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June 16, 2022

In Defense of Breaking Rules and Remaining True to Your Artistic Soul

I have heard two colors, black and green, maligned by my fellow artists (and many art teachers). These same folks often criticize using any premixed color straight from a tube. Adjectives I’ve heard used to describe premixed black are dead, flat, toneless, lifeless. Premixed greens are called garish, bilious, harsh, lurid, gaudy. Using any color straight from a tube? That is labeled amateurish. These critics use words like always and never. For example, they say they always mix their own shades of black and green by combining other colors; they never use any color right out of a tube; and they always adjust colors by mixing them together. Ok those techniques work; but never and always? Really?

In my own practice, I have mixed beautiful black colors using some shades of blue with the earth colors; and as anyone who understands basic color theory knows, different blues and yellows combine to create lovely shades of green. In fact, I rarely use any color directly from a tube. For many reasons, I modify them with other colors; but to me the most important reason is creating just the right color to stroke across my canvas. Some of my favorite green colors bloom from mixing black with yellow. I combine colors to achieve positive painterly results not because the words never and always preclude me from using any color any way I choose.

In my own practice, I also use colors (including black and green) directly from their tubes. I do this whenever it works for painting portraits, landscapes, seascapes and still lifes. Touches of pure colors alone can add depth to shadows and distant objects and vibrancy or clarity to focal points. Erasing the words never and always from my color palette has increased my satisfaction with my results. I mix and match or use pure color without feeling constrained or like I am breaking important rules.

Many well respected artists used black and/or green successfully in their paintings. Black is notably an element in some of the paintings of Rembrandt, Matisse, Picasso, and Pollock. Green plays prominently in some of the paintings of O’keefe, Rousseau, and Van Gogh. The vibrancy of many Impressionist paintings is attributed to the availability of paints in tubes that could easily be carried out into nature to capture the colors and light outdoors. Surely artists used those paint colors in a manner that worked for them, either mixed together or applied as squeezed onto the palette.

I decided to challenge myself by painting a green pepper (I had one wonky one in my vegetable crisper drawer) using: Mars black, diarylide yellow, cadmium yellow medium, gamboge extra, and yellow ochre to mix my greens. Then I pulled out sap green and Hooker’s green to add sparingly and a little defiantly directly from their tubes. Titanium white was necessary for tinting; and since I know that red is a beautiful compliment for green I pulled out the earthy burnt sienna, a “just in case I need it” color for the background. I painted this little acrylic green pepper still life quickly using the colors as described.

While it is certainly not a masterpiece, my green pepper painting is a small testament to the viewpoint I express in this journal entry which is: in art as in life, never and always are restricting words. The one “rule” that reliably opens up a world of possibilities for any creative is listening to your creative heart and letting it be your guide. Classes and learning are important for honing any skill; but so is practice. Practice refines what works for you and what does not. I say, base your choices to mix or not mix colors on what feels good and true to you and helps you create a painting you love. Mistakes happen but so do masterpieces. We just never know when one or the other (or something in between) will occur. That is just part of the journey and adventure we experience in the creation of what we call art. My personal philosophy is: adapt, adopt, apply, and if necessary discard. If it feels right do it and if it feels wrong forget it. Only embrace what works for you.