The Zorn Palette

Many people have probably used this color scheme, but it is most widely know to be used by a Swedish painter named Anders Zorn who was known for his portraits. Here is an example of his work:

Mrs. Walter Rathbone Bacon

I’ve been spending a lot of time in my head trying to figure out how to map out the colors of a Zorn palette, Ivory Black, Titanium White, Vermilion (or Cadmium Red Medium), and Yellow Ochre. There is no blue used on this palette, the black is used as a blue. After a lot of looking around, this was the best paint chart I could find for the Zorn palette. This shows not only the primary colors of this combination but also the secondaries mixed with their complements and tinted white for additional colors. What it doesn’t have are all of the non-tinted colors mixed with varying degrees of black. For this palette, the black only applies to two-thirds of the palette. This was the best representation of available colors I could find that made sense. I found this on Pinterest and the website that it originally came from was not listed.

The colors are fantastic. Using a limited palette like this makes it much easier to figure out how to mix the colors you need. Does it need to be cooler? Add black. Lighter? Add white. Warmer? Decide if it has more red or yellow tint and adjust accordingly.

I expect I will continue to use the Zorn palette for portraits for a while since it is so perfect! I can always add other colors as accents later The great thing about this palette to me is that it limits the amount of “color” you can use and it makes you focus more on your values. I need to say that again for the painters out there…

” The great thing about this palette to me is that it limits the amount of “color” you can use and it makes you focus more on your values. “

If you want to be a good if not great painter, pay attention to your values. Values are everything. More than one famous painter has stated that if you have to get one thing or the other correct, make sure it is value rather than color. Color can’t fix the problem. If the value is correct, the eye will see what it needs to in order to make the painting work.

I guess I see another blog post coming.

Weeks 10 – 12 Portraits Week 1

This task threw me for days. I doubted myself. I doubted that I could do it. I wouldn’t even start for the fear. Isn’t that silly? Now I think it is, but then, well, I guess I just wasn’t thinking. I was feeling and I let it get the better of me for a while.

We had to choose an image to work from in class and to do a self-portrait looking in a mirror. Here’s what I came up with:

I’ll tell you right now, glasses are a bear. I’ll remember that for the future! I don’t know who this gentleman is, I just loved the picture.

It took me a while to find a pose of myself that I was comfortable with. I’ll admit it, I’m vain.

The first step is the drawing, and then stepping away to come back and find any errors that have to be corrected before the drawing is “fixed” to the canvas. There are a couple of ways to do this. The first is to spray the drawing with a fixative such as Krylon Workable Fixatif. I prefer the next method. Rose showed us that you can also fix a drawing by painting over it with thinned paint and wiping some of it off. This leaves your painting tinted with an undertone, which can be very helpful if it is one of the skin tone colors. From there, you can wipe-out highlights (as long as you do it before the paint dries) and that gives you the start of your painting. Here’s an example of that on my self-portrait.

Here is the start of my other painting. Drawing is in place and I’m starting with color. I wasn’t happy with where this was going, so I went in a different direction, putting in a basic background first. That allowed me to better judge my colors. Then I started putting in some of the darks and the whole thing began to make better sense.

My next post will be about the Zorn palette, which is all I’m using to do these portraits. This is a combination of Titanium White, Ivory Black, Yellow Ocre, and Cadmium Red.

How to Check Your Drawing

When you are aiming for realism or an accurate rendering of your subject, there are many ways to check the proportions in your drawing. Here’s a list of the ones I know (and I am sure that I’ve left out a few):

