Watching paint dry

If you’re not into watercolours I recommend a click of the mouse now before your eyes glaze over.  For those who find sketching outdoors strangely exciting and challenging, here’s another of my colour mixing rants.  It was the last day of term today for my art classes, and it’s become a tradition to escape the classroom and spend the time sketching in Llawhaden castle grounds.  Sketching outdoors refreshes the parts that copying photos can’t reach, as well as waking up your colour sense.  How do you paint a stone wall?  Is it light or dark?  Warm or cool?  It’s usually all these things, speckled with white patches of lichen just to make the task even more tricky. 

Letting patches of alizarin, cobalt and raw sienna blend on the page gets you the soft mixed shades of old stone.   Other variations of the three primaries could be used to get similar effects.  More blue in the shadows, more sienna in the sunny spots.  Plenty of white patches of paper left exposed for the lichen.  In the studio you can see what you’re doing, tubes are clearly labelled and there’s a nice big white palette (cunningly disguised as a ten pence white china plate from a charity shop) to mix puddles of colour in.  But when you’re sitting on a wobbly stool with the wind blowing and your pocket paintbox on your knee, it’s not so easy, especially when you look at the range of colours in the average ‘beginners’ sketching boxes.  Gill had 24 colours in her box, most of them unused and unusable.  Four shades of insipid pink, 4 blues all very similar but no windsor blue.  Umpteen sludgy browns, all indistuingishable.   Give it to your grandchildren and start again, I said.  You need the same colours in your field palette as you do in the studio, otherwise you might as well mix your colours blindfold.  Get half a dozen artists quality half pans in a paintbox and give yourself a chance.  The more limited the colour choices, the better your chances of consistency and remembering which colour does what.  Sketching outdoors is challenging enough, what with wind, weather, nowhere to put stuff, tourists getting in the way, getting a numb bum sitting on rocks, and insects landing on your sketchbook.  It’s tough out there, folks. 

So if all those pretty paintboxes with their dozens of obscure colours are all hitting the bins tonight, it’s all my fault.  My own paintbox is messy, but it works.  It’s still got more colours in it than I tend to use, but generally it’s easy to plonk the brush in roughly the right place when working at speed. 


Colours most used?  Raw sienna, cobalt blue, windsor blue, ultramarine, alizarin, aureolin, light red, cobalt violet, cadmium yellow.  So that’s two reds, two blues, three yellows and a voilet.  The palette could do with a wash, though, couldn’t it.  Glass of wine first, I think.

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