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The Way To Happiness The philosophy of these lessons: Look, Learn, Practice

Chapter 17 of "The Way To Happiness" deals with Competence. I've found that too many limit their own progress as an artist with the concept that they "haven't got the talent." 90% of being a good professional artist is about looking for yourself, learning (including good study habits), and practicing what you have learned to become Competent. If you are interested in a free copy of "The Way to Happiness", please email me for one.

Interested in other lessons?

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Lesson 14

1. Thought

IDEA: "There is no limitation on creating. The artist belies the physical scientist's manifesto on the conservation of matter and energy with its implicit idea that nothing is ever really created or destroyed. On the contrary, take three artists and direct them to paint the same still life and you will get three different still lifes. Put pen, paint or crayon to paper and you have created something. So all is potential. From that as a starting point, we can work on professionalism and the quality of communication." Pam Coulter

What's the purpose of making a visual statement, a painting, drawing etc. Is it to tell a story? Propagandize? Communicate? "Art for art's sake?" Do some thinking about it.

2. Words:

Transparency of a color (how much you can see the paint color under it through it) and opacity affect the way you use the color. If you misuse a transparent color, trying to make it opaque, you will be very frustrated with the results. Watercolors are often quite transparent. Most acrylics are somewhat transparent (except for white). Many oils are transparent; others are quite opaque. Paints which are not very transparent can be made more transparent by mixing them with a medium and thus making them more transparent.

Examples: Alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, Prussian blue, burnt sienna, and viridian are highly transparent. Cadmium yellow, Cadmium red, Indian Red (closest to burnt sienna) are opaque. Flake white is reputedly more transparent than titanium white.

A comparison of the Winsor-Newton oil color chart gives us the following basic possible transparent and opaque palettes:



Transparent yellow
Cadmium yellow pale
Bright red
Cadmium red
Alizarin Crimson
[no equivalent]
Ultramarine blue
Cobalt blue deep (semi-transparent)
Prussian blue
Cerulean blue (semi-opaque
Burnt sienna
Indian red
Transparent white
Titanium white

A limited palette with an overall high degree of transparency would include:

Winsor Lemon (a greenish yellow)
Indian yellow (a more orange yellow)
Bright red (an orange red)
Alizarin Crimson (a bluish red)
Ultramarine blue (a redish blue)
Thalo (or Phthalo or Prussian) blue (a greenish blue)

This sort of limited palette is discussed by Michael Wilcox in Blue and Yellow Don't Make Green. I have substitiuted Prussian Blue for Cerulean on the Oil and Acrylic palette. Cerulean frequently contains white, which makes it less satisfactory -- a weaker color -- on the oil and acrylic palette and wholly unsatisfactory on the watercolor palette. Also, you may choose to substitute Permanent Alizarin Crimson for Alizarin Crimson. I have learned that Alizarin Crimson is less lightfast and permanent -- that is, more "fugitive" -- than the new Permanent Alizarin and I am currently experimenting with this.)

3. Practice: "Learning bears fruit when it is applied."

Exercise: Test the transparency of the colors on your existing palette by drawing a dark or black line with a permanent ink on your drawing surface, then laying each color over the line. Some will obscure the underlying black. Some will partially obscure that it. Some will not. Also mix the colors to see what shades the various combinations make.

Advanced: Try one or both of the following exercises:

Make a background of grey tone stripes, running from black to white. Overlay this with transparentized (by adding medium) colors to see what the effect is of colorizing a grey surface.

Make a stripe of each of the colors on your palette, running from full color to very whitened color. Let this dry. Run a transparentized stripe of each of your palette colors over the underpainting. This will show you how each color interacts with other colors painted below it.

What do you think of this? What did you learn?

Use of transparent colors in GLAZING can help you make your canvases brighter and more lustrous. In the small painting I did here, called "Three-fourths still life" I used glazing to brighten and tranparentize the fruit. Click on the image to see a larger version.

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Last updated: October 7, 2005