Capturing the Essence with Color

Most small paintings can be executed with just one or two brushes (such as a #8 or #4) and typically five or six colors. Although the Cotman Watercolor Field Kit (Winsor & Newton) I use holds up to 12 refillable color pans, I use only half of these on most outings. A typical palette for a given painting might include: cadmium yellow light, quinacridone gold, alizarin crimson, sap green, Winsor blue (all from Daniel Smith) and manganese blue (from Holbein). Occasionally, phthalo green is useful, as is cadmium red light—I enjoy shaking up my normal palette from time to time.

As a rule, I don’t depend on the local color before me to dictate my palette choices. I know that some of my favorite artists (Richard Schmid, for one) work to establish as precise a color/value relationship as possible, and this obviously works for them. But I like to give the painting some latitude, giving it the opportunity to speak to me and develop its own color persona. I still have the option to control, or not to control, its direction later on. While being a realist at heart, I don’t attempt to articulate every cliff or rock or wave in view. My interest, really, is to capture the spirit or the essence of what I see, manipulating paint on paper to express the feeling I experience as I look upon the splendor before me.

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