Menagerie – Local Color
There’s a big change to the picture as I add what artists refer to as “local color”. Local color is the basic general or average color of an object.
Up until now I have been painting with acrylics. Once the sepia underpainting was completed I switched to oils. I like to use alkyd oil paints. Winsor & Newton makes them under their Griffin label.
Allow me to extol the virtues of alkyds. Alkyds are fast drying oil paints. They have been around at least since the 1920s. They give me all of the advantages of both oils and acrylics — but none of their disadvantages. They dry quickly, although not quite as quickly as acrylics. If I’m plein aire painting on a hot day here, alkyds will be dry to the touch in two to three hours. They’re oil paints, so they have the same great blending abilities as regular oils. Unlike acrylics, alkyds don’t change values after they dry. Like regular oils, what you put down on canvas is what you’re going to get. Your paint won’t become darker (like acrylics) or lighter (like gouache) when it dries. With traditional oils, you’re supposed to wait 30 days to apply a transparent glaze to your picture. With alkyds the recommended wait is a day or two. Recommended varnishing time for traditional oils is a year after completion of the painting. With alkyds it’s one to three months. As far as glazing (covering areas with a transparent layer of color; this is how Maxfield Parrish got such luminous, almost stained glass-like colors in his pictures) goes, alkyds are a a bit more transparent than regular oils, so the glazing is better. You get a much more consistently even reflective surface with alkyds than you do with traditional oil paints.
End of alkyds sermon/plug.
I get my paintings to dry even faster with the medium I use to thin my paints: 50% turpentine, 50% Liquin.
OK. Sometimes I’ll paint in the local color with opaque or translucent colors. In this case, I really like my sepia underpainting, so I want to retain as much of it as possible. To do so, I painted my local color in transparent glazes over my underpainting. I am sort of tinting my underpainting with color. I can control the intensity of the color in my glazing process by adding more or less pigment to my medium. Lots of medium with very little pigment gives me a pale glaze. Minimal medium with lots of pigment gives me a very intense color glaze.
In establishing the local color I begin “spotting” my color just the way I spotted my blacks and whites in the sepia version. I don’t want a cluster of color in one part of the painting and nowhere else (that would trap or seduce your eyes so that you wouldn’t want to look anywhere else), so I look for ways to distribute chunks of color around the picture to lead the viewers’ eyes all over the canvas. Note that the green of the T. rex shows up on the other side of the canvas as part of the cobra’s coloring, as well as on the luna moth, the toucan, the hummingbird and the Jackson’s chameleon. That green on the T. rex also pops (separates) the giraffe from the dinosaur a bit.
I was initially worried there wasn’t going to be enough color in this piece (I wanted it to appeal to children) but my fears proved to be unfounded.
With the establishment and thoughtful distribution of the local color, I can now begin rendering each creature.
First, I went in and more or less finished the toucan. I also blackened the chimp’s fur. I usually don’t use black straight out of the tube; I like to mix my own black, combining burnt umber with ultramarine blue. I can control the temperature of the black that way. More blue, cooler black. More burnt umber, warmer black.
But in this case I wanted the viewer to look at the chimp first. The artistic rule I’m using here is that to direct the viewers’ eyes to the most important part of your picture (or the part that you want them to look at first), the area that this will happen will be where you place your darkest dark against your lightest light.
So, I painted to chimp’s fur pure black and the edges of the canvas he is working on pure white. I also painted his beret a kind of purple that is only hinted at in the rest of the painting. Now that I’ve got your attention with the chimp, I can begin directing your eyes elsewhere.
Next: More Rendering…