The other day a student was working on an abstract and said, “I wish I had a new color; a color I haven’t seen.”
Some days, reds, yellows, blues and all the secondaries are just, well, limiting. One of the great “secrets” of good painters lies in their mud – the greys – the mixed up, left-over paint that can transform a painting into the sublime.
We find out pretty early on in painting, that all color is relative. Fire-Engine-Red only looks bright if the colors around it are less intense. Bright colors read brighter when paired with duller more “greyed-out” colors. Just like light colors read lighter when paired with darker values, all basic painting 101 concepts.
But just how much have you experimented with those greys, dull blues and greens, and neutrals with no names? To make your “clean” colors sing, you need a great chorus of greys to support them.
We routinely mix complements to create grey colors, blue and orange, yellow and violet, etc. I encourage you to start grabbing colors from your palette that you would never normally put together and mix away. Don’t fall off your artist’s stool, but try mixing in black as well. I’d attempt to give you suggestions, but the surprise is in the discovery of colors that “you haven’t seen” or, at least, can’t imagine or predict. You can really get excited, by mixing these combinations directly on your canvas in thick, slurpy paint. I can pretty much promise you that you will begin to come up colors that you can’t imagine or have never thought of. These greys often produce an ethereal quality to a painting that predictable colors just can’t do on their own.
S.C. Yuan was a master of greys as is Bill Rushton. Yuan would call his mud, “liquid gold.” At the end of a painting session, scrape your palette and keep that left over paint – your mud. Think about “controlling your muds.” I tend to keep my reds out of other colors so that I end up with blue-green muds and violet muds or specifially red muds, avoiding the “poi-mud” (a pinky/purple/dead skin-color that looks like the Hawaiian food, poi) which I am not fond of. But, hey, it could be great for someone else!
Your challenge for your next painting session: Create a color (at least one) that you have “never thought of.” Have fun!!