What Do Painters Really Do?

Mixing Color Like a Master

Mixing Color Like a Master | What Do Painters Really Do? | Artist Daily
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Do you know how frustrating it is to love something, but not necessarily know everything about it? That’s sometimes the way I feel about mixing color.

I have such a visual lust for color — learning new colors, discovering new color combinations, figuring out how various light sources affect hue, and how colors look drastically different side by side — but I have so many holes in my body of knowledge.

One way I’ve learned a lot about the dramatically different uses of color is by studying plein air painting. Because “light as color” is practically the mantra of plein air artists, discussions with these painters about their plein air art or studying their outdoor painting offerings yields pearls of wisdom about what painters really do that are virtually priceless.

Light Against Dark

Mixing Color Like a Master | What Do Painters Really Do? | Artist Daily
Ebb Tide, Otter Point by Marcia Burtt, acrylic painting, 18 x 30.

In Ebb Tide, Otter Point by Marcia Burtt, I see how powerful counterchange can be, where you place light shapes against dark to create dynamism out of what is a fairly simple composition of water and rocks.

It doesn’t sound too romantic, but when you look at the dark craggy edges of the rocks shot through with rivulets of rich blue water and white spumes of sea foam — it’s pretty incredible.

I looked at this painting for a good 10 minutes alone, just going with the implied movement of the sea.

Tonal Effects

Mixing Color Like a Master | What Do Painters Really Do? | Artist Daily
Canal in Maastricht by Marc Dalessio, 35 x 25 cm, oil painting on panel.

Marc Dalessio’s Canal in Maastricht has much more of a tonal effect. The mood of the painting is fairly quiet and a bit somber. But, the charm comes from that same quietude.

The artist keeps the snore factor well away with the smattering of greens and yellows underneath the bridge and the highlight of the rippling water in the foreground.

Learn More

If you are hungry to learn more about the colors you love and how to use them, be sure to check out Oil Painting with the Masters. As we learn more about how wide and varied color creation can be (in whatever media we work with), our paintings will take on an elegance and clarity of color and light that will be present no matter what subject matter we decide to paint. At least that’s my own dearest hope for you! Enjoy!



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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

One thought on “What Do Painters Really Do?

  1. The colours of Marcia Murrt’s painting are stunning. But I am always amazed when viewing plein air paintings that usually the colours are NOT like in Nature. There is no way that Nature has such vibrancy and colour saturation, though I wish it did. Perhaps what we are supposed to understand is that we can ‘put down on canvas’ any colour, shape, value we like and just run with it. Which begs the question, why bother to be concerned about colour and composition at all since we can manipulate them at will to make a pleasing picture. Which means that, does it really matter whether our painting is created indoors or outdoors? I have heard some artists declare that they can always tell whether a painting was rendered outside or inside. And I say, really???

    That felt good! I have always wanted to get that off my chest.

    And I love Marcia’s painting. It has inspired me to play with colour even when painting outdoors.