You’re out on location, enjoying a bit of plein air painting or sketching, then all of a sudden you realize you haven't the right color for an element in your composition. Nor will the colors you do have mix to produce it. You’ve two options, as I see it. (Well, three, if you include getting into a tizz.)
|My plein air sketch featured a color that wasn't identical
to what I saw, but it still worked.
One, you can choose not to paint that bit in your plein air artwork. If this element is towards the edge of a composition, it can be made to look deliberate, with the paint blending out to nothing or fading to let a pencil drawing dominate. But if it’s fairly central, or you’ve painted around the area, it will all too easily look like a hole.
Alternatively, you can use another color, focusing on getting the tone right rather than worrying about the hue. Look at what colors you do have, and make the best choice from those. It’s what I did in my sketch of a foxglove shown in the photo. I only had an orange-red where I needed a vibrant pink, so that’s what I used. It meant I spent time looking and painting, not worrying about what wasn’t matching reality.
I know it’ll seem the obvious thing to many, but despite all the exposure to modern art and to different styles of painting we have, I still encounter people who can’t get past the “but it looks like X and thus I must absolutely, definitely and undoubtedly paint it as X” aspect of learning to paint.
Dubious about substituting a ‘wrong’ color? Then think about how we read or interpret the tones in black-and-white photographs. There’s no color at all, yet we still understand what’s in the image, recognize what it is. Tone is crucial. Likewise consider the use of colors introduced by the Expressionists, led by Vincent van Gogh, where for instance a face can be dominated by green rather than realistic skin tones yet we still see it as a face. Realistic colours aren’t the only answer to a painting looking right.
Ultimately the outdoor painting will be taken away from the location you were working in anyway, and the viewer won’t have the original with which to compare it. The painting will be on its own–will have to work as its own entity. And it will. You just need to resist pointing out that the color wasn’t identical to what you saw in reality!
What do you do when you’re discover you’ve left a color behind or it runs out? Leave a comment and let me know.