Getting to Know the Red and Green Paints, Having Fun with Blue

I did another small painting with the natural pigments this morning. I changed from Gamblin fast dry white to Gamblin zinc white and the Ultramarine blue made from lapis lazuli loved that. It was as if they KNEW each other. Keeping them in the living room where it’s warm all night also helped. I like yesterday’s painting better, but this is “school” so to speak. The paintings are small. I am not master enough at this point to commit to a larger surface. The painting is a spot at the Rio Grande Wildlife Refuge. The blue on the ground is a fragment of the slough that comes off the Rio Grande. The scene is late August/early September.

My usual way to paint with oils — unless I’m painting snow — is to start with a black canvas or panel or one (if I’m doing a landscape) that I’ve painted with (most often) flat ultramarine synthetic blue and Indian yellow. The Indian yellow adds tremendous life and warmth to any colors that come over it and it is very transparent. The ultramarine — I dunno. It’s transparent — not as transparent as this real lapis ultramarine — but mainly because, for some reason, the color has personal importance to me. The idea is to paint heavier oil laden pigments over less oil laden pigments. For me there’s the opaque over transparent rule — it’s not a real rule. It just leads to what I want. In painting landscapes in oil I use a lot of paint. Other paintings are pretty “lean”. I’m not a great oil painter and I don’t have a lot of technique. I just know what I like to do. In the words of Old Lodge Skins, “Sometimes the magic works. Sometimes it doesn’t.”

I did get the yellow ochre to “lighten up” this morning which is cool. I didn’t want to “cheat” (not that anyone cares) by using a non-dirt sourced yellow.

Here are these colors in a 13th century fresco in a church in Verona. The blue in these paintings is probably not ultramarine. It could be indigo or even carbon black thinned with lime which is “blue enough”. The church is Chiesa san Fermo. I spent a lot of time in this church looking at frescoes and trying to understand the pigments.

The school I was attending to learn Italian took us on a field trip to the Lessini mountains north of the city where there are limestone caves in which prehistoric people lived. Outside some of the entrances to the caves are hand prints made by the cave-dwellers. They ground the bright ochre that’s everywhere around up there. Wet the limestone, held their hand to the wall and blew ochre dust over their hand, leaving a print. The chemical process between the limestone and water merged the ochre with the limestone. Fresco Buono.

That was the most amazing place to me — I still think of it and see it clearly in my mind even though it’s been 16 years! The older paintings in Veneto used these very colors and I’m painting with them right now.

14 thoughts on “Getting to Know the Red and Green Paints, Having Fun with Blue

  1. Beautiful, Martha! I love the colors, and your creativity has no limits.

    I tried to start learning Italian around six years ago, but I have up after a while. I was using an app. Do you speak Italian?

    • I speak Italian OK. I used a really good CD Rom ages ago back in the 90s, I have Italian speaking friends, traveled in Italy a few times, did Rosetta Stone but my grammar is not good at all. I think there’s more to life than conjugating verbs. The school I attended didn’t teach me much. It’s hard to do a formal program when you can already communicate. I got more from being in the city and talking to people. But, I liked my school and in the afternoons I got to do an art history seminar in Italian.

  2. The hand prints on the mountain caves would be amazing to see, especially knowing how they were made. I like that you’re transporting yourself through history as you use your paints, gaining a better understanding of what came before.

  3. Perhaps I missed it somewhere, but I did not know you painted. I was honestly astonished by the work you posted. It looks like something that you’d see in a museum and you say you don’t have a ‘lot of technique.’ Apparently you know just enough to fool me into thinking you a master. Very impressed on this end. Anything I’ve painted you’ll recognize–mostly because I slap it on too thickly and you can spot the stream of excess dried into a line down the wooden bed post or door frame hastily touched up. Or, if you ever visited my bedroom, you can see where I grabbed the wrong color of teal and touched up a wall with very badly daubed splotches in a lighter hue. I keep meaning to get around to finding the correct paint can, but, half a year has gone by and the urgency is waning. This is all to say, I’m very impressed, but my lack of talent means I have no idea how good you really are! (Half-handed compliments I excel at, by the way.)

    • Thank you! I’ve only posted a bit about my painting — not much — over the years. I did have a blog dedicated to my art work, but no one looked at it and I got sick of paying for it. 🙂

  4. I love this one too! I hope you get comfortable with the pigments and then cut loose with a masterpiece! Your sky is so beautiful – it has the quality of the sun shining while rain clouds loom.

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