with one another prior to application create different results.  The choice of mixing pigments by layering is one that is available to painters and is essential to printmakers.  I am focused on printmakers in this exercise.  The order in which you apply your layers in printmaking will determine the available variations of hue and value that will appear in your final work of art.gment

With each additional layer the number of available variations increase geometrically.  Bear with me for a short math lesson:

One Layer: 2 variations

Hue of paper

Pigment 1 over paper

Two Layers: 4 Variations

Hue of paper

Pigment 1 over paper

Pigment 2 over paper

Pigment 2 over pigment 1

Three Layers: 8 Variations

Hue of paper

Pigment 1 over paper

Pigment 2 over paper

Pigment 2 over Pigment 1

Pigment 3 over paper

Pigment 3 over Pigment 1

Pigment 3 over Pigment 2

Pigment 3 over (Pigment 2 over Pigment 1)

Four Layers: 16 Variations

Hue of paper

Pigment 1 over paper

Pigment 2 over paper

Pigment 3 over paper

Pigment 4 over paper

Pigment 2 over Pigment 1

Pigment 3 over Pigment 1

Pigment 3 over Pigment 2

Pigment 3 over (Pigment 2 over Pigment 1)

Pigment 4 over Pigment 1

Pigment 4 over Pigment 2

Pigment 4 over Pigment 3

Pigment 4 over (Pigment 2 over Pigment 1)

Pigment 4 over (Pigment 3 over Pigment 1)

Pigment 4 over (Pigment 3 over Pigment 2)

Pigment 4 over [Pigment 3 over (Pigment 2 over Pigment 1)]

You can imagine how the number of variations increase with each additional layer applied to your print.

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I don’t think I need to go further to impress upon you the variations that can be taken advantage of to create a variety of hues and values with very few layers.

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To further complicate the decisions to make when printmaking, the results depend on what order you apply your pigments.  Applying yellow over blue does not give you the same result as applying the same blue over the same yellow.  Whereas for one result you might want to start with the hue of the lightest value (aureolin yellow), I ended up choosing to apply the aureolin glaze last so that I achieved a lighter, cooler green than I would have if I applied the Joe’s blue over the aureolin yellow.  

The above chart illustrates the variation available using a cool yellow (aureolin), a warm yellow (gamboge), a cool blue (Joe’s Blue, which is a halo blue) and a warm blue (ultramarine blue).  The roizontal strips were painted first and allowed to dry.  The vertical strips were painted over the dry horizontal strips.  You see the variations possible dependent upon which hue is applied first.  Since I wanted to use only three pigments for this exercise, I opted to use both yellows and the cool blue, eliminating the warm blue.

Exercise:  

Step One:

Draw a closed contour drawing of one object on a flat surface including its shadow.  In this case, the closed shapes  define the planes of the object (eyeglasses) and the plane of the surface the object is lying on.  the shadow of the object is also defined by closed shapes on the tabletop plane.

 

Step Tw0:

Using tracing paper, determine each plane as a separate layer: Front, facing up, facing left (or right), tabletop plane, shadow on tabletop plane.

Using the pigment overlay grid, determine the hues and the values of the hues you desire.  Depending on what you choose, you will determine the order that the pigments will be applied.

The order in which I applied the pigments was as follows:

Layer one – warm yellow (gamboge)  I decided that I want gamboge over white paper for plane two (facing up) and blue over gamboge for the shadow on the tabletop plane.  I must apply the gamboge to the shapes of plane one and the shadow shapes at the same time.  See illustration below.

Layer two – cool blue (Joe’s blue)

Layer three – cool yellow (aureolin)

Step Three: Apply first layer of pigment (aureolin)

Step Four: Apply second layer of pigment (Joe’s Blue).  

I want Blue over paper as the tabletop plane.  I want Blue over gamboge for the shadow on the tabletop plane and I want aureole over blue for plane 3 (facing right).  That means I must apply the blue layer (the second layer) in all three areas: the tabletop plane, the shadow on the tabletop plane and the plane 3 facing right.

Notice that I now have four hues: white of the paper, gamboge, Joe’s blue, green created from applying Joe’s blue over gamboge.

Step Five: Apply third layer of pigment (aureolin).  

I want aureolin over paper as my plane one (facing front). I also want aureolin over Joe’s blue for my plane 3 (facing right).  I must apply aureolin as my third layer over the shapes of both planes.

 

At this point, my experiment was complete.  However, I couldn’t resist adding some zip to the sample.  I added a shape around the entire drawing and applied pure gamboge to the shape.  Had I determined this prior to painting, I would have included this shape in my application of layer one, gamboge.  Why am I taking the chance of confusing you?  Because I want to show you the value of preliminary sketches and planning prior to the printmaking process.  I have used the ink line to clearly illustrate the shapes.  If this were going to be a print, the black lines would be an additional layer run through the printing press.

 

Though I do my best to make the dilutions the same, you will notice slight variations.  The aureolin in the bottom right corner is a bit more concentrated than the aureolin in the left strip.  Each layer of pigment was allowed to dry completely before applying another pigment to the strip.There are two things to be learned from these strips.  The strip on the left was created by laying down a patch of Joe’s blue first.  The gamboge and the aureolin were painted over the blue.  The bottom strip was created by laying down the patches of aureolin and gamboge first.  The blue was painted over the dry patches of the yellows.  This is also illustrated in the grid at the top of the page.  I think it is worth bringing to your attention again.  Also observe the variation in green hues.  One is a cool green and the other is a warm green.  That is the case in both strips.  The difference is that one is lighter and tends both hues tend more toward green and the other is darker and tends more toward blue.  Imagine the gorgeous variations you can achieve to create the illusion of various trees in a forest as well as the nuances of light striking the foliage of the trees.

Notice the lovely subtle difference between the cool green hue of plane 3 and the warm green hue of the shadow. If the greens were the same, plane three and the shadow would appear to be the same plane and flatten the  3d illusion of the object.  Subtle differences can make the difference between good and great.

Reread this page several times and then give it a try yourself using either the same pigments or three pigments of your choice.  Whatever pigments you choose, please take the time to create your overlay grid before beginning to apply hues to your drawing.

Enjoy the process!  Most people learn better when having fun.

Don’t hesitate to contact me with questions.