  1. Stand back and compare the subject to your drawing. The greater distance will make many errors visible quickly.
  2. Take a picture with your phone for comparison. Seeing a miniature version of your work usually makes things stand out.
  3. Look at your work in a mirror. Using a mirror converts your subject to shapes instead of things and it is easier to spot discrepancies.
  4. Turn both your subject and the painting/drawing upside down. (This really only works if you are using a photograph or a picture as your subject.)
  5. For subjects that are mirror-images on both sides such as a vase or a bowl, you can use a mirror or a piece of glass to check and make sure that both sides match.
  6. For the above, trace the outline of your drawing and fold it in half. This will show you where the drawing is out of balance.
  7. Look back and forth quickly between your subject and drawing. This technique blends the two together and shows you what needs to be corrected.
  8. Check your angles and the length of your lines. Using easily recognized points, determine key angles and make certain that these angles are accurate in your drawing.
  9. Use sight-sizing.
  10. Try using a proportional divider to check your measurements
  11. Rulers work too.
  12. As do skewers. Measure, measure, measure.
  13. Measure twice, draw once!
  14. Did I mention measure?
  15. Step outside and look at your work through the window. Somehow this puts it at a remove as if it was someone else’s work.
  16. If all else fails, and you can’t figure out what is wrong, take a tracing of your subject and place it over your drawing. This will immediately show you where your drawing is off. If you are drawing from life, take a picture of your subject and print it out. Yes, it has to be the same size. Is your subject too big? Print out your problem area only. There’s no need to do the whole thing.
  17. Walk away and look at something else for a few minutes and you will be able to look at your work with fresh eyes. Do this at least every 15 minutes.
  18. Don’t forget to look at your subject. You can become too familiar with your own work and mistakes will begin to look correct.

Remember, all these suggestions are to improve the accuracy of the drawing. If you are doing quick studies or gesture drawings, that’s a completely different thing. Those are about loosening up and finding the rhythm of a pose.

Weeks 4 – 6 of Painting Class

Many weeks later… I am so sorry it has been so long. Frankly, my painting class is kicking my butt. I have so much to learn in such a short time and I keep getting in my own way. I have trouble finishing my homework in the time allotted.

Weeks 4 – 6 were spent working on a still life in class and another one at home using only Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue tinted with either Titanium White or Ivory Black. I’m apologizing in advance for my paintings because they aren’t finished. This way you will at least get to see what I have been working on. In time I may finish them. I find, going through this process, that if I have managed to learn what I think I was supposed to get out of that particular exercise, that I’m okay with not finishing it.

These assignments built upon the skills we learned in the drawing class: sight-sizing skills, general drawing skills, and lost and found edges. The primary focus was to help us to develop a better understanding of warm and cool tones; when to use warm or cool shadows and warm or cool highlights. This skill is paramount to developing realistic art.

Warm and cool highlights and shadows are, to advanced color theory, as counting to ten is to imaginary numbers. I’m finally learning the stuff that I knew was holding me back. I’ve learned plenty of other wonderful things about drawing and painting that are important, but this, this I knew I didn’t know.

The other pieces that are making a huge difference for me:

  1. Access to a teacher to answer questions quickly. When I get stuck it is nice to have someone to go to that can help me figure out what I’m doing wrong. With a glance, Rose knows what isn’t working and gives me a list of things to tweak in 5 or 6 seconds. The even better part of this is that if I can’t figure out how to fix it, she will show me how, and why it isn’t working. This is the important piece I can’t always figure out for myself.
  2. Input from other students. We all see things in different ways. When we team up and check each other’s work it allows us to practice the problem-solving skills above. When you see that something isn’t quite right, how can you check to see what it is? We have many different ways of doing that now and it is easier to practice these methods if it isn’t our work we are checking.
  3. The quality of the work in class. I am a strangely competitive animal. There are people in my class that graduated from art school and they are very good. (Those words need to be underlined, bold, and italic.) Having them in class makes me want to work harder at my own work. I need to do better or tackle something more complicated. I’m also watching how other people handle paint. Some use a lot of paint, and others use very little. Some are tight painters (like me most of the time) and some are very loose. There are times when I wish I could spend the entire class watching others paint. I would learn much from that alone!

Other topics we are covering in these classes include such things as mediums, painting surfaces, different types of brushes and bristles, thumbnail sketches and poster studies.