Several years ago, I purchased the book ‘Mastering Color’ by artist Vicki McMurry. I have been enchanted by her luminous landscapes and movement in her brushstrokes ever since. While her book is always within easy each in my studio, I wondered if I was to take a workshop in person, would I be able to understand her concepts of colour more fluently?
Last week, I traveled to Wenmohs Ranch, outside Austin, Texas to join a three-day workshop with Vicki. I’ve participated in a few workshops now, always starting with a bit of nervous energy. I seem to replay the same conversation to myself before hand:
“Be a good student”, “Forget what you already think you know”, “relax”and “it’s good to make mistakes”
These are just a few of my mantra’s. Coming from a career mainly focused on commission work, almost every painting I complete is for someone else. While I do enjoy commission work, and have wonderful clients, most whom allow me my creative space, I wonder if it is beginning to block me from progressing? I think my personal growth as an artist is slow, because I am always thinking, wondering & hoping my client will love whatever I paint for them. This thought is present, even if it isn’t at the forefront of my mind. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to see what I would paint for me, when I give myself the chance.
As a goal for myself, I wanted my focus of this workshop to be based on colour. To learn how to push myself beyond my current comfort zone of colour. Allow myself to take risks, and free myself of worrying over details. For the duration, I choose to stick with simple layouts, I didn’t complicate myself with a drawing tricky poses – as my focus was on colour, not drawing.
Day 1: I started off tentative (as I would expect myself!) Vicki critiqued the painting, illustrating where I could take the opportunity to warm the colour further. In this case, in the warm, golden hues in the neck.
Day 2, I chose to work on a grey horse. This would challenge me to mix warm/cool tones and light/dark values in my palette. I rarely ever work on a white surface, but in doing so, I could gauge my values from what was the brightest white (the background). Using Vicki’s palette and method of colour mixing, I was able to achieve some lovely cool bluish greens for the cool tones and a warm white for the highlight. We were both happy 🙂 ..though I do feel I discovered one of my “JennPratt-ism’s” in the process..that I don’t like working on a white surface, no matter what the exercise! lol
Vicki’s process involves spending more time working in the mid-values first, then moving up or down from there. My second painting on day 2, I wanted to follow this method more closely. I had to resist the temptation to go for those highlights, until much later in the painting than I normally would. In doing so, I found myself using more colour, and less white – one habit I would like to correct! To me, I am starting to see real progress for myself in this study. That sunlight hitting this mare’s nose is becoming believable.
Day 3, I tackled another difficult to paint horse colour – black. I’ve painted this image before & thought it would be a great comparison to my previous study. I wanted to focus on warming up the tan highlights in his face – in my mind to a point where they were luminous! …I was pleased in this little study until…
I placed the painting on the wall beside my others and realized how dull, flat and lifeless it was…I failed to take the risk of pushing that colour in the highlights as far as I could have.
Vicki told us that part of her enjoyment of teaching is witnessing her students have those ‘ah-ha’ moments..and this was certainly one of those moments for me. She mixed up a value of how far she would have taken the highlight – a warm yellowish-green and held it next to the painting. It certainly was a colour I likely never would have dreamed of. It was a sign and a great lesson of the risks I must begin to take if I ever want my paintings to grow and become more luminous in colour.
Now that I’m home, becomes the real homework of processing what I learned. Needless to say, I’m excited to get back into the studio 🙂